Combusted Chocolate

Reader elation, experienced upon the realization that your favorite author has once again, met or exceeded your expectations. It’s a current progressive experience, happening now, as one reads.

I love this snuggly, comfortable familiarity with coming to trust an author. It’s not just the story but the author’s voice, right? The way her humor resonates with me (as in, I find it really funny, you probably wouldn’t), her technique of dividing the narration between first and third person, her just-enough and yet totally-immersive descriptions, her characters’ intense friendships …and so on.

Know what I mean? Your fave author has unique voice traits too.

And I’ve still got over half the book to enjoy. It’s a DAW, which means another three-hundred-odd pages of delight left to me.

I spent some time pondering how to explain to a Human such as Paul what chocolate tasted like in the Iftsen atmosphere, but gave up. Not only was it inaccurate to relate what the Iftsen called taste to the similarly-named, but physiologically different, sense in Humans, the Iftsen didn’t actually consume chocolate. They combusted it in their respiratory bladder. With quite the pleasurable aftereffect.

Julie Czerneda, Changing Vision

Traveling Companions

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Me & my James Maxey took a car to take a train to take a subway to take a commuter rail today. We are now outside of Boston, ten states away from our morning coffee.

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We went to DC, NYC and Providence. We’ve been in the air, over the water, under the ground. We’ve been alone and one of 12 million people, all in one day.

Books to me are the best traveling companions. This is the book that’s going to be my comfort and my friend through the duration of this trip. They are the secure locker for my tickets and my physical security blanket when worried and lost. This will make you laugh– I literally stock my nose in their pages when the stench of mass transit is too much for my delicate Country Bumpkin nose. They are my quick escape from the hassle and jostle of the press of humanity.

What books have you had with you on your far flung travels?

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And then there were Four…Clockwork Phoenix

Yeah! Mike Allen decided to do a Kickstarter to fund Clockwork Phoenix 4!

Clockwork Phoenix to me houses everything that speculative fiction can be: approachable, readable, enjoyable, innovative… I am looking forward to this publication. Many of the authors published in the Clockwork Phoenix books have gone on to win awards, sell novels to publishers, and so forth. These are A-line authors; in short, Mike Allen knows what he’s doing.

(and, yours truly is up on the auctioning block!)

I get to meet up with Mike this weekend at Readercon. If you, dearest Darkcargo, would like a sampling of one of the wonders from the Mythic Delirium dark-and-twisty Press, let me know. No promises what you’ll get, it’ll depend on what’s available still in print, what he’s lugging around with him, etc., but his is my gift to you. Leave me a note in the comments or let me know some other way.

Maybe you’re thinking “hum. Nice but probably artsy fartsy. I’ve probably never heard of these people.” anyone heard of Saladin Ahmed, Catherynne Valente, Gemma Files, to name a few of the authors pinned to the Clockwork Phoenix cork board.

WHAT wonders will come from the fourth volume?

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1980499216/clockwork-phoenix-4-new-stories-of-beauty-and-stra

Kindred

Kindred, Octavia Butler.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle, very early set my threshold for “scary” in a story. The Ultimate Nothing, mind control, compliant uniformity… yah, scary stuff to toss around in one’s head at any age. Every other book I’ve read since reading that at ten years old or so ranks a “meh” on the scary scale.

Kindred is Wrinkle in Time kind of scary, but grown up.

We become callused to the ideas that frighten us as we are growing, thoughts like trying to work out How does nothing actually exist?, and What’s the point of loving if we all die anyway? At some point we give up thinking about these things in exchange for moving on into the day-to-day bullshit of adult-hood. Kindred made me question my understanding of what it means to be an adult and realize that we don’t stop changing, even if we ignore that change.

The other thing I really like about this novel is that it is a fantabulous example of the way in which science fiction can serve humanity. What a perfect and beautiful thought experiment is Kindred.

The over-simplified premise is that a woman mysteriously gets snapped back in time to meet up with an ancestor. He’s an idiot and always nearly getting himself killed, and she figures out pretty quick that her purpose is to keep him alive long enough to…well, you know, continue on the line that will eventually bear herself into the world.

Only thing is she doesn’t know when she’ll get called back, how long she’ll get stuck back in that time, or how much danger she’s really in. If she dies in the past, does she die in the future, too?

The scary bits begin when she realizes that death would be preferable to the life she’s expected to lead while in the past. And the super scary part is when she realizes that she’s become pretty much OK with the social conditions of that past time.

Sitting here sweet and happy in the future, it’s easy to be grateful for my human rights, list them off like ingredients on the nutrition information panel. It’s easy to imagine that, if born in another time, I would be totally intolerant of my doomed lack of education, my subjugation to others, etc. But you know what? Probably not. I would likely be a completely and unrecognizeably different person. My morals, values, rights and beliefs would be alien to the person I am now.

And then (like that’s not enough for one book) there’s the discussion about how much we change our persons in order to survive, whatever that word means for our current environment. Do we learn to become meek in the presence of an over-bearing boss? Do we learn to become careless and unprepared in the presence of luck and fortune? Do we learn to become unkind and ungrateful when surrounded by bitterness? Do we learn to sever our creativity in exchange for earning a living?

That’s pretty scary.

Kindred, Octavia Butler.

Patrimony – Another Pip & Flinx Adventure

I have been reading the Pip & Flinx adventures by Alan Dean Foster since I entered my teen years. I have grown up with these characters, and they have grown too. In this second to last Flinx & Pip adventure, Flinx flees to an out-of-the-way place in search of his biological paternal parent. If you have read the previous books, you know Flinx has longed for decades to figure this one out.

I return to A D Foster books like Southwesterners flock to green chile for comfort food. His writing is straight forward, easy to grasp. The alien world and biology building that he does never ceases to entertain. Flinx is a gawky guy unsure of his place in the universe and often displaying awkwardness in social situations. I can relate. His connection to his pet flying snake Pip is stronger than with nearly any human; I can also relate to this.

In this book, Flinx finds another little part of himself, defeats some bad guys, and has his ass saved by Pip once again. It was a satisfying story.

Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon Hot off the…ethernet, I guess.

Hooray!

Fan girl central, here, folks–just warning ya…

Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon came sailing into my iPad at 12:20 a.m. You’re late, Kindle People.

So, while waiting–WAITING–waiting! those twenty minutes, the new issue of Apex Magazine showed up. Look at this cover, peeps! Double fan-girl dribble for this one. The painting is by Donato Giancola (and really, why haven’t you graced your home with a poster of one of his paintings yet?) that was a cover to one of the Darwath books by Barbara Hambly–much love, much recommendation for those. This issue features fiction and an interview with Maureen McHugh, author of China Mountain Zhang, another table-pounding recommendation.

STILL WAITING, I “dug” out my copy of Apex Magazine which contains the science fiction story by Ahmed that I like so much, “Faithful Soldier, Prompted”. That’s the Nov 2010 issue. Go get it, read it.

Oh, gosh! I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time.

K gonna go read now bye.

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My Growing Fear Of Books

One of the books I bought at my first convention was Nobody Gets The Girl by James Maxey. Obviously, I thought it was fantastic and grew very optimistic about books that I discovered at cons. Interestingly, there were two other books I bought at that con and they were not fantastic. They were fine. Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve made it a goal to buy at least one book from each convention I attend. I look for interesting ideas from non-marketing machine authors, usually found sitting alone in the dealer room or in writers ally. I’m happy buying indie art from indie artists, and will continue doing so, but I have come to a sad conclusion. Most of these books are not fantastic.I have read some not-fantastic books that were self-published, small press, and big 6 products. Books written by people I know fairly well, kind of well, and not at all. Each time a book changes from could-be-awesome to not-quite-there, I get a little sad. We all want everything to be fantastic and unfortunately, there are some awfully big misses that began to grow in me a fear of books.I have learned something about my own literary preferences over the last year. I hate internal monologue. Remember that I spent 6 years as a playwright. For me, Plot + Character – Musing about what just happened – 2 pages describing an unimportant room = engaging story.

I spent 9 months or so reading, sometimes slogging, through the non-fantastic wondering if James Maxey was a fluke. Nothing else was comparing well to my go-to’s of Robert E. Howard, Connie Willis, Jasper Fforde, and William Browning Spencer. Imagine then my delight at once again discovering something fantastic.

I am 2 chapters into Leona Wisoker’s Secrets Of The Sands and am very happy. I’m not the biggest Dune fan, so after meeting Leona a year ago and seeing the desert scape on the cover, I avoided picking up the book. But as fate would have it, we are co-guests of honor at Madicon this March. I felt that I should read one of her books so we could have at least a polite chat about it. But it’s actually so great that 2 chapters in I want to talk about it. At MarsCon this year she told me that her editor, Barbara Friend Ish, kicked her third book back 2 times for rewrites. This might have something to do with the quality.

And it’s not just Leona that makes me optimistic. I have Shadow Ops: Control Point, the new book by Myke Cole, The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, and The Blood Of Ambrose by James Enge sitting by my bed. All of these look fantastic and are quelling my fear of books.

TreeBook Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Late last year, I joined Goodreads, a book community site that has several on-going giveaways at any one time. That is where I won Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, who Darkcargo has been stalking politely and professionally following for some time now. I received my ARC in the mail about a week ago. Throne of the Crescent Moon is due to be out, in hard back, February 2012, and is to be the first in a series.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

This magical, nitty-gritty tale is set in the Kingdom of Abassen, primarily in the cit of Dhamsawaat. Adoulla Mahkslood is a professional ghul hunter and an overweight old man. He is assisted by the young, and overly pious, Raseed bas Raseed, of the forked sword. They start off with a simple quest to kill some ghuls in nearby marshlands, about a day’s ride away. There, they discover more than they expected – indicating deeper and darker magic is a-foot. Unexpectedly, the desert tribeswoman Zamia Banu Laith Badawi renders aid. She had been tracking the ghuls in order to avenge the dead of her tribe. She is full of pride and anger and loss and will not stop her hunt until she has killed the jackalman-beast monster that slayed her people.

And all that was just the first night of reading. You can see how I was sucked in to the story from the beginning.

As these unlikely heroes attempt to unravel the mystery to this evil and defeat it, they are assisted by long-time friends to Adoulla – husband and wife Dawoud and Litaz. One’s a mage and the other an alkhemist. All their efforts are integral in fending off this ghul-raising evil and saving the city of Dhamsawaat. Perhaps. And that is why I am glad there is another book in the wings. Last night when I finished Throne of the Crescent Moon, I truly wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these characters.

I really enjoyed this book, for a number of reasons. Characters, places, magics, and cultures new to me – not based on European mythologies. Also, each character was flawed in some way – which made them very real to me. And despite their imperfections, they were still fighting for the good. The bad guys are really bad – like no qualms about killing little kids or stabbing you in the back kind of bad. I appreciate this in a fantasy – it makes the struggle for good all the more important.

The play of light and dark makes for a whorling gem of a tale. The relaxing use of cardamom tea in between action scenes had me wishing for a hot cup myself. Saladin Ahmed sprinkles his prose with references to foreign places that make this story all the more tangible; camels trained to sniff out ink mushrooms and honey fried colocasia roots are just two such examples. All in all, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a most engaging book and I fully encourage you to check out his works.

TreeBook Review: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

I bought this book, Ghost Story, some months ago shortly after it came out. But I let it sit and wait. It was hard. But I wanted there to be less of a wait, once I finished it, for the next book.

Tofu & Ghost Story

Don’t look at me like that. I know you’ve done the same thing; Trying to stave off that absence of the next great book in a series by spacing out the books. We’ve all done that. And I had been filling in the ache by re-reading the earlier Dresden Files books.

Jim Butcher once again gave me hours of reading pleasure, with an ending that had me bowing my head to the master writer. The book was well thought out, with everything falling into place at the end, yet leaving enough of the bigger mystery to have me eagerly awaiting the next book.

The Dresden Files is a series of 13 books that chronicle the Chicago wizard Harry Dresden as he battles the forces of evil. Repeatedly. Sometimes getting his ass handed to him. If you haven’t checked these books out, then you most definitely need to turn in a note from a responsible scifi/fantasy reader as to why, along with a schedule delineating how you plan to make up for lost time.

So let me give you the run-down on Ghost Story, without giving away any major bits. (I get extra stars for this). In this installment of Harry’s life, he is interacting with the spirit world on a much closer level than before. Indeed, this turns out to be quite a learning experience for him as he deals with different types of ghosts. Harry has a mystery, indeed, a murder, to solve and he digs up Morty, the ectomancer that we met in an earlier installment. Morty, however, is not too thrilled that Harry needs his help, and he is turned away. Our hero must seek out others to assist him.

While Harry is trying to gain the attention and assistance of Karrin Murphy, The Alphas, and even his apprentice Molly Carpenter, Morty is snatched up by the bad guys. And there are a whole lot of bad guys. And there are some ambivalent allies just to add to the tension. The fall of a major bad guy power at the end of the previous book, Changes, left a power vacuum, that several light weights have tried to fill. All sorts of nasty things have been coming out of the woodwork and snatching your average citizens off the streets of Chicago. Rumors of the Fomor keep popping up – an ancient power that even the Sidhe don’t particularly want to tangle with.

As always, Harry has a lot to do and not much time to do it in. Some of my favorite characters get main roles – Bob the Skull, Butters, Molly. Father Forthill gets a couple of great lines. An evil character from earlier in the series returns to make another sound attempt at ending Harry. It was a great book and I am keeping an eye on Jim Butcher’s site for news of the next book.

As usual, Harry Dresden made reference to several real-life individuals and modern pop-culture, some I recognized and some I didn’t. Cpt. William Wells was killed during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Fort Dearborn – and you can guess that his ghost shows up in this story. Herman Webster Mudgett was a documented serial killer, who did many of his crimes during the 1893 World’s Fair. H. R. Giger is a Swiss surrealist who was the creator for the alien lifeforms in the 1980 classic Alien. According to this dude’s website, he also does interior architecture…..hmm……..And I can’t believe I forgot who Jack Burton was – Kurt Russell’s character in Big Trouble in Little China (1986). I also need to bone up on my WWII history as I missed the Schutzstaffel reference – the SS paramilitary organization of the Nazi party. On top of all that, I learned a new vocabulary word: badinage – banter, joke, and jest.

So, for all those out there that believe that modern fantasy is just for fun, I say it can be a history lesson and a vocabulary builder.

Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord

Indigo is a plant-derived dye brought about by fermentation and very precise pH conditions. There’s a lot of superstition and mysticism involved with dyeing, especially indigo, because the ability to put extremely tight QC controls on the dyeing process, allowing the dyers to repeat a dyebath with precision, were not really available until relatively recently. The chemical processes of oxidation, reduction and fermentation were as close to magic as humans have ever really been, I think. Was this beautiful dark blue achieved because the indigo was allowed to ferment with chicken feet in addition to  fruit peels?  My cousin, the next village over, has a magical copper pot from which she dyes the most incredible and vibrant green. (photo from http://mekongtextiles.com/travel3.html)

Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord, Small Beer Press, 2010, is a story that feels like a fairy tale but is fully saturated and vibrant, making a fantabulous novel. It blows kisses to these kinds of old-fashioned wives tales and mysticism as it blows its way past Folk Tale on its way to Modern Fantasy Novel.

One of the many things I loved about reading this book was that the narrator often turns to the reader and berates him for being so simple-minded and expecting tropes and over-done themes.

“…but I am hearing some rumblings from my audience. You are distressed that I have spoiled the moving and romantic tale of how Love’s Laureate courted his beautiful wife? You complain that I have turned it into a cobbled pastiche  of happenstance, expediency and the capricious tricks of the djombi? I bleed for your injured sentiments, but to dress the tale in vestments of saga and chivalry was never my intent.”

I love that there is no single, single-minded Bad Guy driving the other characters around the plot. There are Tricksters, Benevolent Beings, Un-benevolent Beings, and people caught up in the workings. There is no damsel in distress, there’s a woman in a difficult situation trying to figure out the best path forward.

I love that Lord’s characters adhere not to MY western european senses of morals and What is Right, but to their own social mores and customs, and yet people are people the globe over, looking for gossip and good food.

The basic premise of the story? Paama is irritated beyond reason with her foolish bumble of a husband and moves home. In so doing, she attracts the attention of the Benevolent Beings who are in the midst of dealing with the errant behavior of one of their kind.

Redemption in Indigo is one of those very rare results in which every word is precisely where it needs to be. I’m eager to see if Karen Lord can successfully  reproduce her result. Thanks for this, Small Beer Press.