Tag Archives: fantasy

A Short Story Inspired by Thailand

This week I have a new fantasy story up at Turtleduck Press. It’s the third installment in “Still Waters Run Deep”, a serial story about a pedlar trying to solve a magical crisis that’s entwined with his own long-buried past. (The first installment is here.) His world is not our own, but it bears a more-than-passing resemblance to ours…specifically, some of the places I saw on my travels earlier this year.

If I were to illustrate the story so far with photos, here’s what I’d choose…

The floating market at the beginning of the story, and the pedlar’s boat:

Thonburi floating market(Thonburi floating market, Bangkok, Thailand)

The river and vegetation:

Longtail boat in Thonburi greenery(Longtail boat in Thonburi, Thailand)

The narrow streams where the pedlar prefers to trade:

Kerala backwaters(The “backwaters” near Kumarakom, Kerala, southern India)

More vegetation along the main river in the story:

Jungle view from boat(Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia)

The Grand Temple in the city:

Grand Palace(Grand Palace, Bangkok)

And from the latest installment…

 

…leaving extra space in case you want to avoid spoilers…

 

The Old Temple:

Wat Arun(Wat Arun, Bangkok)

The golden statue would be something like this, except sitting upright in the lotus position (I did see statues like that, but most temples prohibit photography, so this is one of the few I was able to snap):

Wat Pho Reclining Buddha(Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok)

With those visuals in mind…hope you enjoy the story!

Your turn! Did the photos add to or detract from your experience of the story? If you’re a writer, do you use photographs as inspiration?

Book Review: A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

I don’t usually do book reviews here, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I’m not up on the latest releases — I’m always scrambling along a couple of years behind. For another, it’s just easier to put out a list of books on a theme with short descriptions for each.

But I recently read one that I loved so much that…well, I finished it and immediately flipped back to the beginning to start again. (I’ve only done that once before.) I’ve been avoiding writing this because it’s difficult to put into words why I loved it so much, but I have to try.

A Companion to Wolves coverThe book is A Companion to Wolves, by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Both of them are solo writers as well: Bear is a prolific writer of all sorts of speculative fiction, while (to date) Monette has published one four-book fantasy series and a couple of anthologies. I haven’t read all of their stuff, but I heartily recommend both of them to anyone who will listen.

With A Companion to Wolves, they take several well-worn fantasy tropes — telepathic animal companions, small groups of magic-users living apart from regular society, young protagonist drawn to magic despite disapproval from his family, society under siege from magical beings — and twist until the tropes are fresh again.

If you love these tropes, don’t worry. They’re not warped until they’re unrecognizable; rather, they’re treated with reverence. Monette and Bear clearly love these kinds of stories too. They just want to know what makes these tropes tick, what happens when they are really, thoroughly explored.

They’re also interested in running quickly through the obvious to get to the interesting stuff. So yes, the young protagonist — Isolfr — is drawn to the magical sub-society, leaves home, bonds with the coolest animal, and faces opposition from some of his new companions who have been there longer. That’s all a given. What about the real questions that arise from this setup?

For example, the telepathic animals in question are wolves. They live in a pack, they act like wolves (as opposed to humans in wolf form), and most pertinent to the themes of the story, they mate like wolves. Without going into detail, this isn’t an easy path for their human companions to walk, especially for Isolfr, who was raised to believe that the wolf-bonded men were unnatural in their inclinations, but who can’t bear to reject the she-wolf — the “queen wolf”, destined for leadership — who has chosen him as her own.

(Don’t worry. It’s not as unnatural as you might be thinking. Remember how telepathic animal bonding stories work?)

Against these themes of coming-of-age and questioning of sexual identity, the bigger story that plays out is the society-under-siege plot. In this case, the society is more or less pre-Christian Scandinavia, if you squint, and the danger — the reason the wolf-bonded men exist — is from marauding trolls and wyverns from the north. Winter encroaches, the danger grows more grave, and Isolfr is put to the test.

But there’s more. I won’t spoil it, but this is one twisty book, with some masterful plotting and worldbuilding. As a writer myself, I wish I knew how the authors pulled off some of what they did, because wow.

Monette and Bear also do a truly fabulous job of showing the close friendships that develop among the men, making the wolves feel like wolves (and, at the same time, companions worthy of love and respect), and differentiating among a large cast of characters. Their sentence-level writing is beautiful and evocative without calling too much attention to itself — unless, say, you happen to know a little something about this stuff, in which case you might want to drink it all in on multiple levels.

A Companion to Wolves is the first in a planned trilogy. The second book is called The Tempering of Men, and I’m saving it because sadly, the third book isn’t out yet. I wish it were. I can’t wait to spend more time in this world.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones posterJust a quick post today, because it’s Labour Day (Labor Day for you Americans), and that means holiday!

I went to see The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones a few days ago. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much — I haven’t read the books, but the trailer looked pretty generic, and the Rotten Tomatoes rating was all of 12% — but I was in the mood for something light and fantasy-ish.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Sure, the plot elements and tropes are pretty standard. But they’re well done. Ordinary girl with ordinary life discovers that not only is there a secret world full of danger and magic right in her own city, but she’s not so ordinary after all. If this is your kind of story, you’ll like it, even if you’ve seen it before. The entry into the secret world is exciting, the stakes high (protagonist Clary’s mother is missing), the magical elements a nice blend of horror and wonder, the plot tight and coherent.

My main criticism is of the love triangle between Clary and two boys, one from the ordinary world and one from the magical world. I object not because it’s a love triangle, but because of all the angst surrounding it…including from the magical Shadowhunter, Jayce, who lives to fight demons and should therefore have better things to think about than whether Clary likes him.

Your turn! What did you think of the movie? If you’ve read the book, how does the movie compare?

If You Liked… Temeraire

Naomi Novik Blood of Tyrants coverAmazon can give you recommendations, but it can’t tell you why or zero in on specific aspects of a book. To do that, you need a human (for now, anyway). So here we go…

Last week saw the release of the latest book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants. (If you’re not familiar with Temeraire, here it is in a nutshell: Napoleonic Wars with dragons.) To celebrate, I’m devoting this “If you liked…” post to Naomi Novik.

If you liked…

  • The dragons. I will assume you’ve read Anne McCaffrey. (If not, get thee to a bookstore immediately and look for Dragonflight!) Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett does something a bit different — their dragons are clockwork, in an alternate Russia, bordering an alternate China. On my TBR list are Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton and Dragon’s Keep (YA) by Janet Lee Carey.
  • The Regency setting. Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward by Patricia C. Wrede are fabulous. A teenaged street urchin meets a street magician who’s more than what he seems. Shenanigans ensue. (YA, but don’t let that stop you!) On my TBR list: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal.
  • The social graces (but not necessarily the Regency part). The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson is set in ancient Japan, a time and place as strongly bound by etiquette as Regency England. Melusine by Sarah Monette is a secondary-world story, but it’s still largely about court graces and politics. I believe Tooth and Claw qualifies here as well, along with Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner.
  • The ships. I’ve seen the Temeraire books described as owing much to the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, but somehow I missed reading these…odd, given my childhood love of books about the sea and Arthur Ransome in particular. On to my TBR list they go….
  • The human-animal bond. Temeraire is highly intelligent, but he doesn’t think like a human. Still, the bond between him and Laurence is one of my favourite things about these books. For a bond where the animals are much more animal-like, I’ll put in another plug for A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette (yes, again) and Elizabeth Bear.

Your turn! What can you recommend for people who enjoyed Temeraire?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy If You Liked… A Game of Thrones and If You Liked… Neil Gaiman.

 

Your Turn: SFF Writers of Colour

It’s a holiday Monday here in Canada, so instead of me talking, I’m turning the blog over to you.

I’m pretty good at seeking out SF&F by women and LGBTQ-themed speculative fiction. But I know that one area where I could be doing better is in reading SF&F by writers of colour.

So I’m looking for book recommendations. Who have you read? Who’s on your radar or your TBR list?

If you can’t think of any authors of colour, how about books that star characters of colour (main characters, not supporting characters) or that are built on mythologies and histories that are not Western? (And yes, I realize this brings up the whole question of appropriation, which is why I’m looking primarily for authors of colour.)

Let’s get this discussion going…

If You Liked… Neil Gaiman

US cover

US cover

If you’re an SF&F reader, you just might have heard that Neil Gaiman has a new book out. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is being given critical acclaim, both from reviewers and from Gaiman himself.

Sadly, I haven’t read it yet. But to celebrate its release, here’s my (personalized, human-driven) version of Amazon’s “If You Liked…” algorithm.

If your favourite Neil Gaiman book is…

  • Neverwhere. Urban British fantasy featuring a parallel “pocket universe” that exists close to our own? Try China Miéville’s debut novel, King Rat. If you’ve read other Miéville novels, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s weirder than Neverwhere, focusing on London’s rave scene, but the vibe is similar.
  • Stardust. The land of Faerie reimagined, with its dark and dangerous undercurrent intact? Try Elizabeth Bear’s Blood and Iron. It’s set in the present day, whereas Stardust is period fantasy, but it features changelings and Dark and Light faerie courts and human mages. Bonus? There are sequels.
  • American Gods and Anansi Boys. Contemporary fantasy exploring the nature of mythology and mythical beings in a North American setting? Try pretty much anything by Charles de Lint. I’ve read Mulengro (horror-ish) and Someplace to Be Flying (more urban fantasy) and recommend them both.
  • Coraline. YA portal fantasy that plays on the fear of losing one’s parents and dares to be creepy? Try Half World by Canadian author Hiromi Goto. This one has a sequel too.
  • The Graveyard Book. YA episodic fantasy about a young boy far out of his element and being raised by strange beings? Well, The Graveyard Book is an homage to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. You may have seen the Disney movie, but have you read the original?
  • Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things. Short story collections featuring a wide variety of dark and thoughtful and sometimes creepy stories? Try The Hair Wreath by Canadian author Halli Villegas.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Big disclaimer: as mentioned, I haven’t read this yet. But some of the reviews I’ve read make me think that Jo Walton’s Among Others might be a good companion book.

Your turn! Have you read, or are you planning to read, The Ocean at the End of the Lane? What books/authors do you recommend for fans of Neil Gaiman?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy If You Liked… A Game of Thrones.

Women in SF and Fantasy: Book Recommendations

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin ZarroI read a lot of SF&F written by female authors and/or starring women. Sometimes I forget that other people don’t. And then something happens to remind me — a friend asks for suggestions, or some sexist kerfuffle blows up in the world of SF&F conventions or fandom.

So here are my recommendations for SF&F starring strong female characters. Most of the authors are female themselves, but not all.

(What exactly is a “strong female character”? She doesn’t have to literally kick ass. There are many kinds of strength….)

Elizabeth Bear — Hammered

A prolific writer who likes to explore all corners of SF&F, Bear has written everything from contemporary fantasy about Faerie (Blood and Iron) to a sort of allegory crossed with generation ships (Dust). Her latest series (starting with Range of Ghosts) is epic fantasy in Mongolia.

My recommendation, though, is the trilogy starting with Hammered – starring an aging female ex-soldier, half cyborg, who’s dragged kicking and screaming back into a military program. Cynical? Yes…but there’s also hard-won hope and a good dose of sense-of-wonder.

Lois McMaster Bujold — Paladin of Souls

Picture this: an epic fantasy novel where the main character is an older noblewoman going on a quest and having adventures…yet she’s acting within social constraints that are true to the medieval setting. Doesn’t sound possible? Read Paladin of Souls. It’s one of my very favourite secondary-world fantasy novels, and that’s saying a lot.

Bujold is also the author of the Vorkosigan Saga, which stars strong women like Cordelia and Ekaterin. Or so I’ve heard…I’m just getting into the series, and looking forward to more.

Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey — The Steel Seraglio

Mike Carey works in comics, and Linda Carey has written fantasy under the name A.J. Lake. But together with Louise Carey, they wrote a lovely novel called The Steel Seraglio. It’s the story of a harem of women whose sultan is deposed by a religious zealot. They’re sent into the desert to die…but they won’t give up so easily. I’ll have more to say about this one in a future post.

Gail Carriger — Soulless

This light, fun steampunk series wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but lots of people love it. It’s got vampires, werewolves, mad science, and a fearless Victorian woman protagonist who’s ready to take on anything and anyone.

Kelley Eskridge — Solitaire

A hard SF novel where the science in question is psychology. The young woman of colour in this story has been born and raised for a role of corporate leadership, but as the story begins, she’s just been told that it’s all a lie. The fallout leads her into solitary confinement, where she confronts everything she’s done and everything she knows about herself. The writing is some of the most psychologically astute I’ve ever read.

Phil and Kaja Foglio — Girl Genius

I’ve talked about this steampunk graphic novel/webcomic series before. The spunky engineer heroine gets up to all sorts of shenanigans involving airships, robots and mechanical constructs of all sizes, a mad scientist out to kill her, the mad scientist’s handsome son, and much, much more. Her adventures are way too much fun, and full of spectacular visuals to boot.

Nicola Griffith — Slow River

This gritty SF novel follows an heiress who is forced into hiding, with no way to prove her identity. Her (female) rescuer is a street-savvy tech criminal. They begin a dangerous romance, and the rich girl finds herself changing…but she must decide who she ultimately wants to become.

KD Sarge — Captain’s Boy

KD Sarge is one of our Turtleduck Press authors. She usually writes SF about male characters, but Captain’s Boy features one of each gender. The young woman is a fiery, prickly type who gets along with nobody in the universe…except for a young man battling internal demons. When the unlikely duo sets out to rescue a boy stolen by interstellar slavers, they both have some hard learning and changing ahead.

Jo Walton — Among Others

Remember what I said about different kind of strengths? The teenage girl in this story isn’t going to kick anybody’s ass. She was crippled, and her twin sister killed, while stopping their evil mother from doing black magic. That’s all backstory.

Now she has to go on with her life — an ordinary life involving English boarding school, where there is no magic. There, looking for something to connect with, she discovers the SF&F section of the library…and a reader is born. This is a love letter to SF&F as much as anything else.

Erin Zarro — Fey Touched

Zarro is another Turtleduck Press author (coincidence? not likely…). This science fantasy novel features two sisters on opposite sides of a raging conflict. One is a genetically engineered Fey, the other a Hunter of Fey, both fierce and determined to fight for their people. But when family and community collide, only one loyalty can prevail.

Honorable Mention: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer — Agnes and the Hitman

This isn’t speculative fiction, it’s romantic comedy/action, but it had to be mentioned anyway because it is awesome. Agnes is a food columnist with anger problems; Shane is a hitman hired to protect her. They fight crime! And solve mysteries, and spout wisecracks, and reluctantly fall in love. Oh, just go read it. You’ll love it, I swear.

Your turn! Who are your favourite female authors and/or characters in adult science fiction and fantasy?

If you liked this post, you might also like Women in A Game of Thrones.

Canada Day Announcement: New Fantasy Story

Canadian flagJust a quick post today, because it’s Canada Day and that means a holiday up here in the frozen north!

First: I have a new fantasy story up at Turtleduck Press. “Still Waters Run Deep” is an ongoing serial, but this month’s installment (Part 2) is written so that you don’t have to read Part 1 first. Here’s a teaser…

The shallow waters of the stream, thick with reeds, stretched as far ahead as Payut could see. He sank his paddle into the muddy bottom and pulled. His little boat slid forward along the bottom a few hard-earned handspans and stopped again.

Payut glanced up at the sun, already twinkling in and out of the thick jungle trees as it began to sink, and sighed. He’d lied to himself, thinking he could take his usual back route to the monastery through the waterways at this time of year. The monsoon wasn’t due for days.

And if he hadn’t lied to himself about his supply of earth charms in the first place, he wouldn’t be in this predicament.

You can read the rest here.

Second: Your turn! Who’s your favourite Canadian author?

Happy Canada Day!

WANA Friday: If You Could Have One Magical Item…

Welcome to another installment of WANA Friday, where a bunch of bloggers all post on the same topic and share links so you can see everyone’s answers.

This week’s question:

If you could have one magical item, what would it be and why?

My answer:

I would love to have a portal. You know, a thing you conjure up and step through to get somewhere far away, sometimes even another world.

It would save me more than an hour on my daily commute, and long airplane flights would be a thing of the past. Plus maybe I could get to some of those fictional worlds I mentioned last week….

(In science fictional terms, I’d take a transporter, the Guardian of Forever, or the TARDIS if a portal wasn’t available!)

Other participants this week:

Cora Ramos

Ellen Gregory

Kim Griffin

Tami Clayton

Your turn! What magical item would you want?

 

Top 5 Imaginary Worlds

Girl Genius Color Omnibus Vol. 1

The cover of one of the Girl Genius books. The thumbnail doesn’t do it justice — click through to see it bigger.

Following on last Friday’s post about your favourite place on Earth, here’s a related question for you all:

If you could live in any made-up story world, from books or movies or TV, which would you choose?

Here are my top 5…

(On a writerly note, you’ll notice all of these are series. Of course, this gives an author the room to really explore a new world and make it rich with details and layers – it’s hard to do the same in a standalone book or movie. But it didn’t take more than one book, and often much less, for me to fall in love…)

5. The world of Girl Genius

This series by Kaja and Phil Foglio is a webcomic and a graphic novel series (aimed at both adults and teens), so it’s not surprising that their world is chock-full of visual delights – enormous airships, quirky circuses, mad scientists, and lots and lots of clockwork machinery. Every place our heroine goes is more fantastic than the last. If I had my own airship, I’d be happily occupied for years.

4. Middle Earth

I admit to being influenced by the art that’s been made about Tolkien’s world, from paintings to the Peter Jackson films (famously shot in New Zealand). They all make the landscape look so gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for the beauty of nature. Plus there are elves and dwarves and hobbits. As long as I stay away from Mordor, it’s all good. (If Middle Earth isn’t available, Terry Pratchett’s satirical version, Discworld, would also do.)

3. Hogwarts

A school full of magic-users appeals to my fantasy-loving side and my old-fashioned-English-literature-loving side, not to mention the part of me that felt pretty lonely at school in my early teens. Sure, Voldemort is lurking around and there’s something wrong with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, but still, getting to learn spells, wield a magic wand, and fly, all while living in the niftiest boarding school ever? Yes, please!

2. Pern

Aside from the danger of Thread, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is a pretty sweet world – cozy stone halls, tall ships, and dragons – and for a (sort-of) pre-industrial planet, the larger centres are pretty modern-thinking. The only tough part would be deciding whether to Impress a dragon or go into training at Harper Hall (and maybe adopt some fire lizards).

1. The universe of Star Trek

I discovered Star Trek when I was 12, fell in love, and never really fell out of love. It offered a hopeful and essentially optimistic vision of the future, one that was missing from dystopian stories (yep, the ’80s had a round of dystopian novels too). Sure, there are wars and dissension, but the Federation is a pretty good entity overall. The chance to live on a spaceship, work with aliens, explore new planets with every mission, do science, and fly among the stars? Well, let’s just say that if I were given that choice, even today, I’d be gone faster than Jean-Luc Picard can say “Engage”. (Barring that, the TARDIS or the Firefly ‘verse would do in a pinch…)

Honourable Mention: Earth’s own history, at least as filtered through historical fiction. When I was growing up, some of my favourite books were historicals. I devoured any and every time period, from Ancient Egypt to the pioneer days to WWII. My favourite time periods were the medieval era, with its castles and romance, and the Victorian era, with its quaint manners and beautiful dresses. Of course, there are plenty of reasons I’m glad I don’t live in the past (women’s rights and modern medicine being just two!), but a girl can dream.

Your turn! Which fictional world or story-verse would you choose to live in if you could?