Tag Archives: fantasy

Reading Recap 2014

Starfish by Peter WattsIt’s that time again…the best-of roundup posts! I’m a little late to the party, but who cares? Here — in no particular order — are the best 5 books I read in 2014, plus some reading statistics just because…

Disclaimer: I’m always playing catch-up in my reading, so these aren’t the best books published in 2014, but the best I read. For links to some lists of the former, see the bottom of the post.

The Books

1. Starfish by Peter Watts.

Peter Watts is a Canadian SF author who writes very dark, very hard SF centered around biology. His novel Blindsight was shortlisted for the Hugo a few years ago, and the sequel, Echopraxia,  came out last summer (I bought it promptly but haven’t read it yet).

Starfish was his first novel, but you couldn’t tell from the quality. It’s about a deep-sea station manned by people who’ve been modified with built-in wetsuits and breathing apparatus, which raises a couple of questions. First, what kind of people are willing to have that done to them (and live at the bottom of the ocean, next to an oceanic rift, for months)? Second, when your body is altered to live under these conditions, what does that do to your psyche? And that’s just for starters….

The Passage by Justin Cronin cover2. The Passage by Justin Cronin.

This book was big when it came out in 2010 (remember what I said about playing catch-up with my reading?). Cronin had previously published some family drama novels, and it shows…so this is a vampire apocalypse novel with family/small-town drama at the core and also a quest structure. Sounds like a strange mash-up, but for the most part, it really works. Cronin’s cross-genre roots serve him well — there’s a lot of hard-hitting emotional stuff intertwined with the end-of-the-world action.

My only quibble is the length. Despite the epic scope of the story, it didn’t need to be 900 pages long — 700 would have done just fine. Having said that, I devoured it at twice my usual reading speed, so make of that what you will.

Room by Emma Donoghue cover3. Room by Emma Donoghue.

This is the only non-genre book on the list (another high-profile 2010 novel), but I loved it in part for genre reasons, and I’ll tell you why. The concept is tough to read: it’s the story of a woman kidnapped and kept in captivity in a soundproofed garden shed, told from the perspective of her young son. Jack has been sheltered from the truth of their existence. To him, Room is the entire world; everything and everyone he sees on TV is pretend.

Watching him slowly learn otherwise is painful at times, but it also hits at the heart of what I love about genre: that sense of discovery, of learning about a world and how it works. As a bonus, the POV and narrative voice are extremely strong: we’re in five-year-old Jack’s head the whole way, even when we understand things he does not, and that’s both heartbreaking and amazingly effective.

Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley cover4. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

You’ve probably all read this already, so I won’t say too much about it. It’s an ’80s novel, which made me all nostalgic — in part because I’ve read (and loved) other McKinley novels before, in part for the writing conventions of a time before YA was a “‘thing” and fantasy was just fantasy.

I found the pacing and conflict a bit uneven by today’s exacting standards, but the protagonist’s journey felt larger-than-life as she *ahem* gets dragged through the fire and has to rebuild herself stronger than ever. Plus, there’s a horse who really feels like a horse, with a complete personality. And I’m not the only one who loved it — this is a Newbery Medal winner.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor cover5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

By contrast, this is a contemporary YA fantasy (from 2011), so it’s full of familiar tropes. BUT I think this is what literary agents mean when they say they want writing that feels “fresh”. Despite the tropes, the characters ring true and bring depth to the story, and the sentence-level writing reaches for poetry without being overdone. I particularly enjoyed the fact that although the protagonist, Karou, is “special”, she’s also lonely and deeply insecure; and also the relationship with her best friend, full of in-jokes and teasing.

Fair warning: this is book 1 in a trilogy, and it shows.

Summary

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge character arcs
  • SFF stories in which the whole world is affected/changed
  • sentence-level writing that rises above the ordinary, whether it’s poetic (Laini Taylor) or a strong narrative voice (Emma Donoghue)
  • strong sense of the world/place

That summary is especially timely for me right now, as I seek to regain my writing mojo. Note to self: read (and maybe, eventually, write) more of that!

Reading Habits

On to the statistics…here’s hoping I’m not the only one interested in them. ;-)

 Genres

I read 24 books in 2014, 7 fewer than in the previous year, but that’s not surprising because I was on a six-month sabbatical that year!

  • 6 were adult fantasy (9 last year) and 6 were adult SF (5 last year).
  • 2 were non-genre adult fiction (1 last year)
  • 5 were YA fantasy (2 last year) and 2 were YA SF (2 last year)
  • 3 were non-fiction (5 last year)
  • I read no anthologies, poetry, YA non-genre (1 of each last year), or graphic novels / webcomics (3 last year)

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia cover17 of the books were from my to-read list (14 last year).

17 of the books were part of series – almost all of my genre reading. (The exceptions were The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.)

Authors

I read books by 22 different authors (not counting collaborations), of whom 9 were new to me this year (12 last year) and 13 were new-to-me books by previously read authors (11 last year).

6 of the authors were male, 15 female, and 1 presented as non-gendered (Mazarkis Williams, although hir novel, The Emperor’s Knife, was solidly hetero). Last year was 9 male and 14 female.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin coverTo my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.) I keep resolving to do better in this regard and falling short.

Publishing and Buying

Of all 24 books I read, 10 were published in the last five years – a ratio consistent with years past.

2 books were acquired for free from an SFF convention, 1 was a library book, 1 I read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy), and 1 was free from Project Gutenberg. The rest I bought.

10/24 were ebooks – about 40%. (Last year was 33% and the year before was 25%, so it’s gradually creeping up! At the end of 2013 I finally got a smartphone, but it hasn’t changed my ereading habits much – I still read mostly on my Kobo B&W e-ink reader.) What I buy in ebook form:

  • big fat fantasy novels or trade paperbacks that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (2)
  • older books that I can’t get in print from my local bookstore (3)
  • out-of-copyright books (1)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

I buy from my local indie SF&F bookstore whenever I can, otherwise that number would likely be higher!

Other Reading Recaps

Last year’s recap is here.

And here are some reading recaps/ “best-of” lists that actually cover SF&F books published in 2014…

Your turn! What were the best books you read in 2014 (any genre)?

 

Reading the World

As you may have noticed, I have a fascination with other countries. No single country in particular, though there are some that exert more of a pull on me more than others — rather, the whole world intrigues me.

But I don’t read nearly as much international literature as I’d like. I’m going to guess you’re the same way.

Here, then, is a starting list of (mostly) fiction I’ve read from countries other than Canada, the USA, and England. It’s very 101-level for the most part, but still, I hope it’s helpful! If you have recommendations from countries not your own, in translation or otherwise, please chime in…

  • Albania – Ismail Kadare, The Successor (literary)
  • Argentina - Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand (magic realism)
  • Belgium – Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin (comics)
  • Columbia – Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (magic realism) and Living to Tell the Tale (autobiography)
  • Czech Republic - Karel Čapek, R.U.R. (science fiction play)
  • Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tales)
  • France – Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, Paris in the Twentieth Century (science fiction and/or adventure); Albert Camus, The Stranger (literary)
  • India – Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (literary)
  • Ireland – James Joyce, Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners (literary)
  • Italy - Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before (magic realism)
  • Lebanon - Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (spiritual)
  • Nigeria - Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (literary)
  • Norway - Knut Hamsun, Hunger (literary); Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter (historical); Henrik Ibsen (plays)
  • Poland - Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (science fiction)
  • Russia - Ekaterina Sedia, The Secret History of Moscow (urban fantasy); Sergei Lukyanenko, The Night Watch (urban fantasy); Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (science fiction); Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (literary)
  • Sweden - Astrid Lindgren (children’s books)

That’s 16 countries. As you can see, there’s a serious tilt towards Europe and away from genre fiction. That’s because I read most of these in school. If you can expand the horizons of this list, please do!

Further reading:

A Year of Reading the World

Women in Translation Month

Another time I’ll share with you the (much longer) list of international books that are on my radar but that I just haven’t gotten to yet…

Your turn! What books/authors can you add to this list?

 

Health Update and Book Sale!

First, a health update: My wrists are still causing trouble, two weeks after this all started. I’ll know more tomorrow, I hope, but in the meantime I’ve been trying to minimize non-job-related computer use. (My job involves being on the computer all day, most days, so that doesn’t help….)

Funny how I spend so much time avoiding writing, and now that I’m avoiding it for health reasons, I’m getting really antsy to start writing again. Oh, brain, why must you be so weird?

In the meantime I’ve been busy with story intake instead of output, if you get my drift. I zoomed through Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown in a week (that’s pretty fast for me these days) and am now making my way through Justin Cronin’s The Passage (which is taking me longer, because that sucker is huge). And I’ve settled down for — finally — some dedicated watching of Doctor Who. So it’s definitely not all bad.

Turtleduck Press book sale 2014

Second, the happy news — Turtleduck Press is having a book sale! All of our books are 99 cents from now until October 7. For details and recommendations, drop by the book sale announcement on our site.

I happen to think everything we’ve published is pretty cool, but if you’d like to support me in particular, pick up our latest anthologyUnder Her Protection — or one of our other anthologies. I have stories in each of them, but if you like…

…Gothic steampunk about mad cellists, read my story in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Volume I

…post-apocalyptic steampunk with crash-landing dirigibles, check out Seasons Eternal (which also has a cool premise for the anthology as a whole: each of the authors wrote a story about a different season on a planet where the seasons have stopped turning)

…secondary-world fantasy based on Inuit mythology, try Winter’s Night (all winter-themed stories — and hey, Christmas is coming! *ducks barrage of rotten fruit*)

Enjoy!

September Book Trailers

Just a quick post today, because I somehow killed my wrists and am trying to minimize typing. Instead of words, how about I show you some videos instead?

First up: the book trailer for an upcoming YA science fiction novel, Earth and Sky, by Canadian author Megan Crewe.

I got to read an early version of this novel, and it was pretty neat. Time travel! Aliens! OCD female protagonist! Coming October 28.

Second, here’s a longer trailer for a historical non-fiction book, Prevail by Jeff Pearce, that covers a 20th-century war I’d never even heard of. Jeff’s trailer says it all:

Prevail will be out November 4.

Both books are already available for preorder at your book provider of choice.

Finally, happy 30th anniversary to the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy by Canadian fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay! Most of Kay’s work is set in fantasy worlds closely modelled after historical places and times. The Fionavar Tapestry involves a clearly different (secondary) world…but one that echoes several mythologies in our own. Norse, Welsh, Celtic, and Arthurian myths are evoked.

Without giving too much away, I’ll tell you that some of the characters stand in for mythological figures — a trope that fascinates me. I enjoyed seeing it done in N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and much earlier, in Diane Duane’s Deep Wizardry. If you know of any others, I’d love to hear about them.

Your turn! What upcoming books are you looking forward to? And what are your best tips for saving a writer’s wrists?

 

A Fantasy Short Story Inspired by Rajasthan, India

Last month, Turtleduck Press released this anthology:

Under Her Protection edited by Siri Paulson

My contribution (besides editing the anthology) was a story about a maidservant and an inventor, set in a fantasy/clockpunk version of Mughal-era India. I spent six weeks in India last year and fell in love with…well, many things, but especially the historical architecture. So writing about it was a no-brainer. And as a bonus, that means I can put up related photos…

The story opens at Amber Fort (also called Amer Fort), a fortified palace in Rajasthan, which looks like this. Click to enlarge any of the photos (all copyright 2013 Siri Paulson).

Amber or Amer Fort

Amber or Amer Fort

Gateway in Amer Fort

Gateway in Amber Fort

Continue reading

Anthology Announcement: Stories of Strong Women

So you might have noticed a lack of posting around here. *watches tumbleweeds roll past* There are several reasons for that, including me getting distracted by my garden, but here’s the best one:

Under Her Protection edited by Siri Paulson

We at Turtleduck Press have been working hard to bring you our best anthology yet (okay, I might be a teeny bit biased). This one features four fantasy romance stories about women rescuing, well, dudes in distress:

Sometimes men are the ones trapped in a tower, or bound by a curse, or doomed to stay in the underworld. Damsels or not, they need rescuing too. And these are just the women to do it…

A swordswoman and a scholar.

A grim reaper and a dead man.

A maidservant and an inventor.

A new university grad and a prince.

Fantasy romance stories from four indie writers about strong women…and men who need their help.

Stories by Kit Campbell, KD Sarge, Erin Zarro, and yours truly. Full disclosure: I am also the editor.

As you can see from the above, we’ve written four very different stories (as usual!) — a paranormal, a fairy tale, and two secondary world adventures. But they all feature female leads who are strong in their own ways, and handsome love interests who are deserving of their affections.

In other words, just what (I hope) you’ve come to expect from Turtleduck Press.

Buy it direct from our printer here, from Amazon (Kindle or paperback) here, or in other ebook formats here. Enjoy!

 

Divergent, Frozen, Hollywood, and the Strong Girl Character

Divergent film posterSo the film adaptation of Divergent came out a few weeks ago. It’s the latest in a string of movies starring girls. Twilight* kicked off the trend six years ago, and then Hunger Games and Catching Fire blew the box office away. On the animated side, we have Tangled, Brave, and most recently Frozen. And for adult female protagonists last year, we got the Academy Award–winning Gravity, Best Picture nominee Philomena, and a pretty awesome supporting character in Pacific Rim.

* Note: I’m not holding up Bella as an example of a strong girl character. For the purposes of this argument, I’m chiefly interested in her existence as a female lead. But if you want to argue that some of the female leads I’m citing are problematic, I’m happy to listen.

Is this a trend? I sure hope so.

I’m a big SF&F watcher (and reader, and TV viewer). I try to see most of the big genre movies in theatre as they come out. If there’s a well-told story and a good character arc to suck me in, I love explosions and superheroes and aliens and dystopian futures and all that. I’m the target audience.

I can, and do, identify with male heroes in these genres. But it gets tiresome after a while, seeing the girls (or women) as sidekicks or objects to yearn after (*coughHercough*) or nice butts in tight outfits. Even Divergent is guilty of this — check out the poster above and tell me, based on the poses, who looks like the protagonist and who looks like the sexy sidekick / love interest.

Frozen flim posterBut then along comes something like Frozen. Here we have not one but two princesses who stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe in. And they’re not just strong because they kick ass — but that’s another rant.

Better yet (SPOILERS HO)…

…their closest relationship is with each other, and that’s what the whole story revolves around. Sure, there’s a prince, and there’s a commoner love interest, but they’re subplots. The main plot is a love story between two sisters. The climax isn’t a kiss, or a proposal, but the culmination and expression of sisterly love. How cool is that? How much did you not expect that from Disney?

(Another reason to love Frozen is the wonderfully earnest MALE sidekick, Olof. Thinking about him still cracks me up, months after I saw the film. But I digress.)

Films like this give me hope. If even Disney, bastion of heteronormative roles and romances, is getting into the act, surely we’re making headway. And Frozen is the highest-grossing animated film in history. Surely the legions of female film lovers — and their interests — are finally getting noticed.

Now, Divergent didn’t crush the box office like the Hunger Games movies, nor has it received the same level of critical acclaim. But it did finish first on its opening weekend, a good enough showing to ensure the making of sequels…and, if we’re lucky, lots and lots of copycat productions.

Long live the strong girl character!

Your turn! What female-led films have you enjoyed recently? What girl heroes from SF&F books would you love to see onscreen?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics and The Gothic Novel and the Feminine Touch.