Apr 162019
 

For the use of my book club, plus whoever else would like a linked list. These are the short stories and novelettes that are up for a Hugo, and also available free online. This year, that’s all but one.

This is the first awards season since I predicted No Print Magazine Will Publish a Hugo-Winning Story Again. Since no print magazine even got a nomination this year, I’m not wrong yet. :) We’ll see what future years bring, though. Of note is that one of the nominees isn’t available free online! While I didn’t specify that as a criteria in my post, it surprises me nonetheless. The whole reason I predicted print magazines are out is because they cannot be shared like online stories can, and thus can’t capture enough attention-share. While Bolander’s story is online at Tor.com — the current clearing house for online commercial SF — I would’ve thought that the paywall would prevent achieving the number of readers needed to make the nominations. It’s a shame I won’t get to read it. :(

 

BEST NOVELETTE

BEST SHORT STORY

Mar 262019
 

The Monster Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson

Synopsis: Having infiltrated their ruling elite, Baru begins working to destroy the nation that conquered her homeland.

Book Review: I’ve been a fan of Seth Dickinson for many years, so I was expecting something pretty good from him. I read the prologue and I was not disappointed! Good stuff! Then I read the first chapter, and I put the book down. And I went and got a drink, and then another one, and ended up just drinking way too much that night, and not coming back to the book for a couple days. Because I realized while reading it that I will never, in my life, write anything this beautiful and this moving… and it’s kinda crushing.

I don’t want to over-hype the book, because nothing kills a story like insane expectations that no work in the real world could actually meet. But this is astoundingly good writing, and gorgeous prose, and I love it. It’s the first time I’ve read a middle-book in a series that I liked more than the first book.

As always, Dickinson does a great job of bringing you into the mind of the protagonist. You don’t just feel her emotions, you follow her thought patterns. Everything is translated into the logic of economics and capitalism. He explains what a hash-function is, in a fantasy setting, in a way that is both easy to understand AND completely in-character for the setting, AND is a moving and relevant part of the story, which I wouldn’t have believed was possible if I hadn’t seen it done myself. Without ever saying anything about the modern era, Dickinson says a lot about neoliberalism and the Molochian forces grinding away our humanity.

And in the occasional chapters where he goes into a different character’s POV, Dickenson shows us the world from their startlingly-different but instantly relatable view. I was surprised how quickly and intimately I felt my perspective on what was happening change by having it presented in such a viscerally relatable manner. Dickenson is a master of putting himself (and the reader) in the mind of someone different and also correct in their way. Call it steel-manning or call it true empathy, it’s awesome either way.

The biggest issue with this story is the large cast. There are a LOT of people who matter, with many existing relationships, and some of them with multiple names. It was sometimes hard to remember who was who. I recommend taking quick notes. It is absolutely worth it.

One of my favorite books now. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: Not everyone was as thrilled with this book as I was. Dickenson doesn’t coddle his reader, and expects you to put in effort. One fellow club member said he’s almost like Peter Watts in his attitude of ‘Keep up or drown, I don’t have time to talk-down to you,’ except “not as bad as Watts.” :) I don’t think they meant it as a compliment, but…

Another member felt that Dickinson was a bit over the top in some respects, and absolutely relentless in others. Be ye warned – the title of this book is accurate. Baru is not called “The Monster” without reason. If you do not wish to feel the things that would drive a monster, this probably isn’t a good read for you. There is nothing gratuitous, but there is a lot of Grim here. I, of course, love this. And there is absolutely a point to it, it is worth taking this journey. But I can see how it could be overwhelming.

Given the beauty of the prose, and the interesting twists that will spark conversation, and the things the author is saying/implying about what we value today and what we sacrifice in the pursuit of it… this makes for a lot of good talking. It’s work, and it’s not easy to read, which probably makes it a harder sell for book clubs. Check in with your group first to make sure they’re up for a harder read. Nonetheless: Recommended.

Feb 072019
 

UBO, by Steve Resnic Tem

Synopsis: A number of ordinary men are abducted and forced to relive the crimes of infamous psychopaths in recent history as part of a bizarre research project.

Book Review: After I finished it, it took me several days of thinking about this book to decide how I felt about it.

It is exceptionally well-written, as one would expect from a long-time, award-winning author. When I read this book, I really felt like I was in the UBO facility. I could see it and feel it around me. But it’s very dark. Like, ugly dark. Many parts of the novel made me feel ugly reading them, and I wanted to purge myself afterwards. Which is also good writing, just not a trip some people want to take.

The thing is, when you get to the end, you’re left wondering, what was all this for? In the penultimate chapter the protagonist gives an answer to that question, but it’s not a satisfying one, and it seems to be contradicted by the final chapter of the novel. And that final chapter… wow. It’s like emerging from underground after being trapped in a collapsed mine for twenty-one days and finally seeing the sky again.

In the end, I think every reader will have to come give their own meaning to this story. For myself, I view it as treatise on depression. The entire book up to the last chapter is what living with depression is. Everything is crumbling and dirty and rotting. All of humanity is wicked, and you are literally unable to gather the will to fight it due to subconscious sabotage. Merely existing is an ugly act. And one keeps asking oneself – why? What is all this for? Why are we enduring all this, what’s the point?

Why am I reading this?

And then the final chapter gives you your answer. It gives you the bloom of color that keeps you going, in spite of it all. Because there is some beauty out there that’s worth it.

I kinda like books that makes me think for days before I know if I like them or not. And I have a long history with depression. So in the end, I’ve decided I love this novel.

In fact, looking back on the past couple years, it seems that I’ve really liked all three horror novels we’ve read. I never read horror, because I associated it with torture-porn and sadistic grossness. But maybe I’m a horror guy at heart? And I should be reading a lot more of it? Something to ponder.

In the meantime: Highly Recommended!

Book Club Review: There’s definitely quite a bit to talk about here. The book is very open to interpretation and imposition of meaning. But as someone pointed out, people often force meaning onto unpleasant and awful things, perhaps in an attempt to make the experience have some value aside from just suffering. “If you were unavoidably hit by a baseball bat every day, you’d find meaning in it…” and so forth. And much of my book club did not think the payoff of having this book to ponder over was worth the price of having to read through depictions of being a killer. I think this is certainly not a good choice for people with certain sensitivities, so I can’t give it blanket recommendation.

But on the other hand, I would have never picked this up myself, because I thought I hate horror. I only read it because it was part of the book club reading, and I’m so glad I did. If you do pick it for a book club, it’s probably best to warn people beforehand. I’d give it a recommendation for provoking discussion, but only with caveats and some knowledge of your members’ personalities.

That being said, if you are me or sufficiently like me, read this!

Dec 212018
 

Unholy Land, by Lavie Tidhar

Synopsis: An Alternate Universe fic where the Jewish state is created in Uganda in 1903 (actual thing that came close to happening).

Book Review: I didn’t like it, mainly for personal reasons.

First, the writing style was unbearable. I know I lean purple in my taste. I like flowery, lyrical writing. I love everything Catherine Valente touchers. I even enjoyed the overwrought gothic style of Twilight. Unholy Land is the opposite of that. The prose is utterly flat. It just lies there, dead on the page. Like so:

“He said nothing. His breath was labored and it was loud in the room. The room was underground. The walls were strong.”

or

“The sunlight was white on the hills.”

It made reading difficult, because I was so bored my mind would wander. I had to force my attention back to the page. I guess he was trying to do the spare Hemingway thing, but it didn’t work out well IMO.

Second, he had lots of cool things that were briefly introduced, but never did anything. Like introducing the kabbalistic Tree of Life as a map for travelling between the various realities, and using kabbalah to twist them. But it’s just a hint and then it’s dropped and it’s frustrating as hell to be teased in this way. It gives the distinct impression that Tidhar thought “This would be cool if it was ever developed, so I’ll just drop it in,” but doing so without developing it or thinking about it just makes it feel shallow and tacked-on. Pointing out a part of you world to say “This could be really cool if this thing was done!” only highlights how lame it is in comparison since that thing wasn’t done. It would have been better off not introduced at all. At least IMO. Again, my complaints about this book are personal-taste in nature.

Thirdly, Tidhar goes to pains to point out–from within the text–that this novel is just pulp trash and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s a “Haha, only serious,” kinda thing, because obviously he does want it taken seriously, he has some serious things to say. Which is fine. Pulp can say serious things. But when on more than one occasion the author lampshades how trashy and pulpy the novel is, so you can just ignore anything that doesn’t make perfect sense because none of this is Serious Literature anyway, it infuriates me. Genre Fic has long had Serious People looking down their noses at it, saying it can’t say anything of substance because it’s not Real Literature. For Tidhar to buy into this and perpetuate it, especially as an excuse to preemptively deflect criticism, soured me on the novel. If you’re gonna say serious shit, say your serious shit, and don’t go making excuses and abasing yourself before the EarthFic Snobs who’ll never accept you anyway.

That being said, there are a few parts in here that really do shine. When Tidhar does decide to get philosophical he does so really well. The blurring of identities when you switch between realities was fascinating. His portrayal of someone trying to escape from themselves is great. I enjoyed his use of 1st/2nd/3rd person and the way it allowed him to seamlessly transition between viewpoint changes, although I think it was a bit of a wasted opportunity… he could have done more with it.

And the theme is one I love. The theme comes down to “You can change details, change circumstances, but ultimately that doesn’t solve anything. Because the problems are bigger than some details. The problem is within the person. No matter how much you change things, people stay the same, and so will their problems.”

But… well… I’ve seen this theme done before. And done far better. Tidhar shows us one alternate reality, and how things repeat even when the circumstances are different. He hints at others. There’s a book that shows us this process occurring again and again, with the same cast of characters, repeating the same tragedies over at least a half-dozen universes, in a half-dozen different bodies. But always the core people are the same, and nothing is different because the fault is in them, to the point that they can be reified into god-like archetypes and myths that span millennia and societies. It’s not a fair criticism of Tidhar’s book to say “I read a different book that did this better,” so I apologize for doing so. But I’m just not that impressed with Unholy Land since I have Vellum to compare it to.

In short, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: As a book club book, this went pretty well. Despite its flaws, it does have several things to say, which will prompt discussion. Since the things I disliked about the book were primarily personal taste things, most other people didn’t dislike those things. But I hold to the idea that most of what this novel does have to say is pretty surface-level, and the novel doesn’t seem to aspire to the levels it should or could (…and very consciously so). It’s better than your average book in terms of book clubs and discussions, but it falls short of a strong recommendation. I suppose… Mild Approval, If You’re Curious.

Nov 262018
 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

Synopsis: Two landed British gentlemen of the Napoleonic era flounce about being prissy, ineffectual twits. Also there are fairies.

Lately I’ve finally been picking up books that I’ve heard great things about for a long time, to great success! To continue this trend, I moved on to “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” next. I’ve heard from many sources that it’s an astounding novel.

Holy crap were those sources wrong. This is the most tedious, plodding, overhyped exercise in fiction I’ve come across in a while. I began to dread returning to it.

The basic conceit is that the landed gentry of Britain don’t have much to do, and so spend all of their time in frivolous pursuits like reading about old magics, and talking about old magics, and holding sessions about magics and writing great essays about the history of magic, but never actually doing any magic themselves. Until Mr Norrell comes in and changes all that by, I dunno, actually doing some of things they all read and discuss at length. But Norrell is just as ineffectual as everyone else, and the focus of all the action is not about the magic, or the Napoleonic wars, or the machinations of the fairies, or anything of the slightest bit of actual INTEREST. Rather, it focuses on how prissy and shallow and pompous everyone is.

I get that this is supposed to be a comedy. It’s just a type of comedy I find boring to the highest degree. A bunch of befuddled idiots faffing about because they’ve got way too much time and money? I realize this is a popular British thing, a sort of Comedy of Manners or something, and I’ve always found it stupid. This was just like all those. The only thing it did was convince me that all landed gentry need to be rounded up and executed for extracting the wealth of the working class to chase their own worthless follies. We (in the US) didn’t revolt hard enough, dammit. There’s still nobles left!

I read for several hundred pages. Nothing happened. In a book with fairies and the Napoleonic wars! And I didn’t even get halfway through this brick.

The worst part was the teasing. The novel is always right on the edge of interesting. I was always sure that on the next page, or maybe just in the next chapter, something really cool was going to happen. All these neat things are shown just enough to get our attention, and then quickly buried under more tomfoolery with manners and courtesies and being stymied by someone’s utter lack of proper decorum! Until eventually I lost all hope, I realized nothing would ever be fulfilled and I was just being strung along, and I gave up in disgust.

I realize some people find this sort of thing delightful. Some insane reviewer said ‘How can a book of over 800 pages still be too short?’ (paraphrased), because I guess if you love nothing happen it can very well keep not happening forever. But I’m not one of those people. Yeesh.

Nov 162018
 

This is the spoiler post for Circe, which talks about everything, but specifically the ending.

If you don’t want spoilers, don’t continue.

 

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As I said in my review, I viewed the gods within Circe as a metaphor for The Patriarchy. Circe explores just about every method a woman can use to deal with a Patriarchal society.

She starts out fawning and eager to please. Seeking approval from her father, as if this would provide some sort of protection and security. She sees first hand that this does nothing. A powerless person has nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with. Scylla, the beloved, is mocked with delight by her family when she’s turned into a monster. Circe’s mother is cast aside without a thought when her coupling with Helios proves politically troublesome. Being someone’s pet is terribly insecure, and pretty shitty anyhow.

She tries to be the good wife for her fisherman. She makes him happy, supports him, and eventually elevates him to godhood. And the instant he doesn’t need her anymore, she’s tossed aside as well. Without even the recognition that she’s done anything.

She tries to check out of the system entirely. Exile to an isolated island, just leave her alone. Nope, no can do. The system comes for you, and it will use you how it sees fit.

Then we have a wonderful dialog with her cruel half-sister. The sister points out that she makes poisons and monsters because if she didn’t she would be kept in a cage and bred to death. The system wants to use her up and discard her, and the only way she can live a decent life is to take power. To bend the world to her will through force and cruelty. It’s a wonderful revelation, and it shows just how shitty the Patriarchy is for everyone, even those on top.

We have a similar revelation about Odysseus much later. Where we see first his charming, warm side. And later the cold, violent side, which he was shaped into via this shit-ass system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For a while she rages against men, and it’s very emotionally satisfying for the reader, but it leaves her bitter and unhappy with life. Then she finds Odysseus, one of the few good ones, and for a year she’s happy. But eventually the gods catch up with her and ruin that, too. (Also, he wasn’t that great after all… just better than most). She goes into full defensive mode, putting up a wall between herself and the rest of society. And that actually works, for quite a while! But it’s constant effort, and it drains her strength year after year, and if she ever slips for even a second it’ll all come crashing down. This is not sustainable.

So she decides this has to end. She has the most powerful magic in the world on her side. She’s smart as fuck, and she’s had more than enough of this shit. She calls her father down and has the most epic verbal show down with him. She dares him to test her power. She states she would rather ignite a war between the gods and see the world burn than be at their mercy any longer. She renounces her heritage, thinks of gods as “them” rather than “us”, declares that “I’m finished here, one way or another.”

The novel’s inciting incident was the chaining & torture of Prometheus. His rebellion against the gods and compassion for the downtrodden have been a recurring element during the narration. Now, in the final chapters, Circe is armed with a weapon even the gods fear, and she goes on a quest to retrieve the most powerful magical components in existence. I am so fucking happy at this time, because we are about to see some amazing shit. The world will be sundered, and the gods cast down. The Patriarchy will be smashed, and it sounds like Circe may very well die in the process, but fuck them all, it’ll be worth it! The heavens themselves will shake!

To step back just a bit, I didn’t actually expect all that to happen. It was pretty clear that the system is just too big for one person to destroy, even with the world’s most powerful magic. Much like the Patriarchy can’t actually be smashed. But there were hints throughout, hints that the world could be split somehow, and Circe could leave this world behind and enter a better one.

It turns out, Circe does leave this world behind. By committing suicide.

After all that, all her rage and learning and growth and fighting, she ultimately decides to just give up and kill herself.

WHAT. THE. EVER. LIVING. FUCK.

After all the compassion she’s shown for humans (or “everyone else trapped in the Patriarchy” if we’re extending the metaphor), after all her admiration of Prometheus for sacrificing himself so completely to make their lives less awful, she decides everyone else can fend for their fucking selves and she’s just going to nope the fuck out. After all her words about how she won’t put up with the gods’ abuse anymore, she surrenders so utterly that she kills herself for them so they don’t even have to inconvenience themselves with the effort. When she said “I’m finished here, one way or another,” I thought she meant that either this system would end, or she would die fighting it, not that she was abandoning everything. How are we supposed to sympathize with this? How is any of this OK?

To those saying that gods are inhumane because they are inhuman, and becoming humane means one must become human – bullshit. We have proof in the forms of both Prometheus and Circe that one can be a god and be compassionate and humane. To those saying “becoming mortal isn’t suicide” – bullshit. For a god it’s as much suicide as a human deciding to drink themselves to death over the course of years. And in both cases it’s cowardly. And the flash-forward dream-sequence final chapter lingers quite a bit on her eventual death anyway, like that’s the best part of being human. It is a suicide, and it is cowardice. I would have preferred no final chapter at all, an abrupt ending would at least have let me continue believing Circe was a good, courageous person.

Bleh.

Nov 152018
 

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Synopsis: Like Wicked, except for the witch who turned Odysseus’s men into pigs.

Book Review: One of the best things I’ve read this year, right up until the final chapter, which face-plants so hard I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The novel starts out somewhat slow and a little clunky, IMO, so I wasn’t really sold at first. The story starts with a confused young geek with a good heart constantly being rebuffed and rejected by a world obsessed with superficiality and pettiness, which I’ve seen many times before. But Circe continues to try new and varied techniques to deal with her social situation and her world, growing with each one. So what starts out as a flat character blossoms before our eyes into someone ever more complicated and interesting. She gains knowledge, insight, and awesome magic powers, and yet constantly fails in new, increasingly awful ways. Her occasional victories are all the more sweet for it.

The scene with Odysseus himself is particularly delicious. The characters in conflict have meta-knowledge of each others’ knowledge and destructive powers which they can’t acknowledge, which results in a riveting verbal dance of wit and power dynamics that thrilled me. And far later in the book, when one comes to learn more of Odysseus and his motivations, everything is recast in a new light that still leaves one with admiration, but now tinged with a deep distaste that leaves a complex swirl of emotions in your mind.

What I’m saying is, this is a good book.

By the time we get to the end we have a deep world of screwed up incentives and abusive power structures. And somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the gods and their dynamics are basically a reflection on The Patriarchy. How it scars and abuses both men and women, and flattens all sexual relationships into ugly exchanges. Or at least, that was my take. And rising up through it all is Circe, the outcast, refusing to play that fucked-up game. Right up until the last chapter I was sure this was going to be the best and most memorable thing I’ve read in years.

And then the last chapter was such an unspeakable disappointment that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could something this good throw it all away in the end, and turn into such crap? I haven’t been this upset by squandered potential since the Phantom Menace.

Obviously I can’t get into details without massive spoilers. So later today or tomorrow I’ll post a spoiler post discussing why the ending failed so terribly.

But all that said… the entire journey up until the last chapter was worth it. Recommended!

Book Club Review: This book has a lot going for it. It’s relatively short, and quick to read. It’s a dang good book in its own right. And it is likely to spark quite a bit of discussion among a group. Conversation on the nature of gods and archetypes, and the interplay between the inhumane and becoming human. A member of my book club had a very different interpretation of what the gods represent, and what the overall arch of the story was, which led him to find the ending entirely acceptable. We got a lot out of this one, and there wasn’t a single person who didn’t find the novel immersive and enjoyable. Highly Recommended.

Oct 312018
 

Pandora’s Star, by Peter Hamilton

Synopsis: When an enormous force field envelopes a nearby star, humanity send an exploration ship to investigate.

Book Review: This was an interesting exercise for me, as I first read this book near its original publishing date, so 2004/2005. Rereading it now put into focus many of the ways my tastes have changed, as well ways that the world has changed.

For example, in the first chapter we follow an astronaut participating humanity’s first manned flight to Mars. In my first reading, all I could see was the glory and grandeur of this feat! The event itself is what held my attention. In my re-read, I noticed for the first time that the astronaut is written to be a bit of a prick. He’s arrogant and self-centered. I was reading him for the first time as a person of his own, rather than as an insert for me as I was experiencing the awesomeness of landing on Mars.

In the second chapter, a professor basically puts his entire life on hold in a long-con-style escapade to be the first to publish on the force field event. I was amazed at how long he delayed, how many years of his life were diverted into this effort. I would have just gone public with my observation looooong before reaching that goal. Except when I reread it, it turns out that super-long delay was only eight months. Eight months! Nowadays I fart and eight months blow by, how could it have seemed like such a long time when I was younger?

Anyway, young-me loved this book. I’ve kept my physical copy all these years, through a dozen-ish moves. It takes the idea of human-created wormholes and develops it to a fantastic extent. Hamilton has thought through what it would mean for transportation (everything travels everywhere by rail now!), exploration, government, colonization, etc. It finds all the ways that humans would use, abuse, and break this technology, and touches on all of them.

Hamilton is also very good with his physics. The science is hard, the speed of light is never forgotten, and so forth. This makes for some extremely satisfying competence-porn in several occasions, as characters in crisis situations use tech and science we’re familiar with in new and innovative ways to solve problems. It feels fair every time, and ingenious, and gives one the thrill of seeing that sort of smart problem-solving.

Also, the aliens are really, truly alien. The book is probably worth it for their chapters alone.

On the other hand, present-me had several problems with the book.

For starters, it’s really over-written. There are entire subplots and characters which simply don’t do anything, and could probably be taken out entirely. There are scenes that feel like they could’ve been wrapped up in a few paragraphs rather than taking many pages. The physical descriptions of locations and actions is at times exhaustive, without great reason, and I found myself skipping a lot of it. Yes, it’s worldbuilding. But often was worldbuilding for it’s own sake, rather than in service of another goal, and while many people love worldbuilding by itself, I am not one of those people.

Secondly, basically none of the characters are sympathetic. Ozzie starts out that way, and is the most relatable, but even he loses his luster after a time. Myo starts out cold, but slowly grows on you, to an extent. Most everyone else is unpleasant, and I found myself disliking them.

Thirdly, while the implications of a technology are extrapolated greatly, this does not happen with society, or with people in general. This is a tech & plot story, rather than a character story. It made everything feel somewhat… distant. Impersonal?

Finally, the sexual stuff in this novel is just weird. It feels like it came out of golden-age SF. The men use their power/information to get sex. The women use sex to get power/information. Most jarringly, at one point Ozzie and his young tagalong kid are mistaken for lovers. The intense awkwardness that this sparks is due to the fact that someone thought they were gay. Ozzie coulda just dropped “No homo!” for how quickly he skittered away from that. But neither Ozzie nor the lady who mistook him for gay seem to have the slightest problem with the fact that Ozzie’s supposed-lover is a 15 year old boy. Like, no one seemed to notice or care that he’d just been called a pedophile. WTF?

All in all, I was far more into this novel as a younger man. I think I read books differently now, more like I’m reading about other people rather than as self-insert stories. And I’m far less interested in world-building. It was mentioned in the book club that this felt similar to “Rendezvous at Rama” or “Ringworld,” neither of which I have read. This is probably a great book for people who love those sorts of books. Yet I still have fond memories of how much I loved this, and it does have quite a few cool parts, and an interesting world! I guess, ultimately, this would have been significantly more interesting if I was reading it for the first time, rather than rereading and already knowing what was coming. I can’t say with certainty that I’d recommend it to a present-day-me who hasn’t read it… but I might. So… Mildly Recommended?

Book Club Review: This thing is huge. It’s nearly 1000 pages, which is why we split it in two to ready over two sessions. And it’s still only half the story, because the story continues on to be concluded in Judas Unchained. I know there are people that like super-long fiction for its own sake, but having something this long does suppress turnout somewhat.

Aside from that, it was fairly interesting to talk about. It’s a real mixed bag of things that kinda rub one the wrong way, and things that are really fun and interesting. There’s something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to dislike, and the discussion of where those coincide and where they differ was cool. And because the book is so damn big, you probably won’t run out of material. On the other hand (again), none of the things brought up were deeply thought-provoking or personality-exploring. Which, of course, not every book can be, or even wants to be. So it was fun, but not exceptionally so. I’m not sure how my past memories are coloring my judgement, but I guess, Mildly Recommended as well.

Oct 242018
 

tl;dr – I’m publishing a novel at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. It’s Lovecraftian fantasy in 2nd century Rome, updating weekly on Sundays. Chapter 1 drops on 11/11/18. There are 44 chapters in total. I based it on a story I wrote a few years ago, but I would NOT recommend reading that story now, as it contains huge spoilers.

 

I wrote the short story “Of All Possible Worlds” in early 2015. I wrote it hoping to win a spot in an anthology looking for Lovecraftian fiction in pre-gunpowder settings, called “Swords v Cthulhu.” Inspired by Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, specifically his “Fall of the Roman Republic” arc, and Sister Y’s hypothesized Transdimensional Justice Monster, I wrote a story set in Imperial Rome.

“Swords v Cthulhu” capped all stories at 5,000 words. When I was about 3,000 words in, I realized that I was barely 1/3rd of the way into my story. I cut entire scenes, including a sub-plot and an entire character, because I really wanted into this anthology. My final draft was still nearly 1000 words over, so I cut worldbuilding and condensed detail, and finally squeaked in at just a couple words under 5000.

This was well worth the effort. Not only did I get into the anthology, but one of the editors gushed about how fantastic this story was. The book came out in August of 2016, and I was contacted a few months after that by the editor of Wilde Stories–the annual anthology of the Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. The story was reprinted in Wilde Stories 2017.

I was elated, and not only due to the great reception. I had so much more I wanted to say in that story, and so much more I could do with it. The most terrifying thing for me, as a new writer, was the idea of writing a novel that no one wanted. A novel is a huge project for a part-time writer, over a year of concentrated effort, and no way to know ahead of time if it was worth all that pain. This validation was like a giant green light. “People like this story! Write the rest of it now!”

And so I did. I labored over this manuscript for a year and a half. I submitted all of to my writing group and spent several more months revising and rewriting. Our group’s head, Nebula-award winning author Ed Bryant, at one point called it “Bravara writing!”, which helped more than words can say.

It’s been well over a year since I finished this novel. I have a lot of faith in it. I wrestled for quite a while with the publishing options available. In the end, I’m going to go with the time-honored Rationalist tradition of serially publishing fiction online, a chapter at a time. My reading experience of HPMoR and Unsong was drastically improved by reading along with everyone else as chapters came out, and I really enjoy that format. I’d like to do it with something of mine a well. :)

The novel is titled “What Lies Dreaming.” Chapter 1 will drop on November 11th, at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. Every Sunday another chapter comes out, until all forty-four are up. The novel is broken up into eight sections, each corresponding to one day in-story. Around the time we reach the last “day”, I’ll release the full book for purchase, both in ebook and paper options, should one wish to purchase it.

I’ll also have a Patreon up. There’s no need to support via Patreon, but anyone who does gets chapters one week early at the $1/month tier, and access to the Discord server. At higher tiers people can get access to Author’s Notes, some non-canon deleted content (including one full chapter that was cut), getting to read an entire “day” when the first chapter of that day releases, signed physical copies of the book when it becomes available, etc. None of these are needed to enjoy the story, but I want to offer them as extra thanks to anyone willing to support the arts.

A note about the story that served as the jumping off point for What Lies Dreaming: I would recommend NOT going back to re-read or re-listen to it. While the main storyline has been somewhat altered, and expanded upon greatly, the short story does include massive spoilers for the novel. If you have read the short story, please don’t drop spoilers for those who haven’t.

 

Oct 152018
 

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Synopsis: Seven pilgrims journey to a distant world, to visit a mysterious murder-alien who is rumored to grant wishes… or kill you.

Another book I’d been hearing about for forever. Turns out that yeah, this is a damn masterpiece of science fiction.

The novel has a primary storyline, concerning the pilgrimage. However the bulk of the text is the pilgrims tell their life-stories to each other in self-contained novelettes. Each of these novelettes is written in a different style, with a different theme. This allows Simmons to show off his range and versatility, and gives us a rich sampler platter of story-types to read. There’s xeno-exploration, military fic, Poe-style poetic tragedy, family drama, etc. All of them strongly SF-flavored. Each of these novelettes (with one exception) is a deeply engrossing story in its own right, with great character and world building, and engrossing plots. But the really masterful part is the way that all these individual novelettes build up the wider universe that the primary story takes place in. You quickly begin to see hidden actions and associations between the novelettes that isn’t very significant within a single novelette, but that are obviously connected and draw a much larger picture of what’s happening in the world when taken together. It’s telling a meta-story behind/within all the smaller human-scale stories the pilgrims are relating.

Taken together like this, we readers see an epic storyline unfolding from the various pieces we’re given. The feeling that comes with slowly realizing what’s happening is fantastic, and very rare. The only book I can easily recall pulling off something similar was Vellum, though the revelation in Use of Weapons was similar, if smaller scale. This is a hell of a feat for an author, and an absolute delight for a reader. I don’t want to over-hype the book, but it is really good, and you should read it if you haven’t yet.

A couple notes: The book is named for an abandoned epic-poem by Keats, and both Keats and the poem are referenced several times within the novel. I looked up the poem, and while I didn’t read it (cuz I suck at poetry), I did read about it, and seeing the deliberate parallels between the two works made the reading process even more enjoyable. Simmons is mirroring the themes in Keats’ poem in an SF setting, and it works.

Also, the reason I read this when I did was because I’ve started listening to the Doofcast, and this was their September Book Club book. They do a long dive into it in their episode, with many cool insights, and I think it makes a great companion. However it is full of spoilers, so wait until after you’ve finished the book. Shout-out and thanks to them for pushing me to do this, or it might have been several more years before I got around to it.

Absolutely Recommended.