Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

I actually have some free time and today (edit, not really. I wrote half of this last Tuesday) so I am going to use it to talk about awesome books. Or at least, books I expect to be awesome. I’m not going to talk about books I’ve already finished this time. I’m elbow deep into Dance with Dragons anyways, so the previous read was a while ago. Today, I want to talk about the books in my To Read Pile. They’re sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read as soon as I finish this last GRRM tome. Of course, at the speed I’ve been getting books done lately, I’ll see October before I finish this pile.













So that’s them, held up with a Medusa head. That’s how I roll. Time to talk about them. From top to bottom and left to right.

Generation V by M. L. Brennan – I think I first heard about her because Brennan was at NY ComicCon with Myke Cole. That sounds about right. Then I saw on twitter she was going to be doing a reading from the latest book in Providence and I was all like “Holy shit! People do things in Rhode Island! …. on days I’m unavailable…” One thing I’m seriously jazzed about, this book takes place in Rhode Island! New Yorkers can get blaze about urban fantasy happening in their backyard but after the author tweeted “Enjoy the RI locales”, I skimmed for where they were. The protag lives in Cranston, all of two miles from my house. I’m absolutely going to troll Cranston and take pictures of where the book happens. I’ve always wanted to do that (the pictures part, not trolling Cranston)

The Cracked Throne by Joshua Palmatier – This guy is a Shelf of Honor author with Well of Sorrows (as Benjamin Tate). This particular book is the second book in his first trilogy. Honestly, I often don’t read the back of the book for Shelf of Honor authors, or sequels to books I already liked. I don’t need any further convincing to buy them and the way the last book left off, the second should pick up pretty shortly after. I first saw him at Boskone 49.

Half-off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire – This is book three in the InCryptid series. I think this will be the fifth of hers that I’ve read. I first started reading her books from a recommendation by Jim Hines. I started with InCryptid, instead of the Toby Daye books, because InCryptid was brand new at the time. McGuire was the Guest of Honor at the last Boskone and is pretty rad.

A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp – Another sequel. Hrm, seems I have a lot of these. This is the second Egil and Nix book. They buckle swashes and kick asses. I’m pretty sure I learned of these books because anything published by Angry Robot is automatically on my radar.

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (a.k.a. Taco Pope) – Book four of the Iron Druid Chronicles, which is up to six or seven plus some novellas. I found Hearne off a recommendation via Sam Sykes (who was recommended by Scalzi). The protag, Atticus, and his dog Oberon are one of the best duos in the SF genre. There’s just as much humor in these books as the serious stuff. It makes the books refreshing.

In a Fix by Linda Grimes – This is a straight up bookstore browse find, the only proper one on the list. The protag is a “human chameleon” who pretends to be other people to fix things for them. Like getting someone to accept a marriage proposal. Shapeshifters and spies? Done. You don’t need any more to sell it.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – Here’s some more awesomeness from Angry Robot Books. This is book three of the Miriam Black series, which just got picked up for a TV deal on Stars. Wendig writes with a lot of flair. And swears. So many swears. He’s also one of the go to people for writing shop talk. I read the first Miriam Black book when it was brandy new based off the trifecta of Lauren Beuckes, John Scalzi and the power of the Angry Robot.

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – Copy and paste half of above right here. This is the start of a new series about gangsters and demons and magic.

Zeus and Co. by David Lee Jones – This is an old one I scored on a Book Barn browse. That’s the seriously epic used book store down in Connecticut. The book is old enough that it doesn’t even have a picture on Goodreads. I can’t even find any sort of web page for the correct David Lee Jones. It’s about hackers and Greek gods. I love godpunk so I nabbed this right away. I’m sure the 20 year old tech is going to be silly in it’s oldness, but I’m hoping it holds up anyways.

 Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest – Buying this book was another no-brainer. Fiddlehead is part of the Clockwork Century series which was bequeathed (bequoth?) on the Shelf of Honor. The series is often considered the definitive books of steampunk. I also enjoy how they are all interconnected but still readable as individuals. That’s a nice trait when I don’t usually have time to go back and reread a whole series. I think I first put Boneshaker (the first Clockwork Century) on 2009’s Xmas list after reading a Scalzi Big Idea post.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin – This book takes place in a world where the dominant magic system is fueled by people’s dreams. That is bad ass. The practitioners of this magic, well they could heal you … or maybe kill you. Either way. That’s a temple that is definitely worth reading about. Jemisin also comes recommended by most of my twitter feed.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – Here is another Shelf of Honor author (with Ananthem). This is another of his books set in the real world. Reamde is a cyberpunk deal about online gamers and wars with Chinese gold farmers that spill over into the real world. It will get me all nostalgic for my Warcraft and EverQuest days. I read my first Stephenson book years ago off a recommendation from my dad.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – I swear I had this book on my To Buy List before it was nominated for all the awards. Freelancing ex-government assassins? That’s pretty sweet. “Alien gene pirates” alone would sell me on it. I know that was all part of a back cover marketing angle and there are a lot more layers to the book. Good. As it should be. I think I first heard about Hurley from Seanan McGuire. She’s also a great person to follow on ye olde twitter.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear – This is not my first book by Bear and I know it won’t be the last. I previously read Undertow and thought that Bear wrote one of the best alien POV’s I’ve ever read in decades. She even got the seriously obscure reference to the cheela I made when I talked about her well written aliens. Ghosts is the first book in Mongol / Eastern based fantasy rather than the same old Medieval British based fantasy world. Bear came recommended from most of my twitter feed and I finally bought some of her books after seeing her at Boskone 50 last year.

lextalionisIn The Mail – Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia – I was recommended this book when a twitter pal said “Hey, my sister has an awesome book coming out soon.” I was all like “Ima gonna go check this out.” And I did. And I got super happy because Lex uses one of my favorite SF tropes, which I hardly ever see anywhere. Amnesiatic protags that have to discover their identity right along with the reader. I can think of all of four books that do this, and two of them (Nine Princes in Amber and A Thousand Words for a Stranger) are on the Shelf of Honor. So this book is totally happening. I’m pretty sure I would have found this book regardless because Elizabeth Bear has also given it her recommendation.


shatteringtheleyOn Order – Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier – Remember above how I said he was a Shelf of Honor author? Still applies here. The magic system in this book is closely tied with the infrastructure of the world and I find that whole concept very intriguing. I’m excited to see an epic storyline set in the urban city of the book. Ley drops in July right before Readercon so I’m hoping Palmatier rolls in for that con and I can add to my signed shelf.

The Year End Shenanigans for 2013 is going to focus on the books I’ve been reading. Largely because of all that free time I don’t have, I’ve scaled back on book review posts here. But I still love pontificating about great writing and spreading the word. I picked up most of the books I read now because of the people around me, so I want to do the same for the great things I read.

I’m not really feeling detailing out the query grind on this. Anyone familiar with a query grind is nodding knowingly right now anyways.

Onward to the books! I’m going to do this is lumps rather than singling out titles for specific things. Why? Cause it’s my post and I can do what I wanna! Except for the first thing. Always with the exceptions. But it’s an important one…

The Most Recommended Book of the Year

The Lives of Tao / The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

From the overlords at Angry Robot Books, the first Tao book came out in February and did so well the second was pushed up to October. Hence I’m listing them both. There’s all sorts of awesome going on with these books which can tell you all about why I liked it. What makes the Tao books so recommendable for me though is the genre blend going on here. Chu writes science fiction with a healthy dose of adventure thriller. It opens doors to a broader audience. There’s something special about accessible genre writing. We’re not going to grow the genre without pulling new people in. A lot of readers I know in real life don’t read off of the same lists that I do. Tao has been recommended to the military SF readers to the non-SF Jack Reacker Clive Cussler crowd.

The Most Influence on My Own Writing

I guess I lied and I am going to talk about my writing a little bit. This is a special kind of category for me though. I firmly believe that you can’t help being influenced by everything you read. You take cues from positive things you read and steer clear of the stuff you don’t like. There are a few authors that have very directly influenced both the book that I’m shopping around and the one I’m writing right now.

In Amity, the book I finished polishing over the summer, there are two chapters specifically dedicated to positive writing influences. There is a Soviet style show trial going on dedicated to Saladin Ahmed. The third POV character needed the perspective shift so it was dedicated to a person who challenges people to broaden their own perspective both in his writing and generally in life. The second scene in Amity specially dedicated is to Myke Cole. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole entire novel. There’s a riot cop facing off with my main protag. There’s a respect that they’re both just doing their job… one that happens to put them at odds with each other.

My current in-progress novel, the Rhode Island godpunk, owes a lot to Chuck Wendig first. There is so much swearing involved and Wendig is a virtuoso of swears. Seriously, I work in a shipyard and swear every tenth word and it has taxed my ability to creatively swear. The female lead of my book has a little bit of Miriam Black in her. The book also owes a tip of the hat to Delilah Dawson. Remember Wicked as They Come? Oh yeah. Don’t fear the smooching in SF! There’s totally smooching happening because that’s what the characters want, it’s what they need. My novel doesn’t work without the chemistry between the two leads and that means there’s smooching.

The Favorites of 2013

favorites2013I will leave you now with blurb sized exhultations of my favorite books of the year, in no particular order beyond how they’re piled on my kitchen table right now. Fun fact, I got to meet three of the five at conventions this year. They were all very awesome people and personalized books for me. Also, I saw Wes Chu in the distance at Readercon.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu – A genre blend that takes one of my all time favorite tropes, multiple consciousnesses stuffed inside of the same noggin and throws in a history spanning secret war.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Ok so I got to read it early before it’s January release date, but it still counts because I say it does. Bookbinder is a fantastic character bringing a different perspective to the military based SF. The logistics guys are just as important as the front line fighters but it’s not a POV that’s full of traditional glory. I loved getting the new view as watching Bookbinder grow into the roll he is thrown into. I’m loving this series enough that I already made my local B+N order book three for me so I can have it on day one.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – How could I not include the new adventures of Locke and Jean? I drove to Massachusetts so I could get mine from the man himself. (I also won at twitter that day) We finally got to see Sabetha in action. Finally! Book one was Locke as a planner and in book two, he was more reactionary. In book three, he’s matching wits with his equal, not something he ever really has to do even when shit hits the fan.

Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri – Straight up proper fantasy novels have had a resurgence in my reading lists lately. There’s a lot of tradition embroiled in fantasy and that’s not always a good thing. Manieri takes all the good parts of the epic fantasy and strips away all the bad breathing new life into the stodgy genre at the same time. World spanning sprawl and very personal stories come together to make something very special.

Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson – I picked this up as a recommendation by Chuck Wendig. This is dimension hopping science fiction sprinkled liberally with steampunk but shelved as romance. Forget artificial shelf segregation and do yourself a favor by reading this. Tish has a fantastic character arc pulling herself back together after some bad times. The world building is top notch. So what that there’s smooching? Embrace the smooching!

So thanks to twitter again today, I’ve noticed a phenomenon in SFF publishing. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed it, but it happened again today and hey look! For once I have the time to do something about it.

So what the hell is it? [Insert Monty Python and the Holy Grail yelling GET ON WITH IT!]

Short answer, international cover art is way cooler.

humandivEhumandivjapanesexample A…. John Scalzi‘s Human Division dropped in Japan with this pile of kick ass on the right. Now… don’t get me wrong, the US version looks pretty damn spiffy but it also looks somewhat traditional. I don’t need to be a marketing genius or some sort of cultural expert to see that the manga looking cover is going to have a lot more attraction in Japan than the traditional space station.

Now actually, as far as traditional SF covers go, I think the Human Division cover is pretty damn spiffy. It’s got a nice color palate instead of black starscapes. But, I am partial to covers that show characters and while the Japanese cover doesn’t show an actual scene from the book, people are always more interesting than tech alone. I also agree with what Scalzi said himself that it’s great they show Ambassador Abumwe and not just the shooters.

So both good, but Japan wins. Like woah.

lockelamora-uslockelamora-ukExample B…. Scott Lynch‘s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Full disclosure, Lies is one of my all time favorites. But I totally did not pick it up off the shelf because of the cover. I actually picked up it’s sequel off the shelf first because of it’s cover. Again with the US cover, kind of traditional. I dunno what the hell Locke is supposed to be thinking sitting there. He’s certainly not being a very good thief sitting out in the open like that. It would bother me a lot less if that was something that happened in the book, but he never stares off at Camorr’s towers looking all pensive, wry and slightly emo.

UK over on the right still has Locke perched in odd places for some reason, but that captures the feel of the city and the book so much more. Locke’s version of Camorr is the dirty slums where you’re more likely to get shanked and dumped into the canal.

UK absolutely wins here and I’m pretty sure they stayed with the same artist for all the covers going forward, US and UK.

breachzone-usbreachzone-ukExample C…. Myke Cole‘s upcoming (and greatly anticipated) Shadow Ops Breach Zone, or in the UK, just plain Breach Zone. Now, again here, I don’t think the American cover is bad, I just think that the UK one is a whole lot better. Over on the left, Harlequin looks pretty damn impressive. Scylla looking pretty cool down in the corner but it’s totally Harlequin’s show and he could be a poster child for a recruitment poster there. Which is the point. We know this because we’ve met Harlequin before and I think the cover captures him pretty well.

But poor Harlequin can’t hold a damn candle to Scylla over in the UK on the right. She is fucking Bad Ass. Capitol letters and all. Seriously. Like Betty White, Scylla is sick of your shit. It captures the character more perfectly than any cover I’ve seen in a while. I want to find some British pounds to get my hands on that one.

Also, there’s a new blurb on the UK cover. The Peter Brett blurb on the left is a good one, (though nothing beats “I do not wish Sam Sykes dead” in Tome of the Undergates) but it’s the same one through all three books.

I’m getting into the rhetorical territory here now but I’m wondering why the covers are so different. The Japanese cover isn’t too hard to figure out but do the marketing departments in London and New York really so divergent? I was clicking around on goodreads and some people have wild variants around the world with their covers. Peter Brett, China Miéville and the afore mentioned Sam Sykes all have completely different covers out in EuropeIf you call up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, one of my favorite covers, it’s the same across the world. I’m not sitting around in the publishing house or anything but I think it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall to get some insight into the why’s of these decisions.

As my novel’s query letter goes off through the grist mill, worrying me into an ulcer, I feel the need to dust off my blog and stop neglecting it for a few minutes.

When writing, it’s as easy as the night is dark, i.e. goddamn very, to worry and doubt over every little thing about every word you’ve ever written. It’s pretty across the board no matter what stage of the career someone is in. Usually I can have confidence in my writing and brush off troubles with “I do tend to write weird quirky stuff, ‘course it’s gonna be trouble to find a home.” But it certainly doesn’t work all the time. Those rejection letters still sting.

Times like that are when it’s easiest to pull back into a bubble, but that’s when bubbles are counterproductive for both the person and the product. For all it’s problems, the SF community is a haven on the tough days.

There are a lot of writers out there in the SF community that are interactive and write fantastic books and blogs. Seriously, twitter is the best thing ever for that kind of stuff. I love to hear updates on projects and offer up digital high fives when people hit their word count. I love the blogs and the book recommendations and finding new authors to read. It’s all fantastic stuff that makes slogging through the word mines easier.

But there are a few authors that have passed on a jolt of momentum thought the smallest of gestures. Things that have effected my productivity, my writing and my whole outlook on this shared passion we all have. I doubt most of them would remember those small gestures that helped me out, but I sure do. It really doesn’t take much for established authors to really help out someone who is striving to be their peer. A digital high five, a couple words of luck and encouragement. Little things like that mean a lot to me. More so because my first author interaction back in the wild west days of the internet called the 90s was a very negative one that discouraged me from writing for the better part of a decade.

When (not if) I get my book out into the world, It’s someone I’m going to make sure to pay the positive forward.

I also believe that as a community, the SF world needs to celebrate the good in addition to addressing the bad. I want to take the time to publicly offer up high fives to a handful of authors who have encouraged and motivated me thought the smallest of gestures. This is by no means an exhaustive list of those who inspire me, but this is an important subset of that list to me. I’ve gotten through bad days in the wordmines because of these small things.

First off are Lauren Buekes and Tobias Buckell. I’ve never actually met either in person, but my sister has gotten transcontinental book signings from them for me. She told them I am a writer and they put words of encouragement in the books for me. They didn’t just dash off their name and write “To Mike” on it and leave it at that. I thought it was pretty awesome that a couple of authors who had barely a couple of twitter conversations with would take the time to do that.

Delilah Dawson not too long ago took a few minutes to answer some “after the book is written” questions on getting things published. A lot of people wouldn’t take the time or effort to do that sort of thing. Putting your work out there finally is a daunting task with big steps. Those little questions I asked have helped me get to the stage I’m at now, (which is actually still trying to give me an ulcer, but in a good way)

Saladin Ahmed and Myke Cole have been such an influence on my work, each one has a specific scene in my novel specially dedicated to them. I’ve mentioned before, last time I went to Boskone, how Myke Cole is super approachable and a hell of a nice guy in person and online. Cole and Ahmed both will both challenge you to think. My output has been better for it. I had my some of my novel’s beta readers call out the scenes they inspired as some of the best in my book.

The last public thank you today is to Seanan McGuire that also prompted this post. Yesterday on twitter she was talking about how fan fiction shouldn’t be looked down on, but rather as a positive fan engagement when treated correctly. She likened it to “Hey, you’ve got all the cool toys, can I come over to your house to play?” It was something that really hit home for me. When I was in high school, I was dabbling with it a bit and first starting to really enjoy the whole writing thing. It was the Wild West days of the internet and authors were still just the mythical paragraph at the end of the book. My first interaction with an author was “You’re bad for even thinking of fanfic!” I’m sure being an awkward teenager had a bit to do with it, but it was still such a bad experience to me, I didn’t pick up a pen to try to write for eight years and didn’t dream of taking it seriously until meeting my wife a couple years after that. I related the tweet sized version of the story to McGuire said “Whoever said that to you was wrong. I am sorry. Hear me teenage Mike? You are awesome for ficcing!” It struck a chord real hard and shifted me into a much more positive mindset.

So thank yous, high fives and fist bumps (with the explosion pow) all around.

When (not if) I get my book out there and get to leap to the other side of the fence to be a peer of the community, know that you had a small, but definitely not insignificant, part to play.

My last batch of books brought a lot of sequels home lately and I’m continuing today with the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire, specifically, Midnight Blue-Light Special. She’s a very prolific writer. Her big October Daye series has its eight book due this fall and she won a metric ton of awards and nominations for the Newsflesh series writing as Mira Grant. I started in when InCryptid was brandy new via recommendations from Scalzi and Jim Hines.

The series is really hitting its stride with Midnight. We’re getting right to it with Back of the Book time!


Telepathic mathematicians. Chess-playing dragons. Boogeyman nightclub owners. Talking mice. The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity – and to protect humanity from them. Verity Price is just trying to do her job, keeping the native cryptid population of Manhattan from getting into trouble, and doing a little ballroom dancing on the side. But her tenure on the East Coast is coming to an end, and she’s still not sure what she wants to do with her life.

Enter Dominic De Luca, an operative of the Covenant of St. George, and Verity’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. When he tells her that the Covenant is sending a full team to assess how ready the city is for a purge, Verity finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Stay, and risk her almost-certain death, or flee, and leave the cryptids of New York with nothing between them and the Covenant.

It’s not the kind of choice that ever comes easy. With allies and enemies on every side, an no safe way to turn, it’s going to take some quickstepping for Verity to waltz out of this one. There’s just one question on everyon’s mind: Is this the last dance for Verity Price?

Point blank, I liked this one better than the first book, Discount Armageddon, which I blogged about before I really hit my groove with these posts so I’m not going to link back to it. There’s a lot of establishing world building that had to take place in Discount even though it’s a variant of New York. There’s Price family history, Covenant history as the baddies, plenty of different cryptids to describe and their whole interaction with the world around them. All those things are already done. Even with a year since I read Discount, I never felt any sort of steep learning curve with Midnight. I forgot a couple of names but McGuire caught me up without having to drop into an infodump, one of the hallmarks of a great sequel. You could get away with reading Midnight cold, but since Discount is a good book in its own right, there’s no real reason to.

The more of McGuire’s work I read, the more I think she is to urban fantasy as Cherie Priest is to steampunk. This series is everything that urban fantasy should aspire to. Granted, UF is somewhat of an umbrella term for a large swath of subgenres, but I still hang my hat on that statement. The InCryptid books should be considered a high water mark, a Tome for urban fantasy.

Let’s get specific to Midnight now though. There’s a Romeo and Juliet thing going on in this book which telescopes certain parts of the plot out ahead of you. This completely being flagged as a personal preference thing. If you like sneaky foreshadowing and romantic plot threads on the down low, you might get a bit annoyed. It doesn’t bother me one bit, the romance or picking up on what’s coming up. The Romeo and Juliet kind of romance certainly isn’t new, nor is it subtle, but it works. There’s a reason the world still reads the Bard after all these years.

Before anyone gets all in a wad over romance, first of all, get over it. People like each other. It creates conflict. Conflict creates good stories. The relationship plot thread certainly isn’t the only one in this book. There’s problem solving, ass kicking and shit hitting the fan (which involves more ass kicking). I think because the heavy lifting of the world building was done in Discount, all those plot threads were able to breathe a little bit better in this book. Verity’s supporting cast got more room to move around in Midnight too. Sarah, Verity’s adopted cousin and psychic cryptid herself, got POV chapters. McGuire was able to deftly pull off the “almost human but not quite” voice for Sarah. There was also a whole lot of Istas who is thoroughly awesome. She’s essentially an Inuit werebear that loves gothic lolita fashion. She pouts when she’s told she’s not supposed to talk about bloody carnage more than once per conversation with regular people. I would read a whole book about Istas.

I want to take some time to talk about the cover art for Midnight before I’m done. This may well turn into a full blog post later

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

but since this book has the cover I want to talk about, it’s appropriate here. Science fiction and fantasy as a whole suffer from an image problem when it comes to covers with women on them. Look at Jim Hines’ blog as it’s something he talks about in the most humorous ways while always having real valid points. Short version, SF doesn’t usually seem to realize that women can look good AND be tasteful about it at the SAME TIME. Urban fantasy as a subgenre seems to carry the stigma in its own special way to boot. It all too often has this “Buffy rip off” look about it. I think these things are starting to get better, particularly the Buffy look, but it’s still prevalent in the genre. The cover art for Midnight  breaks the mold in all the ways it should have been broken a long time ago. The characters are accurate to the story and they are entirely tasteful. Verity is wearing a regular cut shirt and jeans. Appropriate and practical ass kicking attire. Sarah is on the cover with Verity and she’s wearing a long sleeve sweater and a long skirt. Regular clothes. Entirely appropriate to a character that’s a self defined math nerd. While I think it’s unfortunate that tasteful and true to the story cover are a note worthy thing and not just the standard MO for the genre, I think it’s more important to point out the good examples of the genre thinking the way it should be than just harping on the bad. This cover art by Aly Fell is a cover that should be aspired to.

Doesn’t hurt it’s for a novel that should be aspired to as well.

Approachable Authors

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Conventions, Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

I spent a good portion of my day talking up my Boskone weekend to anyone that would listen (i.e. my wife and that’s about it). I had one of those moments where I stepped back from it all and thought if I could tell thirteen year old me that I could go shoot the breeze with an author or trade digital high fives via twitter… damn that thirteen year old would be stoked. Also confused because I think I was still rocking the Tandy computer back then and internet and twitter would have been mythical concepts. And then excited again because at thirteen I would have known to take the information from the time traveling version of me who just told him cool shit about the internet and run to the market with it and made a butt load of money. A whole butt load.

Before I tangent off into time travel paradox, I am serious that it would have blown my mind. Even five years ago it would have.

See I picked up all my reading habits from my parents. Being from Connecticut and New Hampshire, it’s not like there were big city cons and huge bastions of fandom for me to grow into. Oh it was probably out there in some form, but it wasn’t their scene regardless, especially since I was six when my parents were my age. Hell, I barely knew anyone other than my parents who read the same kind of SF I did. Authors were mythical beings up on a pedestal. They were personified by a paragraph and a mug shot on the last page if I was lucky. They certainly weren’t people you could talk to.

So early on in high school I eventually figured out that being a writer was something you could just do. And I started putting some things on paper. At the time, most of what I read was either epic fantasy or space opera, both sub genres that lend themselves to massive ongoing series with sprawl. Being an extrovert isn’t something that always comes easily to me now as an adult so back then I was kind of an introvert and really got into the world building and stuff. Funny considering I didn’t get an opportunity to play DnD until I was seventeen. So, being emotionally invested in these worlds, some of the stuff I put on paper was epic fantasy fanfic.

Now I wasn’t playing with someone else’s characters. It was like a Wild Cards story. I was playing on the map but I brought my own toys. That is to say, I wrote characters and plots that were off to the side who might have waved at a main character from the actual series.

This coincided with getting a computer with a consistent internet connection and finding out about a thing called email groups. Just thinking about email groups is laughably archaic now but it’s what we had back in the day (because I never did time travel to invent twitter ten years early) and damnit we were happy with it. I joined an email group for the author of this favorite world and was thrumming full of energy because holy crap the Author was a part of it! Well brilliant thirteen year old version of me brought up fanfic. I didn’t even know what the fuck the world ‘fanfic’ was until someone said “Oh… Author doesn’t like that stuff.” There was a round of back and forth direct with the Author and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said. I was frazzled nerves at my keyboard going “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap…” I’m sure whatever exactly I said was probably standard nervous weird kid. The problem became the response I got. I don’t remember specifics but it was condescending and snarky and frankly, just douchey. Did being a weird teenager blow something out of proportion? Not that badly. I know tone can get misconstrued in email, especially back in the day when email wasn’t ubiquitous but somethings you can’t miss that much.

It discouraged me at a time when that wasn’t exactly helpful. I took a small sampling of writing classes in high school and college. I even had the head of the creative writing department at my college tell me “Please take our program” and I didn’t do it. I stayed with the film program I had started. It was eight years from that time in high school until I had an inkling that writing might be a good thing for me. It was another three before I actually acted on it.

I’ve never read any of that Author’s books again.

Now this is a story I don’t actually like to talk about. I doubt I’ve told it a half dozen times and I never have (and never will) say who the Author was because said Author is still publishing. After typing it out here, I’m debating deleting the whole thing because it’s going to nag at me for days now. But when I talk about how much sheer awesomeness I feel at the state of current fandom, I can’t convey it without telling where I came from.

Ever since I made headway into the internet I was always reasonably tech savvy. Probably more so back in the Wild West days of the internet where you could teach yourself what was going on without needing advanced coursework. But thanks to that Author, I never sought out SF fandom online. I still read voraciously as ever but authors remained a mug shot and a paragraph.

The first toe into the SF community was after reading Old Man’s War in 2009 (Zoe’s Tale on the awards lists that year got me to go find the first book of the set). John Scalzi’s blog is essential reading for anyone even tangently interested in SF. I started getting a lot of book recommendations from his Big Idea feature which remains one of my favorite things to read in the entire community.

After going to a writing conference at the University of Rhode Island (got a lot of dirty looks for being a genre writer) and having a writing group fail (again, literary vs genre problems), I realized I am at my most productive when I am around writing. I sure as hell wasn’t finding good ways to be around it kicking around in Rhode Island. My adoption of twitter, creating this blog and my first literary con all happened within six weeks of each other.

Authors have become real people.

Twitter is fucking magic. I started with Scalzi and worked outward. I’ve had conversations with a plethora of different authors, a lot of times not even about books or writing. I made the “Hope your flight doesn’t make it to Providence… the airport is in Warwick” joke to Tobias Buckell who got a chuckle out of it. I had a discussion with Madeline Ashby about how American infrastructure isn’t designed for public transportation outside of big cities (three hours by bus to go to work from my old apartment). I follow a cadre I’ve dubbed the Writer Dads because they’ve all got kids in the little kid bracket (Buckell, Saladin Ahmed and Peter V Brett). I discover more new authors who sell me as a person now and make me want to find out what they have to write. People like Chuck Wendig. I’ve had more than one author tell me I turned around a crappy day because I sent them a tweet saying how much I liked their book. It’s hard to explain how awesome that made me feel. Writing is fucking hard work, it can drain your psyche. But the littlest of things can make you feel like King of All the Words though and when you feel like King of All the Words, magic happens. (or Queen of All the Words as applicable. It’s not applicable for me what with being a dude so I chose the word that was)

I mentioned yesterday how at last year’s Boskone, I was kicking myself for not talking to the pros more… or at all really. I always feel like I’m in this awkward spot where I know enough not to ask the obvious questions but not enough to ask the good questions. With the crappy weather on Sunday and my friend I went with Saturday not able to go for a second day, I almost stayed home. But I had this moment of zen where I was like “Fuck it! Ima gonna do this!” and I went for the day and went to Myke Cole’s kaffeeklatch.

If you want the epitome of approachable authors, it’s Myke Cole. This guy could run a master’s class in public speaking and he will talk to you about anything. He’s also got some of the coolest swag associated with his books ever in the history of book swag. I think the kaffeeklatch may have been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because it was so… normal. It was a small group with similar interests hanging out shooting the breeze and talking some shop. I didn’t realize it until later in the day, but I walked away from there more determined to get on that side of the con table. It was kind of a “Fuck discouragement! Look at all the cool shit you could do on that side of the fence with all those other cool people!”

It was a full circle thing for me because Myke Cole was the first person I reached out to in anyway out in the nebulous social media. I was all “Dude! Your unit logo is awesome, is it available on a tshirt?” and he was all like “Absolutely. Cafepress.” And I never did get a shirt made because I thought it would be cheating getting a cafepress shirt that didn’t send him a dollar for it.

Someday I’ll get to the other side of the fandom fence where all the authors get to play and talk shop and curse together over low word count days. And lately I am starting to actually believe myself when I keep saying that I’ll get there. But it’s truly wonderful to know there are people who will lean over the fence and talk to you.

Book Hunt

Posted: January 28, 2013 in Reading, Stuff

It should come as no surprise that there are whole walls in my house dedicated to bookshelves. But the books in my house that me and my better half have collected have absolutely nothing on the tonnage of books at my parents house. I grew up surrounded by books. I read genre fiction because that’s what I was raised on. I had The Hobbit read to me when I was eleven… ish? And after that I went right for my parents books. (Remember, YA wasn’t a thing in the early 90s) So I spent years upon years just reading their books. It wasn’t until I was 20, junior year of college, that I really started piling up my own tonnage of books.

So the catalyst of this anecdote, I often ask my mom and dad to see about digging up books for me to borrow for rereads. (Some of which just end up living at my house, like Gamearth)

Me: Hey mom, I read this book… oh a dozen years ago I think… It’s about people uploading their brains into an online utopia kind of place. I remember reading it in the front half of college but I never finished it. Got pwn’d by finals or something. Do you still have it? I think the cover was silver.

Mom: Absolutely.

Circuit of Heaven appeared on the table fifteen minutes later.

Also… The cover is actually kind of greenish. She found it anyways.

January Updates

Posted: January 26, 2013 in Reading, Stuff, Writing

Neglecting the blog? Never! This is a big ol’ pile of miscellanea; things I want to get out there but I’d rather not do a mess of super short blog posts. My kiddo is bouncing happily so let’s see how much I can get done while jumping up and down keep entertained.

Amity v1.5

It’s coming along. Finding what chunks of time I can to type the b’jebus out of it. I think about 40% of it is in digital form and not just sitting in my notebooks. I’ve got a dozen-ish beta readers who are chomping at the bit to read it so I am trying to ramp it up. That’s part of why the blog posts aren’t flowing fast and furious. Downside of all this is that I’ve had a horrible thought that keeps nagging me… wondering about changing from third person for all three protags to third for only two of them and first person for the primary protag. I need my beta reader feedback before I do anything drastic. It would require a rewrite of a third of the book. It’s a possibility. Gotta get that feedback though.

New Writing

It’s happening, which is part of why Amity v1.5 is slower than I’d like. I was getting antsy that I wasn’t writing anything new. I have a couple shorts I’m working on. One is a prequel/backstory to the next novel I plan on writing, the Connecticut godpunk. I’m also in the middle of another one that’s a bit more specialized. I was looking for a good idea for a couple of characters that have showed up in a previous story and I found a market taking some themed submissions and those characters just fit. I’ve also got pen on paper with a meta story that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time. I’ve actually changed from third to first person and lopped off the front half of that one already.

Tangent on the Connecticut godpunk… Going to have to add a pronunciation guide in the front. The Thames River in New London Connecticut is pronounced very differently than the Thames River in London England. It will drive me crazy thinking of all the people saying it wrong.

To Read Pile

It’s gorram huge. I’m currently in the middle of book two of Kylie Chan‘s Journey to Wudang Trilogy… which is really the second trilogy in a set of three. I guess trilogies sell better than nonologies. As there is no pause from one to the next, I’m going to do the blog post about it when I’m all done. I’ve got a few shorts stacked up on my Nook. Been following John Scalzi’s The Human Division which is his and Tor’s experiment with bringing back serials. I have also been picking at the Mitigated Futures compilation from Tobias Buckell.

My dead trees To Read Pile has gotten big enough where I had to send a few books off to a new home to make room for the ones I have. It’s got the first of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the next of Naomi Novak’s Temeraire series, the classic Ringworld books, a CJ Cherryh from ’82 picked up on a recommendation from twitter, more from Jim C Hines, and Peter V Brett, The Hammer and the Blade put out by Angry Robot Books and a new steampunk series starting with The Doomsday Vault. Oh and I just remembered I borrowed a whole Jim Butcher series from my dad and have a couple stand alone David Weber books kicking around. This is just what I had handy and doesn’t count any rereads in there like my annual Zelazny reread. It takes me longer to get through the To Read Pile now that I don’t work nights and have the kiddo, so the pile as listed will probably keep me occupied through April. This in no way factors in the To Buy List.

Anticipated Books

This list is largely sequels for stuff I’ve read and enjoyed the crap out of. The new Myke Cole comes out this week. Peter Brett has his newest coming out soon, once I catch up with it. Madeline Ashby’s sequel to vN comes out this summer. Joshua Palmatier / Ben Tate is slated to finish the Well of Sorrows series sometime this year. Angry Robot Books has some particularly cool looking stuff coming up (as always). I’m waiting for Libriomancer to drop in paperback soon too.

Impending Blog Posts

Yeah I have a bunch of those. The Journey to Wudang post will be a biggie. So many characters, I need a flowchart with that. I’ve got some other non-book posts on the burner including one I want to see if I can get some outside opinions on. Means reaching out in a less craptastic way than I did last time. I was new at this then, it happens. I’m going to hit Boskone again next month so there will be a nice big pile of pontifications on that.

By the way, the answer to how much I could get done while my kiddo was bouncing away in his jumpy thing… Two paragraphs. You didn’t think I’d have him up jumping at ten til midnight did you?

Ereaders: Not a Zero Sum Game

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Reading, Stuff

I’ve said a few times here and there that my preferred format for reading (and also writing) just happens to be dead trees and ink. Even more specifically, mass market paperback is what I like to read the most. 90% of my shelves are stocked with mass market books. Books have to be pretty exciting for me to jump at them in hardcover or oversized size. Even with some of my favorite authors, I’ll wait around for the mass market size. In fact, I waited out Ananthem, one of my shelf of honor books. Took a solid year to come out in its hefty softcover.

So why would I get an ereader?

Well, because my wife is awesome. Sums it up.

Beyond that, occasionally in the last year I’ve been lacking without one. It sounds a bit more harsh than it really was. There were pangs of longing. More stories are being exclusive to the ereader. I’m not calling out the death of traditional yadda yadda. There’s just more. And just as writing and film are two kinds of storytelling with different strengths and weaknesses, I’m finding digital and print are having their own strengths.

The “Aw, I’m missing out” feelings first came when Tobias Buckell ran his kickstarter for The Apocalypse Ocean. It’s an excellent book in an excellent series and actually the first thing I put on my nook. The ebook was a five dollar kick. The hardcover was fifty. By all accounts I’ve seen, it’s a crazy nice special edition, but more walking around bucks than I had handy. (Remember it was right before my kiddo was born) The second came from Saladin Ahmed’s Engraved on the Eye short story collection. It’s amazing and in the queue to do a full post on. Short version, I was blown away by some of these stories and there’s even a prequel short to his novel. Another ebook only thing. The third thing is John Scalzi’s The Human Division, which is the grand experiment from him and Tor to bring back serialization to SF. Short version, yes please.

My nook has become packed with short stories novellas and comics. Oh yeah, the HD screen is awesome for comics.

I’m letting my ereader specialize in the things that it’s good at and sticking with my dead trees and ink for the things that format is good at. I am embracing the ereader but I am never going to get read of my paper books. The only conundrum this has led to is having an even larger to-read pile. I’m ok with that.

Year End Stuff/Junk

Posted: December 23, 2012 in Junk, Reading, Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

It’s that time of year. The end of it. But it is also conveniently, not that far out from a year since I laid claim to this here corner of the internet so there’s some logic to doing Year End thing.

Hey I said there was some. Not a lot. I’m gonna doing it anyways.

Incoming a whole bunch of headers about writing, books, authors and awesomeness. (Scroll down if you want to skip right to the book stuff.)

Cool Stuff that Happened

Oh you better believe there was cool stuff. Chunks of it happened because of twitter. I always thought it was dumb for the longest time. And back when it first started, I’m sure it was, but now there are so many people using it, twitter is starting to become self aware. More than anything else short of becoming a con rat, it gives a personality to authors. Growing up, authors were just these mythic figures that had a paragraph about them near the end of the book. Sometimes. I didn’t know anything about cons, that kind of stuff didn’t happen in Connecticut. (And still doesn’t as far as I know, unless you want sweaty anime high schoolers) There are five authors I’ve discovered this year via the twitter-blog circuit. It was a “High five as a person! I doubly want to know what you write now.” Wasn’t disappointed in any of them.

More cool things. Signed books. My copy of Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell traveled across the country and back to pick up a signature and came back with a personalized copy of Arctic Rising. Words of encouragement scrawled on a title page actually do go a long way. Also, ever get an ARC? Holy crap they are seriously the most awesome thing ever. I won a contest by Myke Cole to get an advanced copy of a book everyone should be seriously excited for, the sequel to Shadow Ops: Control Point. That first contest winner is me. Literal cut and paste job since I’m too cheap to pony up for Photoshop and too lazy to dig up some alternative. By the way, Tredici is Italian for thirteen. The phobia of the number thirteen was too long to try to use.

My writing has progressed up to personalized rejection. Seriously, that’s a big deal. That wasn’t the coolest writerly thing that happened though. Oh yeah. Finished my book! In July I made the goal of getting it done by my birthday, early December. It was a very reasonable goal then. Once Halloween started, it was less so. I kicked ass and made it happen. Dropped 30k in November to actually rock the self imposed deadline. 30k may not sound like uber amounts, but I have a day job that doesn’t afford a lot of screwing around to write time. And a wife and baby. And I lost a whole weekend to the flu. (Flu shots are helpful my ass). Currently neglecting the blog for Amity v1.5 as I type the handwritten first draft into the computer.

Blog Stuff

  • Most Read Post – Saturday at Boskone 49. Ironically, one of the first posts. Peaked early.
  • Favorite Post – Authors Behaving Well. Also, the longest post.
  • Most International Blog Traffic – Canada. Non-English speaking, Germany.
  • Most Linked to Post – vN. Publisher Angry Robot Books quotes my review on their website.

Book Stuff (What You’re Really Here For)

Best CoverBlackbirds / Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig, art by Joey HiFi

I did a whole post a while back about the awesomeness contained in a Joey HiFi cover. It’s a crazy Where’s Waldo mosaic of the main character in the books. It’s beautiful and creepy and hard to piece together all at the same time. It’s Miriam Black in art form. There are very few instances in all the years that I’ve been reading where the cover has so perfectly represented the book I was reading. In SF, I think it’s easy for covers to just fall into background noise, more so than the actual writing that goes on in our genre. I think it’s easier to push boundaries in text, (blending genres, off the wall protags, controversial subjects, etc) than it is with a book’s cover. The cover is the marketing that a store is buying off on. Looking at the best and boundary pushing books on my Shelf of Honor, a lot of them have ho-hum covers, good at best, but most of them are in no way exceptional as far as art goes. Boneshaker is the only one off the Shelf of Honor that shows up on my Top Cover List. Angry Robot Books has no problem pushing the boundaries of cover art. They’ve had Joey HiFi design multiple covers for their authors.

Most Recommended Book Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

When I first started using twitter and following around the SF scene around the internets, Control Point was getting a lot of positive buzz as the new cool thing to seek out and read. I knew a little bit about the actual content, wizards in the military. He was at Boskone and I saw him at a panel talking about the views of Golden Age SF. He was interesting and amusing enough that I was looking to buy him a beer in the hotel bar but couldn’t find him before I had to leave. I bought the book, read it and was blown away by how fresh it was. It’s magic in a modern setting, but I don’t think I could call it urban fantasy. UF has developed its own set of tropes and that’s not what Cole gives us in his writing. You’re not getting the creepy crawlies and fantastic creatures that most UF use as a mainstay. The red tape involved with being magic user in Cole’s world had a very authentic feel. Maybe I get that because I work for a defense contractor, but yeah, red tape out the ass if the government had magic to run with. Don’t think that meant it was a slow book, all that figurative red tape is part of the setting, not a hindrance. The kinetic pace of the writing and the completely new feel to this world and magic system had me talking it up to anyone who needed something to read. In fact, I suspect my original copy of the book is still making the rounds of an Air National Guard unit. (Keep guarding that kitchen Fred!)

Most Likely to Win AwardsvN by Madeline Ashby

I said it right in my review. It’s the line the publisher quotes on their website. “I would be extremely surprised if this book did not garner some nominations and awards. vN has changed the way I will look at AI stories.” Robot fiction is not something new. Hell, it’s probably some of the oldest examples of SF. Frankenstein’s monster is a robot made of flesh instead of metal. Asimov was one of our earliest SF masters. So writing about this concept that has been in the public consciousness for generations must have been a daunting task. But having read vN, I can never look at AI fiction the same ever again. For me, there will be pre-Ashby and post-Ashby. This book has the smarts of Neal Stephenson and China Mieville mixed in with the impact that I imagine Asimov did when his stuff was new and fresh. When my grandparents were kids. And vN one-upped it. Some of the major awards are restricted based off nationality of the author and/or publisher. Ashby needs to be an honorary citizen of everywhere so we can give her all the awards. And then make another one.

Best PublisherAngry Robot Books

The year Angry Robot became a thing, I bought a third of their opening catalog in one trip to Borders. I’ve read four of their 2012 books and have a half dozen more in my to read pile and another four for next year are on the wish-I-didn’t-have-to-wait list. They’re pushing the boundaries with their writers (See vN above) and their artists (See Joey HiFi above). It’s gotten to the point where anything they have got in the pipeline has points in its favor just by being theirs. They are putting out of a lot of books that I imagine would have a hard time finding homes elsewhere. Unique books that are tough to pigeonhole and therefore tough to market and sell. But that’s what I want to read, the new and fresh and interesting. With Angry Robot, it’s been the first time I’ve ever gotten excited over a publisher. By pushing their own people to do excellent things and fostering some of the best talent, they’re raising the bar for everyone across all of SF and that’s only a good thing.

Best Short Story “Fade to White” by Catherynne Valente

I admit, I am a dabbler with short fiction, both reading and writing it. I continue to try to do both because it is something I feel can only be good for me as a writer. Challenges and all that. I read a lot of the Daily SF stories and some of the stuff coming out of the magazines but I will admit, it’s hard for me sometimes. Longform is more my style what with my randomly pontificating thoughts and tangents. (Bet you haven’t seen any of those at all.) So when I read “Fade to White”… well I’m really not sure what I was expecting. I can tell you what I was hoping. I was hoping it wasn’t another 900 word lead up to a bad pun. I had gotten one of those already that week. I think the phrase ‘atompunk’ is what hooked me. Any subgenre is something-punk now but the phrase still got me. And I was rewarded beyond belief with this amazingly beautiful story. Just read it again and woah, there are so many feels in it. The impact of this story has been rolling around in my head since August and it won’t get out. It’s a very creepy Cold War-ish story with a lot of power behind it. This should be making the award rounds with vN.

Best NovelWell of Sorrows / Leaves of Flame by Benjamin Tate

Best Novel is a difficult thing to pin down to just one book (er… two, but they’re the same series so I count it as one). Favorites have a lot to do with subgenre or length or even just mood. I can give you favorites for all sorts of flavors of SF, favorite series, favorite stand alones, favorite when I need a quick read, favorite when I want to think. It’s endless. But I have to give the title of favorite that I’ve read this year to Ben Tate. I picked up Well of Sorrows at Boskone because I was all about authors I saw that day when I was shopping. It kind of sat around in my to read pile for a while. I was burned out on fantasy for years because it was the same old tropes. In the year and a half before reading this, there were only three fantasy authors I had read. Well and its sequel Leaves have really changed how I see where the fantasy genre is today. It’s not the Tolkien point A to point B novel anymore. I maintain that these are fantasy-thrillers. The characters are varied and the plot is deep. The storytelling has a very universal feeling to me, able to stand on its own even if it was stripped of the fantasy tropes. Tate wrote some moments that completely took me off guard and left me with jaw dropped exclamations of “Holy crap did he just do that?!”  The old point A to point B novels could never do that. Reading Well and Leaves really made me feel that fantasy had grown up and could engage readers in a way that was evolving for the better but yet retaining the best of what came before. Sword and magic have been interesting me more than they have since I was in high school. Well was the first book I added to the Shelf of Honor since 2010 and impacted me to the point of a shift in my reading habits. That’s why it edges out all the other extremely excellent books I’ve read this year for the Best Novel nod.