Author Archives: Michael R. Underwood

Genrenauts Kickstarter

Hello, my lovely novelociraptor readers! Mike Underwood here, coming to you on a Monday rather than my normal Thursday.

I’m posting today because I just launched a Kickstarter to complete Season One of Genrenauts, my series of adventure science fiction novellas.

Genrenauts comes out of my love for genres and storytelling – if you like Leverage, the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next series, Sliders, and/or the comic series Planetary, it might be up your alley.

Here’s some information about the Kickstarter – I hope you’ll give it a look.

7 Reasons why Readers Should Check Out Hamilton

Hello, internet! Last week I had the absurd luck and pleasure to win lottery tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway. I was already a big fan, and getting to be In The Room Where It Happens took my appreciation to  whole new level. I’ve already been spreading the love of Hamilton, so here are 7 reasons why Readers should check out Hamilton:

 

1. It’s all about passion

Wait for It - The One Thing I Life I Can Control

So many readers I know, myself included, respond to passionate leads, to characters who push the story forward. Hamilton is all about Alexander Hamilton’s ambition to raise above his station, to make a difference, to leave a Legacy. He makes enemies every step of the way, and the show highlights several crisis points for Hamilton, as well as the other leads (Aaron Burr, Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler), expressing their conflict through music.

 

2. Hamilton is a wordsmith of the first order

Hip-hop and especially rap, as musical genres, are all about the writing and the lyrics. Flow, imagery, rhyming. The rap and hip-hop of Hamilton is generally incredibly easy to follow, especially when you bring in the fantastic resource that is the Genius Annotations for the show. As the creator of the show Lin-Manuel Miranda says,

“It’s a story of someone who rises and falls on the strength of their facility with words,” says Miranda. “So to me, this was a hip-hop story.”

 

3. Repetition and Emphasis

My Shot

If you like reading for theme, if you get chills when someone says “Winter is coming” or “Orlando the Axe was following the fox,” or like how phrases come back several times in a book, taking on new meanings, then Hamilton is the show for you. Hamilton and the other leads have lines they come back to, lines they live by, lines they die by. Many of the songs reprise in full songs or as themes in later shows, and “Non-Stop,” the Act One finale, folds basically the entire first act back in, while hinting at the danger that is coming.

 

4. You Want character arc? We got character arcs.

 

Wait for It

Hamilton and Burr, the two male leads of the show, have truly impressive and complicated character arcs throughout the show, as they pursue their ambitions, as their friendly rivalry becomes enmity and more. It’s the story of Hamilton’s rise, his fall, and of his lasting legacy. Hamilton in his death scene is miles from the boy of 19 he is in the first number.

 

5. Hilarious comedy

Fully-amred battalion

Jonathan Groff (of GLEE fame) plays King George, who appears several times throughout the show, is utterly hilarious, even just on the soundtrack. It’s even better in person (Groff is a great physical comedian), but even in the soundtrack, you get the King’s warnings and exhortations to the colonies framed in terms of poppy breakup songs, and it is hilarious.

In addition, Daveed Diggs as Marquis du Lafayette and then Thomas Jefferson is a whirlwind of awesomeness. His reactions and fills enhance every scene he’s a part of.

 

6. It’s an AP History unit in 2 amazing hours

Hamilton was created in part to serve as as an education in the history of the revolution and the founding of our democracy, and it does a more than adequate job, especially for people whose history classes were boring, or even if they were just a number of years ago. Reading can be a great education, and this show is just as informative as any number of books. It’s inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, so if you want to go directly to the source, you can immerse yourself in the 800+ page tome.

 

7. Share the squee

One of the best things about reading, for me, is getting to talk about the books I love with people. And it’s no different with Hamilton. Sharing in excitement about the show online has been one of the best things about getting in on the Hamilton phenomenon.

 

 

So if I’ve piqued your interest, there are few better places to start than this YouTube video of Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2009 performing an early version of the first number at a White House poetry event.

 

 


 

Michael R. Underwood is the author of eight books, including Geekomancy, Shield and Crocus, and Genrenauts. His latest work is The Absconded Ambassador: Genrenauts Episode 2.

Absconded Ambassador cover

5 Books that Surprised Me in 2015

Hi folks, Mike here – As we move solidly into December, I’m looking back at books I read in 2015, like so many other folks in the bookish internet. For this round-up, I wanted to focus on books that surprised me in some way – made me laugh when I didn’t expect it, caught me with a gut-punch, and so on.

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6 Comics for SF/F Prose Readers

I spend a lot of time reading not only SF/F prose books, but comics in the genre as well. But there are a lot of prose readers who have a hard time figuring out where to start, or where to find jumping-on point with comics.

Worry no more. Here are six SF/F comics that I think prose readers will really enjoy.

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Favorite Fantasy Worlds — Part Two

Hello! This is Part Two of our Vectors discussion about Favorite Fantasy Worlds. You can read Part One here.

Steve Bein

My favorite fantasy world is the one in which I wake up tomorrow morning and I realize I’m out of debt.

Oh, but you meant in other people’s fiction.

The nostalgic part of me will always hearken back to Arrakis and Middle Earth, but these days my favorite fantasy world is Bas-Lag.  This is the dark, gritty, mind-bending world of China Miéville’s New Crobuzon novels (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and The Iron Council).  Miéville describes it in loving detail.  In the case of Bas-Lag, the details make your skin crawl.

Perdido Street Station 1st Edition coverFor instance, within the first few paragraphs of Perdido Street Station you come across “houses which dribble pale mucus.”  From that sentence onward, Miéville had me hooked.  Look how much he’s accomplished with just those words.  You know these houses weren’t build by human hands.  They might not have been built by hands at all.  It might have been an ovipositor that put them there.  So now you know that something inhuman lives in this city, and whatever they are, they live side by side with the human residents.  (Because had you encountered this structure on its own, you’d probably call it not a house but a hive.  Miéville is supremely sensitive to that sort of word choice.)

As soon as I finish a chapter of Perdido Street Station, I want to go wash my hands with lava soap.  That’s why Miéville has become my role model when it comes to world-building: anyone can make you see setting, but Miéville makes you feel it.

Now I’m not out to give you the heebie-jeebies.  Bas-Lag couldn’t be more different from the sixteenth-century Japan that I write about, and I’m not going to make you worry about getting house-mucus on your shoes.  But I do want you to smell the steam coming off the tea and hear the wind whispering in the bamboo trees.

 

MK Hutchins

Quintessence cover

Childhood favorites aside, David Walton’s Quintessence completely sucked me in.

I’ve got a huge soft spot for the cultural side of world building. Magic systems and cosmos are awesome; seeing the way a particular culture interacts with them is even better. Quintessence is set in an alternate 14th century where explorers are chasing the horizons for quintessence, the mysterious fifth element.

The characters have universal concerns — survival, family relationships, the search for knowledge — but they’re not just 21st century Americans awkwardly jammed into a 14th century world. They debate whether or not dissecting the human body should be a heresy. If being an atomist leaves room for God in the universe.

And, yes, the scientific-magic exploration of this fifth element is engrossing. The way the characters cleverly utilize their new knowledge is oh-so-satisfying. At its heart, this is a book about exploration, and there’s no shortage of wondrous details.

But to me, the book is truly magical because the author took as much care building the world of his explorers as he did the fantastical. As soon as I turned the last page, I knew I wanted to read this book again.

 

Michael R. Underwood

Steve stole my answer.

I adore the Bas-Lag setting. But because I love Bas-Lag so much, I’m going to talk about it anyway. So there! But I’m going to talk about the rest of Bas-Lag.

200px-TheScar(1stEd)Armada, the flotilla city – hundreds of ships tethered and bolted and bridged together to form a pirate micronation. A place where people can make a fresh start, as long as they avoid Possible Swords and the fickle ire of the Lovers.

The Cacotopic Stain, a patch of pure change – almost like magical radiation.

The Iron Council, the Renegopolis, the moving, communal, desperate, flawed attempt to make something beautiful out of a terrible situation, where workers rose up for one another, then realized how totally screwed they were, having gone against The Man.

Bas-Lag had all of that and more – sound golems, cactus people, Quantum-plurality-cutting Possible-Swords, the Avanc, the Remade, Jack Half-a-Prayer, the Handlingers (scary-badass magic spiritual cousins to Thing from The Addams Family), and more. Mieville’s concept work and setting ideas alone would have been enough to make his reputation in the SF/F world.

The fact that Mieville matched his incredible worldbuilding with baroque, mind-blistering prose and challenging politics only served to further amaze readers and writers like yours truly. I was in undergrad when I first came to Mieville’s work, and the timing could not have been better for me. The political immediacy and conceptual audacity of Bas-Lag felt so real, so relevant to my world, that I wanted to find the dingy, oozing wardrobe that would take me to his mad, marvelous, dangerous world so I could help the Iron Council finally return to New Crobuzon, then see what happens next.

 

Please comment here or on Part One and join the conversation. What are your favorite fantasy worlds?

Favorite Fantasy World — Part One

Our second topic is “What is your favorite fantasy world?” And after agreeing it would be more fun if we didn’t get to answer “Our own,” this is what we came up with:

Beth Cato

Dragonlance game book coverThe first world that comes to mind is one I haven’t even visited in well over a decade: Krynn, the world of Dragonlance. From age 12 to 18, I was utterly obsessed with Dragonlance, especially the original six books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The geography was vivid (very important to me, as a geography geek) and inhabited by the stock tropes of the genre like elves and dragons, but also had unique elements like kinder. The magic system, the gods–ah, Fizban the Fabulous!–I loved it all.

I was a total Raistlin fangirl. I had a Dragonlance calendar with a full poster of the Legends I cover, and I kept it on my bedroom wall for years. As a testimonial to artist Larry Elmore’s skill, Raistlin’s gold eyes actually seemed to follow you around the room. It was downright creepy at times.

I’ve seen several folks comment online that the writing doesn’t hold up well. I think I’m quite happy to leave Krynn as it is in my mind. To this day, if I see tattered cloth or tarp snagged on a fence, I wonder if some mage threw himself on it with a curse. And yes, I still think of Raistlin Majere and smile.

 

Brian DeLuca (Guest Librarian)

On Loving the Turtle

Discoworld by nicolscheChoosing a favorite fantasy world initially proved more difficult than you might think.  Then it was pointed out to me the answer should be obvious.  Every night for a month, I have gone to sleep with one book unread at my bedside.  A book I wanted for my birthday and that someone had to procure overseas for me because I couldn’t wait another six months for the American release: Raising Steam, the 40th book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

The Discworld is a flat disc that is supported on the back of four celestial elephants who balance on the back of the Great A’Tuin, a giant turtle swimming through the cosmic darkness.  The Disc is home to a great number of lands and people, all of them deeply rooted in traditions of typical fantasy worlds.  In the beginning, the series started out as pure satire and farce, less a series than several sub-series with reoccurring characters in shared surroundings.  It was Monty Python in print with some magic and swords sprinkled about in a nod to the fantasy crowd.

Then something happened; Discworld started evolving, both in the types of stories and characters and the world itself.  I’m not convinced that even Mr. Pratchett could tell you where or why this happened; I think it is a case of the inmates running the asylum.  The character have grown and changed, but more importantly, their world has grown and changed; unusually for a fantasy world, it has been for the better.  It is a world on the move, where rapid change leads to unexpected consequences. What I like best about Discworld is that it is not the home of unconquerable champions, god-like wizards, or infallible gods; it is home to ordinary people and creatures, who often land in unusual circumstance and do the best that they can.

As the books rush toward the conclusion of the “great work”, the author rushes to the conclusion of his own great work, losing his hard-fought fight against Alzheimer’s. I used to laugh uproariously at the books of Discworld, and often still do, but just as frequently I find myself moved, even occasionally shedding a tear by the end of each tale.  Don’t judge me…I choose to believe that it just an allergic reaction to that particular typeface! In the end, there can be no joy without sorrow and no growth without pain, and this is what I have learned from the Discworld.

 

Fran Wilde

The Invisible Cities. Yep, that’s cheating. But I’m going to cheat all over this answer because I can’t make up my mind. So. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities contain short vignettes that, taken together, make up a map of impossible places. And I’m in love with that map. Each city that Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan (in a language he cannot understand) is so clearly rendered, I start imagining all the stories that might be happening inside. And I get a little lost. But it’s a good lost.

A Wizard of Earthsea coverEarthsea. Magic. Islands. And sailing. When Ged boarded Lookfar and sailed her from the East Reach all the way to Selidor, I was hooked. I learned to sail around the time I first read A Wizard of Earthsea, and every creak of hull and snap of canvas rang true for me. I loved that someone could write as vividly and purposefully as that.

Pern. I think the first McCaffrey I read was Dragondrums, in the Harper Hall trilogy, and the music and Menolly’s relationship with the sea and her fire lizards was a great entry to the world. I was caught up in the fight for survival against Thread, and the amazing dragons used to do it. When I read further and realized finally that Pern was much more than a fantasy world, I was so very happy. I’ll admit that I was jealous of Menolly’s Harper-blue boots from the get-go.

Armada, the boat-city from The Scar. By now, you’re seeing a little bit of a trend. I love water, maps, unusual cities, and especially sails. China Mieville’s Armada is one of those lashed-together places that is a series of worlds within a world. The characters aboard are fascinating; the places this agglomerated city travels are amazing.

Funny, two of these are from childhood, and they’re rendered as sharply in my memory as the two that are not.

Click here for Part Two!

What are your favorite fantasy worlds? Join the conversation here or in Part Two.