Tag Archives: fantasy

Magic, Intrigue, Medieval Surgery: Elisha Mancer Book Launch Day!

Yes, I’m excited today because book 4 in my Dark Apostle Series comes out this very day.  What do you mean, you’re not that excited? Oh, right, you probably haven’t read book one.  So rather than harp on about a new book that is best read after the first three, how about I post the opening of Elisha Barber, the book that started it all?

Elisha stands over an array of medieval medical instruments–the barber is in! visit my website for a scroll-over image with descriptions of each tool

Here you go:

“You sent her to the hospital?” Elisha whirled to face his brother, the razor still in his fist. “My God, man, what were you thinking?”

“The midwife couldn’t help her, Elisha, and she’s in such awful pain, for the babe won’t come,” Nathaniel stammered, his pale hands clenched together. He ducked in the low door of the draper’s quarters, his fair hair brushing the carved oak of the lintel.  “The neighbors carried her over while I came here.”

“But the hospital? That place is deadly.” Elisha set his razor again at his customer’s chin, deftly shearing a narrow stretch of the full, and now unfashionable, beard. “What did she say?

“Not so fast, if you don’t mind. I care to keep my chin today, Barber,” the draper snapped.

“Helena?” Nathaniel asked, his face a mask of anguish and confusion.

“No, you fool, the midwife!” Elisha slapped the razor through the water basin and plied it again, forcing himself to slow down. Last thing he needed was to carve the ear off the master of the drapers’ guild.

Sagging, his brother balanced himself against the wall, scrubbing at his sweaty face. “The babe’s turned, and wedged somehow. She thought the physicians—”

At the mention of physicians, Elisha froze. The draper glowered up at him from his best leather chair, but his brother’s wife lay in the hospital, contracting God-knew-what illness added to her condition. For a moment, his conflicting duties trapped him—but Helena needed him, if it weren’t already too late. The draper could abide. Flinging down his razor, Elisha roughly dried his hands on his britches. “The physicians never enter the hospital if they can advise from afar. Nobody who can afford their services goes to hospital.” He popped open the window frame nearest and flung out the dirty water.

The draper rubbed a hand across his chin and jerked it back with a cry of dismay. “You’ve not finished the job, Barber. I’ve still got half a beard!”

“Then you owe me half my fee,” Elisha told him. He snatched his towel from the man’s neck and spun on his heel, basin tucked under his arm. The razor he folded with a snap and gripped until his fingers hurt. “Why did you not come for me sooner?” he asked, dropping his voice to a murmur.

Instantly, Nathaniel straightened, taking advantage of his superior height. “I think you know why.”

For a moment, their eyes met, and Nathaniel swallowed but gave no ground to his elder brother. Elisha had caused the breach that lay between them. He had apologized, but Nathaniel’s presence here was as close as he would come to forgiveness.


Want to read more?  Here’s a link to the first three chapters of Elisha Barber!  Available wherever books are sold.  When you love it, you’ll know there are three more volumes ready and waiting. . . and one final book forthcoming to complete the series.    Thanks for reading!

Recipe Fiction: Let’s Fire the Formula

In another of my writing circles, once again the dreaded specter of “formula fiction” has been conjured.  The idea is that many genres–at least in commercial fiction, and (so the rumor goes) especially romance and fantasy (the target tends to move to a different genre based on whichever you are writing in)–are dominated by a formula which is required in order to sell.  And if a book sells well, that is usually taken as evidence that it was, indeed, written to formula.  It’s a tautology, but one you’ll often find repeated, whether in a derisive review or grumbled by less successful peers in the same genre. Of course that work succeeded–the author just relied on the formula!

Some people outside the genres will even sniff that the publishers demand the said formula, and that it’s laid out by page count:  kiss on page three, quest engagement in chapter two, or what have you.

First of all, if the publishers are requiring certain page counts and formulas, they haven’t informed the authors, much less provided us with a template for stamping out successful novels.  But wait, points out the nay-sayer, so many books in X genre are so similar!  That’s clear evidence that authors are just filling in the blanks.  Or is it?

I think part of the problem lies in the origins of this term “formula.”  Formula is associated with science, more precisely, with chemistry.  The idea is that you take certain items in very specific ratios, blended according to strict guidelines, and you will achieve a very specific result.  One third adventure, one third sexual tension, one third Strunk and White, voila! a bestseller.  Boy, if I could buy that formula, I’d use it.  The trouble is, it doesn’t exist.

In fiction, what we have are not formulas–rigid lists of pure chemicals to be compounded by following strict rules–what we have are recipes.  A recipe gives you a list of ingredients and the steps to follow–isn’t that the same as the dreaded formula?  Here’s the thing, recipes vary.  The same recipe produced by different cooks gets a different result because the cook knows they can add a little more spice, or bake for less time and create their own variation on what their diners enjoy.

Like cooks, authors have an audience to please.  Sure, we want to pursue our own artistic goals for our careers and for any given work, but writing is a collaboration between the author and the reader, who will receive and interpret the result.  Readers can be grouped in many different ways.  Some love fantasy no matter what, and some prefer contemporary or epic fantasy, fantasy about women or about dragons.

There are certain elements of story-telling that are more likely to appeal to a wider audience.  Adventure, love, character growth, a moment when much can be won or lost, the moment when a character is redeemed and the audience cheers.  That’s not a formula–it’s a list of ingredients, and each cook, each writer, can play with them to create their individual work.  A quick google search shows me 3.8 million recipes for chocolate cake, 3.8 million variations, some subtle and some vast, all resulting in a dessert that some people felt was tasty and worth sharing.  There are at least 3.8 million recipes for a fantasy novel as well.  Beginning with a basic set of ingredients, and an image of that desired result, the author creates their own recipe.

Rather than dismissing the work of an author or a complete genre as driven by formula, let’s think of them as being guided by a recipe–and if one author’s chocolate cake doesn’t please, there’s probably another one that will.  Or maybe you’re looking for lemon cake, or custard tart, or. . . okay, now I’m just making myself hungry.

The same basic ingredients combine to create a thousand different experiences–as if by magic.


New Release: The Shores of Spain

Out today, from Ace/Roc, the final novel in the Golden City series by J. Kathleen Cheney:

A brilliant new chapter in the Novels of the Golden City.

Even as the branches of peace are being offered, there are some who still believe those who are not human should be used as chattel. And they are willing to go to great lengths to retain their power.

Newlywed siren Oriana Paredes has been appointed Ambassador to her home islands now that communication between Northern Portugual and the magical races has been restored. But convincing her people that the new Portuguese Prince’s intentions are honorable after years of persecution is difficult. And her husband, Duilio, faces his own obstacles among the sirens where males are a rare and valuable commodity with few rights.

In addition to their diplomatic mission, the two hope to uncover the truth behind Oriana’s mother’s death. Evidence suggests that Spain—a country that has been known to enslave magical beings—may have infiltrated the siren authority. Unable to leave their post, Oriana and Duilio must call on Inspector Joaquim Tavares to root out the truth.

But even his seer’s gift cannot prepare him for what he will discover.


This is the third and final book in the series, although there will be a couple of related novellas eventually…


In addition, the mass market paperback of The Seat of Magic goes on sale today…so if you purchase books at that size, this is your chance!

Seat of MagicEnjoy!


Arianne “Tex” Thomspon’s debut novel, One Night in Sixes, is out today!

One Night in Sixes

The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim’s so-called ‘partner’ – that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick – has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes’ notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.


One Night in Sixes available for pre-order here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s 

Vectors: Who’s your favorite nonhuman character in fiction?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? Who’s your favorite nonhuman character in fiction?

Beth Cato

UrbanShamanI can’t help but think of my first and favorite urban fantasy series, The Walker Papers, by C. E. Murphy. The books start with Urban Shaman. The lead character, Jo, is a cop with a big chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t connect with people easily, but she loves cars, and she really loves her car, a ’69 Mustang named Petite.

Despite all the magical mayhem that Jo endures, Petite never evolves to the level of KITT in Knight Rider. Petite is… a car. The normalcy of Petite is a major stabilizing force for Jo and it becomes a running gag through the books about how no one else can touch Petite or drive it.

I really don’t like cars that much. I didn’t even get my license until my late 20s. But I totally get the relationship of Jo and Petite. Petite is her brave white charger. There are brilliant Petite moments throughout the series, including one in Mountain Echoes where I cheered out loud. It’s a car yet so much more.

E. C. Ambrose

ScannersLiveInVainByCordwainerSmith565Anybody else remember this one? Possibly not–but I was thinking of some of the characters in Cordwainer Smith’s lexicon–humanoids who were developed from dogs and cats, and retain some of their characteristics, while seeming, mostly, usually human.I haven’t read them for a long time, but they made an impression with their near-humanity. His most famous work is probably “Scanners Live in Vain”.

If you haven’t heard of him, don’t feel bad–he’s also the guy that the Cordwainer Smith Re-discovery Award is named for. It’s given to honor an author who should not have been forgotten, but is–and includes publication of one or more new editions of the author and panels at Readercon about them. So you can find Smith in new editions from NESFA press, and you can read some excerpts here: http://www.cordwainer-smith.com/rediscovery.htm

Tex Thompson

puddleglumI couldn’t possibly pick one favorite, but I can easily point to my first. Even with all the other wonderful creatures and talking animals in Narnia, Puddleglum thrilled me right away. I remember being hugely fascinated by the idea of this tall, amphibious scarecrow-looking man – and by the novelty of a character who isn’t any of the things we usually expect of a mentor figure. Gandalf and Obi-Wan and the rest could be stern or scary, but always had that same aura of power and benevolence and wisdom. By contrast, Puddleglum is morose, pessimistic (hilariously so), and often no more knowledgeable than the children he accompanies – but always honest with them, even when the truth is unpleasant. He’s a strange kind of advertisement for adulthood, but one still resonates with me, especially now that I’m on the far side of adolescence myself. (And if the mereaux in my books are half as cool as the marsh-wiggles in Narnia, I will be pleased indeed!)

Fran Wilde

378I’ve been thinking about this answer all week. I very much like the spiders in Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, and the skroderiders and tines from A Fire Upon the Deep. There’s Sam, from Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy. And Maya from Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor. I love the Culture from Ian M. Banks’ books. And Wintermute, because Gibson.

But I think when all is said and done, I love Fortinbras, from Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series and Tock from Phantom Tollbooth best.

Steve Bein

Tough question, but I’m going with Yoda.

I mean the real Yoda, the puppet from the real Star Wars movies, not Yoda’s weird CGI brother who appears in the prequels. I assume these aren’t the same person at all, but rather two brothers, because the CG evil twin doesn’t share any of the qualities I like best about the real Yoda.

Around the time he created Yoda, George Lucas was speaking with the mythographer Joseph Campbell, who knew something of Asian religions. That was what they talked about, and from that conversation Yoda was born. He’s a bodhisattva and a Taoist master rolled up in one.

It’s all right there in the name, actually. His home planet, Dagobah, is named for a Buddhist reliquary shrine. This is why Yoda doesn’t own a lightsaber: as an enlightened being, he’s beyond the fear of death and he’s the ultimate pacifist. It’s also why his evil CGI brother is such a disappointment. 900 years old and still this jackass needs to resort to violence to solve his problems? Where’s the wisdom in that?

Here’s the fight I’d like to have seen: Bad guy draws lightsaber on Yoda. Yoda waves a hand toward it and crushes it like tinfoil. Bad guy looks down at the crumpled metallic raisin in his hand and understands what Yoda really meant when he said, “the Force is my ally” and, “your weapons, you will not need them.”

Yoda’s most famous quote sounds like it came directly out of the Tao Te Ching: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” They didn’t miss this in China. When The Empire Strikes Back reached Chinese theaters, “Yoda” was transliterated as 有徳, literally “Having Te,” te being the virtuous power in the title of the Tao Te Ching, the founding text of classical Taoism.

This is why Yoda is my favorite: he is simultaneously the ultimate badass and the ultimate pacifist, and he achieves both by doing, not trying.

J. Kathleen Cheney

CherryhExilesGateCoverMorgaine, from any of the Morgaine books by C. J. Cherryh.

That’s a bit of a cheat. She confesses to being half human at one point in the books, but her father came from an ancient race that built a series of gates that allowed travel between worlds now populated by humans and a race known as the qhal. She actually looks like one of the qhal, and they often make the mistake of trusting her on those grounds, not realizing that she’s working to her own ends all the time.

She is never the point-of-view character. Instead we only see her through the eyes of her servant, Nhi Vanye, who starts off reluctant and terrified, but over the course of the four books comes to understand his half-human master and her mission.


July Coversplash

The Novelociraptors always keep an eye out for new publications, and here we offer a sampling of books launching this July.

Fiefdom by Dan Abnett & Nik Vincent

Elisha Magus by E. C. Ambrose

Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

The Devil’s Chord by Alex Archer

Fireborn by Keri Arthur

Resistance by Samit Basu

The Adventure of the Ring of Stones by James Blaylock

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney

Seeders by A. J. Colucci

Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia

Path of Smoke by Bailey Cunningham

Out of the Black by Evan Currie

Artful by Peter David

The Splintered Gods by Stephen Deas

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher

The Wurms of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson

Poison Promise by Jennifer Estep

Rebel Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Valor by John Gwynne

Enslaved by the Others by Jess Haines

Head Full of Mountains by Brent Hayward

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David Henley

The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma by Brian Herbert

Unwept by Tracy Hickman & Laura Hickman

The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder

Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover

SynBio by Leslie Horzitz

Elements of Mind by Walter Hunt

A Plunder of Souls by D. B. Jackson

No Return by Zachary Jernigan

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Hardship by Jean Johnson

Born of Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The Rods and the Axe by Tom Kratman

Wolf in Shadow by John Lambshead

The Tesla Gate by John Mimms

Free Agent by J. C. Nelson

Blood for the Sun by Errick Nunnally

All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park

Academic Exercises by K. J. Parker

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Wolfsbane by Gillian Philip

The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi

Bête by Adam Roberts

How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back by Diana Rowland

Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

Premonitions by Jaime Schultz

Pathfinder Tales: The Crusader Road by Michael Stackpole

Equoid by Charles Stross

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

One Night in Sixes by Arianne “Tex” Thompson

Last Orders by Harry Turtledove

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Ghosts of Time by Steve White



*This is not, of course, a complete list. We simply can’t catch every launch!

Book Debut: Elisha Magus

E. C. Ambrose’s second novel Elisha Magus is out today!


Available at: AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Powell’s.




Elisha Magus

Elisha, a barber-surgeon from the poorest streets of benighted fourteenth-century London, has come a long way from home. He was always skilled at his work, but skill alone could not protect him on the day that disaster left his family ruined and Elisha himself accused of murder. With no other options, Elisha accepted a devil’s bargain from Lucius, a haughty physician, to avoid death by hanging—by serving under the sadistic doctor as a battle surgeon of the king’s army, at the front lines of an unjust war.

Elisha worked night and day, both tending to the wounded soldiers and protecting them from the physician’s experiments. Even so, he soon found that he had a talent for a surprising and deadly sort of magic, and was drawn into the clandestine world of sorcery by the enchanting young witch Brigit—who had baffling ties to his past, and ambitious plans for his future. Yet even Brigit did not understand the terrible power Elisha could wield, until the day he was forced to embrace it and end the war…by killing the king.

Now, Elisha has become a wanted man—not only by those who hate and fear him, but by those who’d seek to woo his support. Because, hidden behind the politics of court and castle, it is magic that offers power in its purest form. And the players in that deeper game are stranger and more terrifying than Elisha could ever have dreamed.

There are the magi, those who have grasped the secrets of affinity and knowledge to manipulate mind and matter, always working behind the scenes. There are the indivisi, thought mad by the rest of the magical world: those so devoted to their subject of study that they have become “indivisible” from it, and whose influence in their realm is wondrous beyond even the imaginations of “normal” magi. And then there are—there may be—the necromancers, whose methods, motives, and very existence remain mysterious. Where rumors of their passing go, death follows.





Vectors: What book would you hand someone to get them hooked on SF/F?

Our question this week: What book would you hand someone to get them hooked on SF/F?

Dale Ivan Smith

Our first guest poster this week is Dale Ivan Smith. Dale got into trouble in grade school for sneaking off to the library during class, and later earned a degree in history, so naturally he became a librarian, and has worked for Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon since 1987. He’s had stories published at Every Day Fiction and 10Flash Quarter, a story at Amazon.com, and collaboration with K.C. Ball forthcoming in Perihelion Science Fiction. He is currently revising his weird western, The Hardscrabble. You can find him at daleivansmith.com and on Twitter @daleivan.

Photos from the World Fantasy Convention 2011 in San Diego, CA What’s a good book to introduce an adult reader new to science fiction or fantasy? It can be a challenging question, since many beloved works, and many award winners, may not be the best starting place for someone unfamiliar with the conventions and tropes of either genre, especially science fiction, and require previous reading in the genre. So I suggest novels that are accessible to a newcomer, works with a strong, distinctive voice, vivid characters and characterization, and engaging dialogue to hook the reader.

DoomsdayBook(1stEd)For Science Fiction, Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book is a fine introduction to the genre. A young historian is sent from the late 21st century to the mid-14th century, during the Black Death, rather than twenty years or so after the plague, as originally intended, while her colleagues in the future struggle to save her. Willis creates engaging characters and puts them in compelling situations. She’s also a master of dialogue, and of all her novels, this one packs the biggest emotional punch. Octavia Butler’s Kindred, another time travel novel, is also a great place to start, with its quietly powerful writing and emotion. Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God is a big idea novel, dealing with humanity’s encounter with an alien star faring species that believes in God, and what that means for human belief and culture. Sawyer’s writing is very accessible, and the book is a brisk read.

For fantasy, start with Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind. An engaging 1st person account of how Kvothe become a wizard, his trials, travails and loves. Rothfuss created a compelling character with a powerful voice that grabs the reader as soon as he begins telling his story. For readers coming from the mystery genre Jim Butcher Storm Front, the first of the Dresden Files series, is an excellent choice, featuring a wizard who is a private investigator in modern day Chicago, told in the noir style. Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey set in a Regency era world with magic, wonderfully told in the mode of Jane Austen, is a book I recommend to new readers who come from an historical or romance reading background.



Marta Murvosh

Our second guest this week, Marta Murvosh is a teen librarian, writer and reader living in the Pacific Northwest. She likes her SF/F with a hefty dose of mystery and her apocalypses to read like space operas. She grew up on cheesy monster flicks. You can follow her at Facebook and she commits occasional blog at Pulp & Pixels.



As a librarian, the last thing I want is a reader to glance at a cover illustration and scream, “I said: No spaceships!” before sprinting away like a wide-eyed, wild-haired horror trope.

To match a reader to a book, I ask: Tell me about a book you’ve enjoyed recently? The responses help me determine a reader’s taste in characters, plot, setting and writing style. I also gauge a reader’s comfort level with tragic or unresolved endings because not everyone enjoys a Ned Stark.

I then suggest titles that a reader may connect with. Here’s some possibilities:

Thrilled for a thriller? William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, Joel Shepherd’s Crossover, Mira Grant’s Feed and N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon will take you to the edge of your seat.

Thieftaker300Hysterical for historical fiction? Go back in time with D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker or Jeri Westerson’s Veil Of Lies.

Lover of literature? Read Alma Alexander’s The Secrets of Jin-shei, Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, Kij Johnson’s At the Mouth of the River of Bees or Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others.

Hankering for a hardboiled mystery? Find sleuths in Lilith Saintcrow’s Hunter’s Prayer, Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot and Warren Hammond’s KOP.

Like a little love? Crush on Ilona Andrews’ On The Edge, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Scout’s Progress.

Only nonfiction? Just the facts with Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree, Jr., The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon or Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.

E.C. Ambrose

Well, I have to start with the individual–finding out what kind of books they usually read. I often loan out copies of Connie Willis’s short stories (funny! and short, so usually an easy sell). I am also a long-time Ray Bradbury fan, and his work tends to be very accessible.

4e0a810ae7a043f7c00c9110.LFor the literati? Gene Wolfe short stories. They tend to be edgy, odd, off-balance in a way the literary folks respond to–he’s practically one of them–and yet. . .not. I also recommend Mary Doria Russell to a lot of book groups. Either The Sparrow (possibly still my favorite novel) or Doc, which is technically historical fiction, not SF/F, but I hope it will lead them to other of her works.

For the younger crowd, the librarians, and the reluctant readers, Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. This book is funny, easy to read, blasts a lot of genre tropes, and the whole idea of “evil librarians” tends to appeal to kids and folks who don’t read much.

My real problem comes from people who hear what I write and say, “Oh, I can’t *read* fantasy.” Fantasy has a reputation for long, complicated, unpronounceable names, often used in combination: Sir Gobbledygook of Whudideesay. Stuff like that can put off the average reader of mimetic fiction, so I reach for something with a more familiar basis, like The Child Queen by Nancy McKenzie, which is based on the Arthurian cycle. Half the job is often accomplished by simply describing some of the range of fantasy–that it’s not all elves and dragons, or obscure political struggles you have to keep track of for thousands of pages.

In such conversations, I often find myself quoting C. S. Lewis’s observation that the child who reads about enchanted forests does not despise real forests–rather, to that child, all forests become enchanted.

Ken Liu

It’s interesting to me that I find this question so hard to answer. To me, SF/F is not one thing, but many things that somehow got squeezed into one label that isn’t very descriptive or useful. (I’ve always had trouble with genre labels.)

Hartwell- Year's Best SFI got interested in SF/F from reading short fiction, not novels. I bought Hartwell’s Year’s Best anthology every year because of the variety of stories within. I didn’t like every story I read, but I liked enough of them that I knew there would be plenty of things under this “SF/F” label that I’d enjoy.

So I still think short fiction anthologies may be the best way to introduce someone to the field. With short stories, the time commitment for each world isn’t as large, and you get exposed to many more styles and ideas and approaches within the time it takes to read a novel. The various Year’s Best collections are a good bet.

Lawrence M. Schoen

Another brutal vector topic! This is worse than the “pick five books for your deserted island” notion because the one book I hand over has to contain something to appeal to a wide range of readers. It has to start with great writing, possess writing with an unquestionable command of both plot and character, and have enough variety to satisfy.

RogerZelazny-TDoHFtLoHMThe obvious answer is of course to look backward and offer up The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, the short story collection by one of my favorite authors, Roger Zelazny.

Originally published more than forty years ago, it contains the Hugo-winning title novelette, as well as such staggeringly compelling and heart-wrenching stories as “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” “The Keys to December,” and “The Man Who Loved the Faioli,” as well as lighter fare such as “The Great Slow Kings,” and “Museum Piece,” and much more as well.

This is vintage stuff to be sure, but it flows with a lyrical ease that contemporary authors would do well to equal. There’s a humanity to Zelazny’s short fiction that speaks to readers, and I think it’s a great way to hook someone on our genre. And speaking of hooks, that opening story is the best fish tale since Melville.

Beth Cato

What I would recommend would depend greatly on the person. I think of someone like my mom, who likes some genre works, but doesn’t want anything dark, gruesome or profane. She wouldn’t make it through a page of Chuck Wendig. I’ve let her borrow my copies of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and she found them enjoyable; she does love that British-style of dry wit.

HungerGamesI bought my niece Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and they introduced her to YA books in a major way. (Fun fact: these books hooked my niece, who was 11 at the time, but I know my mom won’t read them because they are way too intense.)

My husband isn’t much of a reader. As he says, “Book are dangerous.” When he does get into a book, he binge reads the series, if it’s available. He’s read my book, but otherwise the two series I hooked him on were Harry Potter and Hunger Games. There’s something universal about books intended for that age group–that time when many of us still hoped for magic.

Tina Connolly

For someone who loves to read but tends more to the literary side of things, I would hand them Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin or Jo Walton’s Among Others. I’ve handed Tam Lin to a couple friends of mine with English Lit degrees and said here: this is really about how awesome it is to go to a small Liberal Arts college and study English Lit. (Among Others is really about how awesome it is to read SF, so a little more specialized.) Love both books to pieces.

For someone who enjoys pop culture SF but is less of a reader, I’ve handed out Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and John Scalzi’s Redshirts (the first for the 80’s gaming/pop culture fan, and the second for the Star Trek fan, obviously.)

9780763636791And for someone who’s more into politics and social issues, I’ve handed out M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (which really is an astonishingly good book – as soon as I read it I promptly bought 3 more copies to give away), and Cory Doctorow. I’ve previously recommended Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Disneyland! Whuffie!), but For the Win and Little Brother (both of which are still in my TBR pile) look like excellent choices as well.

Steve Bein

I’m with Beth and E.C.: I think the answer to this question depends on who I’m shopping for. (This is one of the few questions in life to which shopping is the answer, and I’m a big believer in giving books as gifts.) I’m also with Ken; for lots of readers, short story anthologies are perfect entry points. They allow you to skip around without guilt. I’d tell a newcomer to the genre not to try to like everything in the anthology; try every story, and give up on any of them that cannot hold your interest. (That’s how I read SF/F magazines myself. I skip many more stories than I read, but I only read good fiction.)

But these are cop-out answers so far, since I’m just stealing them, so let me try to sink my teeth into this question.

I think the first thing I want to know is, why does this person not read SF/F already? Is it that they won’t read it or they just haven’t read it?

imageIf they poopoo genre fiction on principle, I’ll give them Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. If they prefer nonfiction to fiction, I’ll start them off with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

If they just haven’t gotten around to SF/F, then I lead with the one-two punch of Dune and The Lord of the Rings. If they’re young, it’s Tolkien again (The Hobbit this time), and also a conversation about superheroes so I know which comics to get them started on. This year I’d default to Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years, which includes a lot of the stories I grew up on.

Since I opened with a cop-out answer, I’ll close with one too: NPR and SF Signal have thoughtfully provided 100 answers for this question. I don’t agree with all their answers, and there are some books on this list I wouldn’t recommend to anyone (except perhaps as kindling), but that said, I think this flowchart is a bit of genre reading I’d recommend for any SF/F reader, not just first-timers.

Vectors: What has been your favorite book of the year so far? (Part 2)

Our question of the week is: What has been your favorite book of the year so far?

Our second guest this week:

Sofia Samatar

samatarphotoSofia Samatar is the author of the novel A Stranger in Olondria, winner of the 2014 Crawford Award, as well as several short stories, poems, and reviews. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, Locus, and British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is a co-editor for Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts, and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

SamuelRDelany-ToNMy favorite book of 2014 was published in 1979: Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel R. Delany. Somehow, although I’d read several SF novels by Delany, I’d never read this intricate and intoxicating fantasy. If you’re one of the people who never told me about it—I’m mad at you.

If you haven’t read it, let me tell you about it, so you don’t get mad at me! Tales of Nevèrÿon, the first book in the Return to Nevèrÿon series (followed by Neveryóna, Flight from Nevèrÿon, and Return to Nevèrÿon), consists of five linked stories and an appendix (and, in the recent edition, an introduction). Set in the distant past, in a world that echoes Africa and Asia, these tales explore the power of politics, sex, and narrative, and they do it through court intrigue, slave revolts, and the schemes of masked assassins. It’s like if someone showed up at a conference on Freud carrying an actual sword.

I love everything about this book. I love Gorgik, the huge, scarred former slave who understands his society from the ground up. I love his relationship with his lover Sarg, and the way their erotic life involves both intense tenderness and the collar of the slave. I love masked Raven, and the creation myth she tells: it’s like reading the Book of Genesis in a magic mirror. I love the humor, the sheer intellectual joy, of the metafictional introduction and appendix. I love that I have to remember the accents every time I type “Nevèrÿon.”

Obviously, the next book in the series is now on my list. My list is long. If it takes me a while to get around to it, Neveryóna may be my favorite book of 2015.

Tex Thompson

semvThis is definitely outside my usual wheelhouse, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. Maybe it’s because I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA and therefore don’t notice its tropes, but I suspect it’s just because she’s a hellaciously good writer. (Certainly I envy her skill in juggling dual-PoV from both “past” and “present” points in the story.)

Regardless, while I know this isn’t the only “kids with cancer” YA out there, Alice is easily the frankest, angriest, least-apologetic heroine I’ve read in a long time – and I suspect I’ll be able to relish that long after we’ve all been inundated by angelic Gap models with nose tubes. I am eagerly awaiting Chub, regardless!

Lawrence M. Schoen

threepartsdeadIn other years, this question would have been tough, but based on the preceding six months it’s a no-brainer. Allow me to sell you on Three Parts Dead, the first volume in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. It has everything: a city’s dead god, necromantic practitioners who have been hired to revive him, a chain-smoking priest who’s having a crisis of faith, living gargoyles with a grudge, a sea-going vampire picky about who he feeds on, and seemingly random citizens who can be called upon to become the faceless collective of the city’s justice. If you like plots and subplots and subsubplots, this book is for you. If you like brilliant characters who experience their world and grow and change, this book is for you. And if you like worldbuilding with style and detail that yields up something fresh and compelling and breathtaking, well, see my earlier statement.

Best of all, this is just the first book in the series. Book two was published last year, book three is coming out soon, and Max has already publicly implied that there’s more after that. Forget your trilogies, this is a sequence, and it’s awesome.

Fran Wilde

21stC-SF-thumb-250x382-431My favorite books so far this year have been the 21st Century Science Fiction Anthology edited by David Hartwell and Patrick Neilsen Hayden. I love short fiction, and this collection has such a great range. I’m looking forward to re-reading. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (which Mike discussed), Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky – the wrap-up of her Eternal Sky trilogy, and Jo Walton’s All My Real Children are also among the favorites.

Steve Bein

untitledI’ve been enjoying The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. It is billed as “the ultimate treasury of time travel fiction,” and I have to say it really does earn that title.

(Full disclosure: I have a short story in there. That’s not why I’m recommending the book. Skip my story if you want; this anthology is still required reading for any sci-fi fan.)

You might be tempted to think that since it’s 1,000 pages on one topic, it would get monotonous. Not so. It’s not just the range of stories that’s diverse; the range of approaches to time travel itself is far broader than I imagined it could be. There are the obvious poles: “it just works, don’t think about it” (represented best in this volume by Douglas Adams) and “here’s a model that is not physically impossible” (represented scientifically by Stan Love and fictionally by Geoffrey Landis). But those are only poles; there are many other possible approaches, and this book explores all of them.

For me personally, time travel stories are some of the most philosophically profound in all of speculative fiction. There are the metaphysical problems (all your standard cause and effect stuff), but what interests me most are the ethical problems (ought implies can, so if time travel changes what you can do, it changes what you ought to do too). Maybe most interesting to you will be the love stories, which are surprisingly common: people trying to find each other in time, people going back in time to fix failed relationships, etc. (Many of these are ethically provocative to me; the question I keep coming back to is, is fixing a failed relationship coercive?)

The only thing better than a copy of this book would be a copy autographed by each of the authors — which, since many of them are dead, would require a time machine.

What has been your favorite book so far this year?

Vectors: What has been your favorite book of the year so far? (Part 1)

Our question of the week is: What has been your favorite book of the year so far?

Our first quest this week:

Helene Wecker

wecker-mono-low-res-240x300Helene Wecker grew up in suburban Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. In 2007 she received her Master’s in Fiction from Columbia University. Her first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, was published by HarperCollins in 2013. Her fiction also has appeared in Catamaran and the online magazine Joyland. After a dozen years spent bouncing around between both coasts and the Midwest, she’s finally putting down roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and daughter.

NicolaGriffith-HMy favorite read so far this year has to be Nicola Griffith’s Hild, the story of the seventh-century British woman who would become St. Hilda of Whitby. I’m still trying to figure out how Griffith wrote this book. Time machine? Past life regression? Necromancy? And that’s just the historical aspects. They’d be nothing but a set of interesting facts without Griffith’s mastery of language, without sentences like “She lay at the edge of the hazel coppice, one cheek pressed to the moss that smelt of worm cast and the last of the sun, listening: to the wind in the elms, rushing away from the day, to the jackdaws changing their calls from ‘Outward! Outward!’ to ‘Home now! Home!’” Plus enough politicking and plot threads to satisfy any George R.R. Martin devotee — and, oh yeah, a seriously strong female protagonist. This one’s getting a re-read for sure.

M.K. Hutchins

12974372I was enchanted by A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. It’s written as the memoir of Lady Trent, a dragon naturalist in an alternate, Victorian-esque world. Dragon science is, admittedly, fun (I mean, just look at the cover — cool!). What I loved best about this book was the voice, though. Lady Trent, an older woman, is writing about her younger adventures. There’s this nice difference between the young woman and the older woman — an older woman who is wiser, but also more confident with herself. With confidence comes delightful sarcasm and a general disregard for being perfectly proper. It was lovely.

Beth Cato

Promise of BloodThis is a hard choice, but I have to say Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. I’m pretty burnt out on epic fantasies at this point, plus they are a major investment in time when my to-read piles are about the size of the trash heap from Fraggle Rock (though they aren’t sentient yet). Despite all my reservations, the premise of this book piqued my interest. It’s called a “flintlock fantasy”: an epic fantasy, set in a secondary world, with gunpowder technology. The magic even involves gunpowder–and wow does it grant some amazing abilities, though with an incredibly high cost. I could sing the praises of everything in this book: the nuanced characters, the depth of the history, the grand surprises. It’s a long book but a fabulous ride. I had the sequel preordered and I hope to get a chance to read it ASAP

Tina Connolly

twistedfairytales500I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I really loved Alyx Dellamonica’s new fantasy Child of a Hidden Sea, where a young woman named Sophie Hansa is suddenly dropped into the island world of Stormwrack. It comes out from Tor this month. Another one I thoroughly enjoyed was Twisted Fairy Tales, an illustrated collection of retold dark fairy tales by my friend Maura McHugh, that came out last year through Barron’s. I also caught up on some recent Dave Duncan novels that I’d missed and I most enjoyed Wildcatter out of those — a short hard SF novel
about propsectors trying to strike it rich on new planets. Available from Edge.

Michael R. Underwood

Here’s mine: The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin EmperorThis book was a welcome change from the recent string of grimdark epic fantasies. With the ascendance of Game of Thrones and other darker fantasies, The Goblin Emperor is a breath of fresh air, with elegant writing and a compelling lead. Maia, the titular emperor, is totally unprepared for ruling, and his struggles with the political situation he’s inherited are well-drawn. Most delightful, for me, is how much of a hero Maia is and tries to be, ruling with compassion and consensus.

See Part 2 on Thursday