Tag Archives: lawrence m. schoen


Summer is coming, and with it the opportunity to stalk encounter many of us as we pop up here and there. The following list can help you keep track of where to do just that. :

JULY 2016

* Jul 21st – 23rd – will be participating in the 23rd annual conference of the Klingon Language Institute (the qep’a’ cha’maH wejDIch) in Chicago, IL.
* Jul 29th – 31st – is a GoH and appearing on programming at Confluence in Pittsburgh, PA.

* Jul 8th – 10th – appearing on programming at Readercon in Quincy, MA.

* Jul 8th – 10th – appearing on programming at Readercon in Quincy, MA.

* Jul 29th – 31st – will be attending ArmadilloCon in Austin, TX.

* Jun 30-Jul 3rd – Appearing on programming and running the Angry Robot booth at CONvergence in Bloomington, MN.

* July 1st – 4th – appearing on programming at WesterCon in Portland, OR.

* Jun 29th – 31st – appearing on programming at ArmadilloCon 38 in Austin, TX.


* Aug 12th – 14th – will present at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR.
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at WorldCon in Kansas City, MO.

Aug 4th-7th – Appearing on programming and running the Angry Robot booth at GenCon in Indianapolis, IN.
* Aug 17th-21st – Running the Angry Robot booth at MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City, MO.

* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at Mid-American 2 (aka the 74th WorldCon) in Kansas City, MO.

* Aug 4th – 7th – appearing on programming at Gen Con Writers’ Symposium in Indianapolis, IN.
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at Mid-American 2 (aka the 74th WorldCon) in Kansas City, MO.

* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at WorldCon in Kansas City, MO. (Including launch party for debut collection On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories)

* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at Mid-American 2 (aka the 74th WorldCon) in Kansas City, MO.

* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at WorldCon in Kansas City, MO. (Including the launch of her new novel, Breath of Earth, to be officially released August 23rd)

* Aug 4th – 7th – appearing on programming at Gen Con Writers’ Symposium in Indianapolis, IN.


* Sep 2nd – 3rd – will be giving the keynote address at the Roanoke Writers Conference in Roanoke, TX.
* Sep  14th – 18th – will attend BoucherCon in New Orleans, LA.
* Sep  23rd – 25th – will appear on programming at FenCon in Irving, TX.

* Sep 17th-24th – Attending the Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat from Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

* Sep 2nd – 5th – appearing on programming at Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA.

* Sep 23rd – 25th – appearing on programming at the Baltimore Book Festival in Baltimore Inner Harbor, MD.

* Sep 2nd – 3rd – will be attending the Roanoke Writers Conference in Roanoke, TX.
* Sep  23rd – 25th – appearing on programming at FenCon in Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX.

News for May and June

Beth Cato

– will be attending Phoenix Comicon June 5-7. Her schedule can be viewed here. There might possibly be shenanigans and the worship of tacos.

– finished a round of edits on the first book in a new steampunk series.

Michael R. Underwood

Appearances: Mike will be attending Phoenix Comicon June 5-8 with Angry Robot Books. His schedule is here.

Publications: Mike’s superhero fantasy novel Shield and Crocus is coming June 10th.

Writing: Revising The Younger Gods, an urban fantasy coming Q4 of 2014.

M.K. Hutchins

Drift is coming out in June!
My novelette, “The Temple’s Posthole,” tied for third in the annual IGMS Reader’s Choice Award.

E.C. Ambrose

Elisha Barber by E. C. Ambrose will be released in paperback June 3rd

Fran Wilde

– Finished a new novelette.
– Finalizing edits on novel #1.
– Working on novel #2 in the Tor series.
– Sold a new short story to Drabblecast called “Local Delicacies.” (pub date TBA)
– Joined an SF Signal Mind Meld for “Books we’ve worn out reading.”
– Am co-editing the SFWA 50th Anniversary cookbook with author Cat Rambo.
– Interviewed agent Rachel Kory from SGG Literary for Cooking the Books.

J. Kathleen Cheney

-Inked a new deal with Ace/Roc for Book 3 in the Golden City series, The Shores of Spain, and the first book in a new series, Dreaming Death.
The Golden City will be coming out in mass market paperback on June 3.
-J. will be appearing at SoonerCon in OKC, June 27-29.

Lawrence M. Schoen

– The second half of May had me bouncing around from the Nebula Awards conference in San Jose, CA, to the Memorial Day weekend joy that was my return to Balticon after several years absence, to a Writers’ Retreat with some of my Taos Toolbox cohort (and others) in my own backyard of Philadelphia.
– I just completed negotiations for the publication of a new novella featuring the Amazing Conroy (both of the previous novellas enjoyed Nebula Award nominations) to come out in 2014 from NobleFusion Press as both an ebook and a stand alone trade paperback. It will feature a cover by Rachael Mayo, the astonishing artist who has done the covers for all of my books to date.
– In theory, my editorial letter for Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard will be dropping any day now. My anxiety demands cake!
– And though the actual event is still quite a ways away, I can now announce that I’ll be a Special Guest at next year’s RavenCon, alongside GoH Allen M. Steele.

Vectors: Plotter or Pantser?

Our question this week: Plotter or pantser? Have you changed your position on the spectrum and if so, how?

Tina Connolly

tina_connolly-300x450I used to be a total pantser. Not the sort of pantser who describes their process as “following the headlights down a dark twisty road”, but a terrible sort that involved seeing one little image that might be part of a story someday. It might be a sentence, it might be a character, it might be a moment. And then, seeing another little image. And another. And maybe the first image is the end of the story and maybe the second one is in the middle and maybe the third one is also in the middle, but a different middle, one that exists if the story goes somewhere else. (But in the meantime, you’re going to need this non-canon 3rd image in order to find the 4th image, and the 6th.) And then, trying to put all these things together.
This worked . . . okay . . . for short stories.

This was terrible for novels.

I have a trunked novel written this way. It’s a glorious mess, and maybe someday it’ll come out of the trunk and try to reform. But basically around the time of Ironskin (my 7th novel), I had to learn to start writing linearly. There were still many times in that novel I would jump sideways and write another piece of the puzzle that had occurred to me, and then go back. Copperhead got a little better, process-wise. And then with the last novel, Silverblind, I was finally able to just write it from start to finish. No jumping around. And I think it’s my strongest novel yet.

My current process is somewhere between plotter and headlights. I start by figuring out the loose overall arc to the story. About as much as would go on the back of a book, say. Then I start writing, finding the voice, finding out things I didn’t know. I go back and refine my outline, adding more detail. Back and forth. I’m enjoying this process much more than the floundering connect-the-dots I had before, and I think it may stick with me for awhile. . .

E. C. Ambrose

E. C. AmbroseI used to write only when the inspiration took me–so I might not write for weeks, then suddenly I would spend days on end working on the novel. Each time, the spaces seemed to grow–I’d spend more time doing nothing, then more time writing. But the books that resulted from this tended to be rambling and jumpy. I did sell one of these books, which was submitted at 220K words, and published at 167K–ouch! Painful revision!! Two big epiphanies lead me to my current process.
First of all, I had a bunch of friends doing NANO. I couldn’t take off the month of November (I was running a wholesale gift business at the time) But I could take off most of January into February, so I did a personal chapter-a-day challenge. I wrote 38 chapters in 35 days, the book that became Elisha Barber. I think this approach allowed me to maintain the energy of the work during the whole time I was writing. On the other hand, the book has a single protagonist, and a fairly tight plot structure. I would get ideas about things to happen later and jot them on old business cards to keep a sort of loose, running outline. The equivalent of a GPS for that dark, windy road where I could see a few turns ahead, but not the whole roadmap.

By the time I sold Elisha Barber, as book 1 of “The Dark Apostle” series, I had written 4 more books to follow it, and wrap the series. Unfortunately, the editors loved the first book, but wanted the rest of the series to be bigger, more epic. They wanted. . . an outline! Gasp. So this dedicated pantser sat down and brainstormed a new series structure. They weren’t crazy about it. They had suggestions. I wrote a new outline with those suggestions. I wasn’t crazy about it. I wrote yet one more outline–this time really working each major turn, especially developing a climax worthy of the whole series.

And lemme tell you–far from making me lose steam on the books because I know how they end, having that big, amazing moment to work toward has fired me up about it. I still make changes as I go–usually moving around parts of the outline rather than ditching them entirely–but the outline gives me confidence about the work. I just finished developing an outline for a new series, taking my time with the R&D, then doing a lightning draft for the first few chapters, combining the big-picture structure tools of the outline with the energy and excitement of the writing flow. Can’t tell you how jazzed I am to get to work on that!

M. K. Hutchins

MK HutchinsWith short fiction, I usually write a scene-by-scene outline before drafting. Every scene carries so much burden of the story that I feel I need to carefully plan it out for the story to flow and make sense.

With novels, I used to wing the entire thing, but the results were not always pretty (or even salvageable). Now I start a book with a very rough outline — maybe a page or two of notes, often along the lines of Dan Well’s 7-point-plotting system, which makes a lot of sense to me.

But “outlining” isn’t just something to do before writing a book. Whenever I finish a chapter, I go summarize it in my ongoing chapter-by-chapter outline. I usually outline the next chapter before I actually write it as well. Having a broad framework to hang the story on, then keeping track of what I’m actually doing, helps me a lot. But digging in and just writing gives me ideas for what should happen next. I also love writing a character into a horrible bind with no idea of how they’ll survive, because then I’m pretty sure my reader won’t know, either.

So, plotting and pantsing are, for me, both valuable tools.

Fran Wilde

Fran2014It depends on the story. Quite often, I write a scene or a voice because it wants to be written — so a complete pants — and then I block out what kind of story that scene is trying to tell — plotting. The first novel I wrote was loosely outlined. The second was pantsed, then plotted, then the last third came out in a completely different direction than I’d expected, and that was great too.

Story’s gonna story.

J. Kathleen Cheney

screenshot2Definitely a plotter. I’ve rarely had any luck just ‘going where the story takes me.’ When I try that I usually have to go back and rein in all the subplots that want to go off in every direction. So in interest of being efficient (which is my goal these days), I’m working harder on the front end. I hope that saves me headaches on the editing end.

Not that I’m perfect. I usually write an outline and fall off the outline wagon somewhere about 1/3 of the way through. By 2/3s I’m hopelessly off….so I re-outline the rest of the book then and try to fix it. In fact, this has always been a problem for me, so much so that while I do outline the story and I know where it will end, I’ll generally only produce a detailed outline for the beginning of the book. The middle third is lighter, and the last third of the outline is sketchy at best. Why spend the time creating an elaborate ending when I know that by the time I get there I’ll have to redo the outline?

That doesn’t qualify me as a pantser, though…

Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. UnderwoodI see plotter and pantser as two extremes of one continuum. I’ve swung from 95% pantser to 80% plotter over the course of my writing career. Before I wrote my first novels, all of my short stories were 100% pantsing.

My first novel was 90% pantsed, with only the vaguest structure in mind. When I wrote Shield and Crocus, my third novel (before Geekomancy, but published after), I built out a bit of an outline, a ‘lamp posts in the darkness’ structure that gave me landmarks but little in the way of connective tissue or points in-between.

Each novel since then, and in a big way in the last year, I’ve moved more and more toward being an outliner. Attack the Geek was broken out down to the scene, and Hexomancy, which I’m writing even now, Is broken down to scene and beats within. I still go off-outline, and frequently, trying not to be afraid to let my imagination lead me down unforseen paths on the day and in the moment.

My next step is not to outline more, but to outline smarter, to look at the arcs, sub-plots, and to have more of a sense of the shape of the story in addition to the beat-by-beat of ‘this happens, and then that, all leading to this’ outlining that I do now. I know that I’m only operating at the low levels of plotting, and I’m hoping I can get better and smarter at it to produce even stronger first drafts and to be able to look at complete drafts and get better at identifying where the structure has gotten lopsided and needs to be corrected to create more beautifully-shaped stories

Beth Cato

BethCato-steampunk-headshotI’m totally a plotter, but then, I’m even a plotter in real life. I’m the queen of to-do lists and planning out my day, researching restaurants before I will eat there, etc. It only makes sense that this carries over to my writing. I even do little outlines for flash fiction.

That said, I’m flexible within my plots, too. My writing tends to surprise me, especially as I near the climax. There’s often a point as I write or as I rewrite when the proverbial light bulb clicks on over my head and I realize, “Oh yeah, THAT is what I was writing.” My novels in particular are this way. I heavily outline plot and subplot up to the climax. At that point, I have vague ideas of the event and definite ideas about the result, but no clue how it actually happens.

That said, my poetry is my one area of spontaneity. I start with a prompt or first line, write, and have no idea where it will go. My rough drafts tend to pour out all at once.

Lawrence M. Schoen

Lawrence SchoenIn thinking about my answer this week, it felt a bit like being enrolled in a 12-step program and attending a meeting. Imagine yourself in a room full of cheap folding chairs occupied by a menagerie of authors, a table with bad coffee and donuts at the back, and some writer standing at the front who introduces himself by name and then adds, “And I’m a Pantser.”

When I first started writing, my fiction began with a cool idea and a character. That was enough to begin the engagement for me (and ideally, for my reader). It’s that teaser at the beginning of a television show before the first commercial break; if they did their job you’re still watching after the commercial ends. Beginnings are crucial.

With a Beginning in hand, I’d then turn to the Ending. How do I want things to look when it’s all over? Where will my character be and how is he different now (which is not the same as how did those changes come about)?

Once I had a rough idea of my Beginning and my Ending, I was off! This for me is the very definition of being a Pantser. As you stand at the start of your tale, there are an nigh infinite number of ways for you to get from Point A to Point B. Who needs a map? Turn off the GPS and just head out. The adventure will unravel.

The problem though is that while you can often get a satisfying story this way, I’ve found the the odds of actually doing so go way up when you have a clear (which is not necessarily the same as saying “detailed”) outline before you begin.

The thing that converted me was spending two weeks on top of a mountain and learning from master plotter Walter Jon Williams. I refer to his master class, the Taos Toolbox. That experience set me on the road of recovery (to continue beating the 12-step metaphor).

The last thing I’ll say about being a (reformed pantser) outliner is that when you have an outline and you get stuck on the part of the book you’re working on, you can skip ahead to another point along the line and keep on going. Which allows me to turn the unrepentant pantsers in the room and go “neener neener” when they get stuck.

Steve Bein

Steve BeinI’ve always been a plotter, and I wish to hell I wasn’t. Plotting is the hardest part of writing to me.

I’ve tried it the other way, and writing by the seat of my pants, I can churn out lots of snappy dialogue. Nice descriptions of settings and characters too. Cool fight scenes, interesting philosophical problems, all that good stuff. What never, ever emerges is story. It’s all just rambling.

So I’m a plotter because I have to be. I think of it this way: I need to log a flight plan before I take off. I need to know my destination in advance. That said, unexpected turbulence can force me to depart from the plan. I always outline, but I rarely end up following the outline point by point. The flight path evolves as it progresses, swerving to avoid problems as they arise.

So where are you on this continuum?

Vectors: Our Favorite Scoundrels

Who shoots first does matter. This week our topic is:
Excepting Han Solo (because otherwise this question would be too easy), who is your favorite sci fi or fantasy scoundrel?

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
I’m not a reader who likes villains. I think of monsters as monsters, and bad guys as probably-not-redeemable. That said, when I read this question, my mind immediately turned to the one villain I find fascinating: Bane. Not the Batman version, but a far stranger scoundrel/villain. Godstalk

In the book Godstalk P. C. Hodgell introduces us to a young woman named Jame who’s come to a city to escape her past. She earns an apprenticeship with the local thieves’ guild, but in the process attracts the attention of one of the local nasties, a fellow named Bane. He has a terrible reputation for hurting people who cross him, even to the point of flaying them alive. Yes, he’s that sort of bad guy. Bad all the way through.

Now I’m about to drop some spoilers, but the book has been out for years, so…here goes.

Along the way, Jame discovers that Bane is probably her half-brother, and that his soul was stolen from him by his foster father who used it to create a monster than haunts the lower part of town, devouring the souls of children. Near the end of the first book, though, Bane sacrifices his life protecting Jame, fully knowing that he will be flayed alive….and that because he’s separated from his soul, he cannot die.

And he doesn’t. His soul is still hanging around, halfway stalking Jame, and halfway watching her back. Later, when she has something precious she needs hidden, she puts it in an oubliette, and leaves him guarding it. BTW, the item is one of the three sacred items of their people.

The author is several books into this series, and the main reason I’m still reading it is not that I want to find out how Jame and her twin brother are fairing. It’s not to see the big apocalyptic showdown that we know is coming.

I want to see what Bane does with the Book Bound in Pale Leather….

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
I’m generally not attracted to the scoundrel type. I mean, as much as I love Mal in Firefly, I know in person I would be utterly repulsed. I like my heroes lawful good.

Oddly enough, though, as I started to ponder book scoundrels I had one immediately come to mind–Arvid Semminson, in Elizabeth Moon’s masterful Paksenarrion fantasy series. He’s a card-carrying member of the Thieves’ Guild and pretty darn good at killing people. Really, he’s everything that a paladin such as Paks should despise. Moon creates wonderfully shaded characters, though. Arvid has done bad things, but he still has a sound moral core, and everyone who is a satellite to Paks cannot help but be changed in a profound way. Maybe that’s why he’s my kind of rogue.crown-of-renewal

The original Paks books started in the 1980s and Moon has extended the series in recent years. The final book, Crown of Renewal, comes out in late May. I confess I haven’t read last year’s book yet–my to-read pile is downright scary–but I have a hunch that Arvid is destined for some kind of greatness. If he lives. If not, I figure there’s a grand purpose in that, too.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
This is another tough one, particularly as I have my own series of novels, novellae, and short stories where the protagonist is a likeable rougue (and if you haven’t read any of the adventures of the adventures of the Amazing Conroy, then shame on you).

I’m leaning a bit toward nominating Vlad Taltos from the series of novels by Steven Brust. They’re a great read and loads of fun except one thing is holding me back: The protagonist in question isn’t so much a scoundrel as a professional assassin. That’s part of Brust’s charm as a writer, he has the reader cheering for a character who goes around killing other characters. Fun stuff, but not a proper choice for this week’s question.HouseofShards

Instead, I’m going to go with Drake Maijstral, the gentleman thief from a trio of novels by Walter Jon Williams. Humanity has long since assimilated by an ancient, alien civilization, and because a past emperor was a bit of a klepto, we now have “allowed burglary.” But it’s not simply a case where the authorities look the other way, it’s actually an “extreme sport” and minor aristocrat Maijstral is rated among the Top Ten by the Imperial Sporting Committee. And of course, he’s aided by his long-suffering alien butler. It’s bit like like a blend of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” stories and Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers books. Great characters shoved into great situations.

I’ve referred to Williams in the past as the Master of Plot, and he really shows that off here as he piles on subplot after subplot after subplot, book after book, in this too-short series that can perhaps best be described as an interstellar comedy of manners.

The books themselves (The Crown Jewels, House of Shards, and Rock of Ages) vanished from print years ago. The Science Fiction Book Club had them in an omnibus edition (Ten Points for Style), but I think that’s gone now too. Fortunately though Williams has been converting his backlist to ebook format, and all three books are available again, and at reasonable prices.

MK HutchinsM.K. Hutchins
Althalus, from The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings.RedemptionofAlthalus

I know the name “Eddings” brings up images of long series, but this is a stand alone. That’s part of what I love about it. The novel feels like an entire series tightly crammed into a delightful 726-page package (okay, that doesn’t make it sound short). I’ve read this one multiple times. It has all those big epic, sweeping stakes and all that lovely banter that I think the Eddings really excelled at writing — but without any long slogs of traveling or other meanderings that fantasy of that era was prone to.

And The Heist Society by Ally Carter was terribly fun — exactly what I needed while I was staying up late at night rocking a newborn. I rarely pick up contemporary novels, but the premise sucked me in. Katrina’s conman father’s been blamed for a theft he (actually) didn’t commit. So Katrina — who thought she’d left “the life” behind for good — is back in the game to find the stolen paintings and steal them back before it’s too late.Heist Society



Steve BeinSteve Bein
I think I’m going to go with Turin Turambar. For my money he’s Tolkien’s greatest character. I know that’s a bold statement, but seriously, read Children of Hurin. It’s brilliant.

But this is such a hard choice! It seems I’m not of the same mind with many of my fellow Novelociraptors, because scoundrels are usually my favorites. Even when I was little, I liked Wolverine and was bored by Captain America.

So for me Turin has some pretty tough competition. The next obvious choice after Han Solo is Chewbacca. After Chewie comes Mal Reynolds from Firefly (since let’s face it, Mal is Han Solo, just in a different incarnation). After him, the next most obvious choice is everyone else on Firefly.The_Children_of_Hurin_cover

After them, I want to say Jamie Lannister, and I would say Tyrion too, except Tyrion stays too close to the halls of power for me to call him a proper scoundrel. To me Jamie never quite fits in; he’s at his best when he’s riding rakishly around the Seven Kingdoms.

After them, Loki, Coyote, Butch Cassidy, Inigo Montoya, YT from Snow Crash, Rorschach from Watchmen, Gurney Halleck from Dune, Lando Calrissian from the old Alan Dean Foster novels, Silk from the Belgariad… so many choices! Not to mention Arya Stark, who isn’t quite a scoundrel but she’s one in the making, or Conan, who could be a great scoundrel if only he weren’t so darn grim all the time, or… well, the list goes on and on.

So since I’m forced to make a choice, I’m sticking with Turin. But he’s in good (bad?) company!

Vectors: Favorite Non-English Language Story or Book (part 2)

We continue to answer the question, What’s your favorite non-English language book or story in the SF/F genre?

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
This is an easy pick. I’m going with the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest, written story we have. We’re talking early Mesopotamian here. Gilgamesh was King of Uruk back around 2500 BC. Uruk, for those of you playing along at home is believed to be one of the first cities of the world, so that makes it an even cooler place to have been a king, right?ghIlghameS

The story was probably originally written in Sumerian, but survives into present day because it was used as a teaching exercise for young scribes learning to write Akkadian. As a result, there are numerous, intact sets of cuneiform tablets with the story, which have allowed historians ready access to the work, as well as creating a pretty standardized version of the story.

Gilgamesh is described as “two thirds god,” and has some wonderful adventures. He battles a wild man of the forest (Enkidu) and eventually the two become closer than brothers. When Enkidu dies (whoops, sorry, spoiler!), Gilgamesh goes to the underworld demanding the return of his friend. There’s also a section, written in a very different voice, that describes the sorts of things a person should do to lead a good life. Nice advice from the dawn of civilization.

Of course, what makes this even more special to me, is that it’s precisely the kind of Human action tale that Klingons would enjoy. Which goes a long way to explaining why, in 2003, I published ghIlghameS, a Klingon translation of the Earth’s oldest epic.

I think I’ve got the timeline spanned pretty well there, don’t you?

AnatolyBelilovskyGuest Anatoly Belilovsky
If I had to pick one book, it would have to be 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne – it hit me early and it hit me hard; I remember reading it in my grandparents’ apartment in Lvov, in Russian, in first grade in school, and rereading it more times than I can count. The grandeur of going places, of the alien world under the sea; the lone, isolated captain Nemo; incredible freedom in strict confinement – the parallel between living in the Nautilus and living inside one’s head – it put the wonder in wandering.20000Leagues

As for others – also very early on –


NIICHAVO, the Institute of Research into Sorcery and Magic, is best thought of as a very small Hogwarts with Hagrid in charge – and if there are to be any charges of plagiarism, MONDAY BEGINS ON SATURDAY is vintage 1966.

And, finally:


Another outcast, another quest for freedom in a dimension perpendicular to everyone else’s plane of existence. I see a pattern emerging. Hmm…

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later (see wikipedia, Jackson-Vanik amendment), he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published stories in NATURE, Ideomancer, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net, pediatrics at belilovsky.com, and his medical practice web site is babydr.us.

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood
I’m going to cheat and bring in media sources so I can talk about Ghost in the Shell. I was an anime/manga fan as a teen, because of and informing the fact that I studied Japanese in high school. Many of my friends were also studying Japanese, so we’d hang out and watch anime with subtitles over the weekends, practicing our aural comprehension.GitS

We started with Ranma 1/2, Vampire Hunter D, Tenchi Muyo, Akira, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it was really Ghost in the Shell that most blew me away. It was far deeper than most of the other anime (but more coherent than Neon Genesis Evangelion), and packed an incredible amount of plot, worldbuilding, character, and theme into one story, all lead by an impressive female lead who had a complicated and nuanced relationship to her body and to physicality in general. Other films and shows got me into anime, but Ghost in the Shell showed me what it could really do when it was stretching to be thought-provoking without being obtuse.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
Ahhh I was hoping someone would bring Ghost in the Shell. Go Mike!

My favorite non-English language stories are a tie, but one author influenced the other greatly. So:

Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina). All of it. The Book of Sand. Ficciones, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Library of Babel.” I love watching his stories unfold. I love the way he explores ideas of place and memory.

Milorad Pavić (Serbia), specifically The Dictionary of the Khazars. This is a dictionary written in three parts, divided by religion. Definitions for the same word change depending on which part of the dictionary you are reading. You can read it linearly, or by jumping back and forth between words. And there’s a mysterious swordsman that weaves his way throughout the book. There are male and female versions of the dictionary, with only one word different. And the original dictionary (for this is a found object) was written in poison ink. Published in 1984, The Dictionary of the Khazars is a bound work of hypertext. It’s also lovely.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly
I have two answers to this question, and both are books I fell in love with as a kid. The first is Michael Ende’s The Never-Ending Story. Do you have memories of the moment of *discovery* of your favorite books? I definitely do. In this case . . . Well, I had a bad habit as a kid of going over to friend’s houses to play . . . and then sitting down and reading their books. On my friend Theresa’s bedstand was a library book that looked exactly as The Never-Ending Story should look: a hardback with an embossed picture of Auryn. I started reading . . . I got to the point where I found Bastien reading this very book . . . I could not stop. I think I read half of that book that night (and yes, as we all know, this is a very long book.) I couldn’t borrow it from her – it was a library book! I couldn’t borrow it from the library – she had it! Ah, the agony. I finally got to read all of it. I remember being confused and disappointed by the movie. But it didn’t change my love for the book.Paris20

And the second is another book that I still wildly love, and have re-read even more. Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I’ve seen the old Disney version a number of times, and though it, too, doesn’t match up with my own idea of the story, I rather like it all the same. When I took French in college, I worked my way through copies of this and of Around the World in 80 Days to practice the language. And of course, if you haven’t read the (comparatively) recently-discovered Paris in the 20th Century, the story is not my favorite, but it’s worth it just to see what Verne came up with!

Vectors: Name two books that you’re really looking forward to this year

Our topics often look to the past. This time, we look to… the future! We’re talking about books we’re looking forward to in 2014.

Beth CatoBethCato-steampunk-headshot

I answered a similar question on SF Signal a few months ago, but I have so many books on my wish list, it’s no problem to mention two more.Shaman Rises

C. E. Murphy’s Walker Papers series was my first love in urban fantasy, one of the few series I’ve followed all the way through, and a major influence on my writing. I actually studied her books to find out how to write first person. Sadly, all good series must come to an end, and book #9 Shaman Rises comes out June 24th. I’m already stockpiling tissues for when I read it.
We on Novelocity have previously expressed admiration for Max Gladstone’s first two books, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. Book three is Full Fathom Five and it comes out July 15th. I fully anticipate the same brilliant mix of magic, dystopia, steampunk, and fresh-secondary world mythology that I’ve loved in the others.

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney

So many of the books I’ve been holding my breath for have already come out this year: Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells, The Tinker King by Tiffany Trent, and Why Kings Confess by C.S.Harris are among the ones I pre-ordered as soon as they popped up on Amazon. Dust and Light

But one that’s not out yet? Carol Berg’s new Sanctuary series kick off in August, with Dust and Light. Now, I’ve loved Carol’s work since I first ran across one of her novels, Son of Avonar years ago. Her prose is lovely, the characters deep and tortured (often literally), and the stories always keep me engaged. So I’m anxious to see what her new series brings. And the cover is absolutely luscious!

MK HutchinsM.K. Hutchins

Echoes of UsI’m super-excited for the release of Echoes of Us by Kat Zhang. It’s the third and final book of the Hybrid Chronicles, a YA alternate history where everyone is born with two souls. I’ve loved the worldbuilding and the character interactions. Addie’s relationship with her sister (they share a body) and their relationship with everyone else is so interestingly complicated. Having two souls sounds wonderful (never alone!) and exhausting (never alone!) at the same time.

The last book in the Partials trilogy, Ruins, by Dan Wells also just came out and is on the top of my TBR pile. I know that some people are sick of post-apocalyptic YA…but I’m not one of them. Besides the killer almost-human war machines, humanity is also suffering from a virus that kills infants shortly after birth. I love that the first book isn’t just about destruction or just about a love triangle…it’s also about trying to find a cure to save her best friend’s baby. And it rocks.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly

Child-of-a-Hidden-Sea-A.M.-DellamonicaI recently blurbed A. M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea for Tor, which was super easy as I LOVED this book. (This counts as “looking forward to” because I can’t wait to tell everyone to go out and buy it in June!) It’s a portal fantasy – 24 year-old Sophie Hansa is busy looking for her birth mother when she ends up in the island world of Stormwrack. But instead of looking for, I dunno, evil wizards and prophecies, she geeks out over seashells and little critters, trying to figure out exactly where and what Stormwrack is. Then she goes home and comes back with her brother, and he geeks out over old maps and things. It’s really delightful and engaging, and there’s plenty of excitement and drama without any of it being the One True Child who has returned variety.
Another book I’m REALLY looking forward to is Shadow Scale, the sequel to Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, which came out in 2012. Seraphina is a YA high fantasy with incredibly interesting and unusual dragons that can take on human shape. I absolutely loved it. But, darnitall, Goodreads says Shadow Scale won’t be out till early 2015. At least there’s a pub date now! [goes back to waiting patiently….]

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
There are a handful of authors that just push my buttons every time. Part of it probably comes from having gotten to know them as individuals, not merely as supplies of reading material, and so their voices and personalities come through to me as I flip the pages.

One of these is Karl Schroeder, the man who gave us the Virga series. Karl’s just started a new YA series, and a month ago I’d have been putting the first book of it in my list here of books I’m eagerly awaiting, but it came out the end of March and I’m deep in the thick of it now (but feel free to go pick up a copy of LockstepDanielAbraham-TWH

Instead, let me tell you about Daniel Abraham, perhaps best known for his Long Price Quartert, and if you haven’t read it stop what you’re doing right now and rush out and dive into that first book (you can send me a nice fruit basket as a thank you gift later).

Daniel has moved on from that series and is now writing a new fantasy series collectively known as The Dagger and the Coin. The fourth book in this series, The Widow’s House doesn’t come out until August. The other three have been brilliant. Daniel juggles a cast of so many characters, cultures, races, political threads, and mythologies on the kind of level that only George R. R. Martin can usually lay claim to. Yeah, he’s that good.

JamesSACorey-CBThat’s a long time for me to wait for my next “fix” of Daniel’s fiction. Fortunately for me, I don’t half to because Daniel is also half of the pseudonym James S. A Corey (the other half being Ty Franck), the name attached to a series of SF novels called The Expanse. Book four in that series, Cibola Burn, comes out in June. This James Corey fellow writes epic, character-driven space opera that just brings a smile to my face with every page.

And who knows, maybe by the time I’ve finished that next Corey book, there’ll be a listing for a new Schroeder book coming soon.

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I’m cheating a bit on this one, as I’ve already gotten to read much of this book through my work at Angry Robot, who will be publishing The Mirror Empire this August. But the book is so inventive, so powerful, that I have to talk about it, and I can’t wait for everyone else in the SFF world to be able to read it.

The Mirror Empire features carnivorous plants, consent-based cultures, militaristic matriarchies, and a magic system where gifted’s powers wax and wane with their patron sattelites, each sattelite imparting a different style of magic. The writing is muscular and the first 50 pages play like the opening cutscene from an XBox One game. It rocks. Hard.

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellanCrimson Campaign

I read Promise of Blood, the first book of the Powder Mage Trilogy, shortly after it came out last year, and I was really impressed. Promise of Blood was richly textured, and featured a very cool set of magic systems. More traditional D&D Wizard-style magic is counter-pointed by Powder Magic, which can float bullets for sniper fu, detonate gunpowder from a distance, and/or let mages ingest gunpowder for temporarily-enhanced strength & speed).

The Crimson Campaign continues where Promise of Blood left off, in the aftermath of a French Revolution-style overthrow of a corrupt government. But all is not well in the recently-freed nation of Adro. They’ve got enemies at the gates, and a reborn God sworn to destroy the whole country for its insolence. All of this before the dust has even settled on their revolution.

Vectors: Disliked Required Reading from School

We love books., in general. There will, however, be exceptions. That’s especially true of assigned reading from school. We delve into our pasts to remember the books that made us growl, fuss, and contemplate violent acts against Ernest Hemingway.

What required reading in school did you absolutely despise?


J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
To be honest, practically everything. I spent most of my high school career trying to get out of reading authors like Conrad and Hemingway and Faulkner. I suppose that my second runner up was Moby Dick, which will, no doubt, meet with gasps from some people. It simply didn’t make sense to me. This was followed by Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, which I found annoying because I found the narration manipulative. (I especially disliked that we didn’t learn the guy’s name.) My crown for Worst Torture of High School Students, however, goes to Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony”, which is eighty pages of a horse dying slowly and a kid feeling miserable about it. RedPony

Essentially, I discovered early that I didn’t like what most English Majors consider ‘deep’ or ‘important’ works of fiction. They tended to be depressing, which is simply Not My Thing.

And thank heavens for my college English prof who taught Literature: Fiction who taught Tolkien and L’Amour and let me do my reports on The Mabinogion. and Gillian Bradshaw.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
My math book.

People in my family are notoriously good at math and engineering. Unlike them, I knew myself to be terrible at it. I focused on art and English. Took the algebra class with the goofy word problems, not calculus. A high school teacher (a kind soul, Mr. Maas) went so far as to pull me aside to talk DaVinci and show me how an artist could also be a mathematician. He was convinced — possibly because he’d taught my sister (now a world-class naval architect and marine engineer [whoops, sorry, proud sister moment]) by then — that all he needed to do was overcome my resistance and I would happily devour numbers like a good member of my clan.

Amusingly, the minute I learned I could automate an animation in Flash using algorithms, or build something really cool in php, I was All Over the Math. And I was good at it, too, most of the time. It took programming and lots of it to help me overcome my fear. Now I love it quite a lot.

Dear Mr. Maas, thank you for trying. Sorry I was late to class.

Steve BeinSteve Bein
I went to the same high school as Ernest Hemingway, and so naturally our teachers beat us half to death with Hemingway. I bore a grudge against that man for years.

Today, The Old Man and the Sea is one of my favorite books. When I teach a class on writing some day, it will be required reading. I could talk for ten minutes about the first sentence alone. He accomplishes so much with it. old man and the sea

But in high school, I wanted to replace the bronze bust we’d pass as we walked through the front door. Instead of a bust of ruggedly handsome middle-aged Hemingway, I wanted end-of-life Hemingway, which is to say Hemingway with his mouth open, the back of his head hollowed out, and a bunch of melted bronze splattered on the wall behind it.

Sorry, a little too much? That’s how much I hated Hemingway.

hemingway bust

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
Once again, Steve Bein seems to be reading my mind. My first thought was to talk write bout Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, one of many novels forced upon the 12-year old me in Mrs. Byers 7th Grade Honors English class. To this day, all I can recall from the book is the eponymous protagonist’s fondness for Joe DeMaggio and his incessant whining about how he “wished the boy was here.”

AnimalFarmBut the more I thought about it, the more another book from that same class intruded on my awareness, blocking out all rational thought. I refer of course to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Now, what makes this particularly ironic is that the book I have sitting on my editor’s desk at Tor right now originally had the elevator pitch of “Dune meets Animal Farm as it’s a far future adventure set in a galaxy full of anthropomorphic animals. But irony aside, I just didn’t get what Orwell was selling. I followed the power struggle. I loved that bit about “all animals are equal, and some are more equal than others,” and it probably contributed in some small way to pushing me down the road toward a fascination with language and linguistics. But — and I cannot stress this strongly enough — every fricking bit of allegory went completely over my head. Communism? Seriously?

I should add that it’s not just the book itself that put it to the #1 spot on this list, but the book report that followed in Mrs. Byers’s class. And not my book report, that was fine (so far as it went). It was the horror and confusion that followed when another kid got up to do his report on the same book, and the elaborate explanations of pigs as communists that flowed form his lips, using vocabulary that he’d never demonstrated before and wouldn’t again for years. Yeah, and I don’t doubt that his parents helped him build that working volcano for science class later in the year.

CharlesEGannonCharles E. Gannon
The required reading that I found most aversive were all “theory” tracts, and so, while they were often picayune in their objects and habits of analysis, they were also written from that fever-pitch of earnestness that typifies many of the “must read” critical works that populate masters and doctoral program lists. Specific titles and authors elude me now—for which I am thankful.

Many of these treatises were hypertrophied (not to say bloated and fatuous) explications of “critical apparatuses” so extraordinary lofty and finely nuanced that the authors had to invent whole new vocabularies to express them. And by inventing that vocabulary, the author conveniently created a special kind of unassailable authority. I’ll call out two disciplines to illustrate: social psychology and literary theory.

For every practical and empirical in social psychology, there seems to be another whose imagination and sense of utility are both moribund. So they hide their paucity of worthy content in a deep and trackless thicket of terms, taxonomies, and distinctions so fine and so unnecessary that it makes the classic debate about how many angels may dance on the head of a pin sound like white-coated lab science.

In the domain of literary criticism, something similar started increasing as the theoretical vigor of post-modernism and deconstruction began sliding down into decrepitude. Nervous doctoral candidates and untenured assistant professors began mining the far reaches (not to say howlingly obscure corners) of their fields in search of something optimally recondite/byzantine. Lacanian and Foucauldian theory in fusional critical apparatuses, for instance. The agonizingly esoteric arguments resembled those between computer code jockeys over the respective merits of different programming languages and architectures, resulting in debates that were of interest to–maybe–63 people on the face of the planet.

No wonder I forgot the names and titles of the specific assignments—or maybe I suppressed them to get past the resentment of having to act as if all these emperors of theory were, in fact, wearing new clothes.

Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s current Nebula-nominated novel, Fire with Fire, was a best-seller and is also a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for best first novel. It is the first volume of an interstellar epic that continues in the forthcoming sequel, Trial by Fire (August 2014). Gannon is coauthor with Steve White of Extremis, the latest entry in the Starfire series created by David Weber, and 1635: The Papal Stakes, a Wall Street Journal Best-Seller in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe. He has numerous shorter publications in shared world series, anthologies, and Analog. As part of his ongoing work with various defense and intelligence organizations (Pentagon, Air Force, NATO, others), Gannon was invited to present sections of Fire with Fireat the NRO, as well as highlights from his non-fiction book Rumors of War and Infernal Machines(winner of the 2006 ALA Choice award, Best Book of 2006). A multiple Fulbright scholar, Gannon is also Distinguished Professor of American Literature at St. Bonaventure University.

JamesLCambiasJames L. Cambias
I had the advantage of going to one of New Orleans’s better schools, Isidore Newman School, and now that I can see what my own kids are reading in school I realize how good the reading list at Newman was. But there was one exception.

In my freshman year of high school, back in 1981, the theme of the English class was “coming of age.” We read Lord of the Flies and Romeo and Juliet and Henry IV, Part II. All excellent stories of young people finding their place and role in the world. I learned a lot in that class; that was my first real exposure to Shakespeare’s works.

But for some reason, among all those classics, we were also handed a little paperback collection of short stories about “youth in rebellion” or something like that. I forget the title, but it had groovy early-Seventies cover art and featured stories like “The Bike” by Alan Sillitoe and John Updike’s “A&P,” and I’m pretty sure there were some excerpts from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in it as well.Outsiders

I’m not entirely sure why someone thought that stories of young people struggling with authority figures would resonate with a bunch of affluent, brainy kids in a private prep school in New Orleans. My classmates were authority figures in training — one of them became a city councilwoman, a couple of others now run some of the city’s big businesses. A lot of them became lawyers. Not a hotbed of angry youth. Our brushes with rebellion mostly consisted of trying to sneak into the college bars around Tulane despite being underage.

Now, the stories in that little paperback were fine. Whoever put the collection together obviously picked excellent selections. It was the purpose of the anthology, and the reason for assigning it which I despised. Apparently some editor decided that “today’s youth” circa 1978 couldn’t relate to fiction which wasn’t about contemporary teenagers. And my teachers, though they put Shakespeare and Golding on the lesson plan, apparently bought into that notion.

It irritated me, and it irritates me still, because I couldn’t avoid the impression that my teachers were trying to apply their Baby Boomer-era template of “youth rebellion” to my own Generation X cohort. We weren’t rebels; when my friends watched The Graduate our universal reaction was “take the plastics job, you idiot!” In their painstaking effort to reach out to “today’s youth” the teachers only demonstrated how little they understood our actual concerns.

The result was a paradox. If my teachers were trying to encourage myself and my fellow students to be rebels, as they liked to imagine themselves to have been, then we defied them by refusing to do so.

James L. Cambias writes SF and designs games. Originally from New Orleans, he lives in western Massachusetts. His stories have appeared in F&SF, Shimmer, Nature, and several original anthologies. A Darkling Sea, his first novel, came out in January 2014. Mr. Cambias has written for GURPS, Hero Games, and other roleplaying systems, and is a partner in Zygote Games. He is a member of the notorious Cambridge SF Workshop. Read his blog at www.jamescambias.com.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
High school freshmen reading material is very depressing. My class read through Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, and the William Golding book Lord of the Flies. In case you haven’t read that novel of doom and gloom, it’s about English school boys on a desert isle who lose all their civilized senses and descend into their primitive, baser selves. Rather like going to high school, just without the profanity and innuendo. One of the boys–the most sane of the lot–is dubbed Piggy. He’s fat, and has glasses, and is treated like dirt… and I related to him strongly. I felt like the female equivalent of Piggy at my school.lordoftheflies

I won’t say what happens to Piggy.

I enjoyed my social studies class–I had a great teacher, Mr. McCaw–and loved reading. But wow, did I hate that book. Lord of the Flies mirrored what I saw around me, and it was neither pretty or hopeful. It’s the first book I remember reading where I thought, “Wow. I hate all of these characters. Rocks need to fall and kill all of them… except Piggy.” Then I kept reading.


Tex ThompsonTex Thompson
I had my share of less-than-favorite authors in school. Any unit on the Romantic poets was always especially tough to stomach, though eventually I learned to get through it with mental MST3K. (“Dad, I had a feeling today!” “Well, don’t, son.”)fear-and-trembling

But it wasn’t until I was in college that I met a Liberal Art that I absolutely could not master. I’m not ashamed to say that Aristotle punched me in the breadbasket, Descartes kicked out the back of my knees, and Nietzsche smashed a chair over my back. I was used to sobbing in frustration over differential equations and stoichiometry, but it was AMAZING to me how completely my powers of “reading words on a page and having an MLA-format Deep Thought about them” failed me in philosophy. Kierkegaard, you are my Kryptonite.

I would like to end with some Eye of the Tiger stuff here, but the short story is that I buckled like a belt, took Mexican Politics instead, and can converse at length about the damaging effects of “toallagate” on the Fox administration. Let’s call that a win.

March News

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly
It’s all podcasts, all the time, around here!

I read two stories for Beneath Ceaseless Skies: The Breath of War, by Aliette de Bodard, and The River Does Not Run by Rachel Sobel.

I read a flash story for Cast of Wonders, Pictures in Crayon, by Elizabeth Shack.

One of my stories, A Memory of Seafood, is read by Kelley MacAvaney for Drabblecast.

And my flash fiction podcast, Toasted Cake, is back to its post-baby, regular weekly schedule, with the 100th episode! It’s Thirty-Six Interrogatories Propounded by the Human-Powered Plasma Bomb in the Moments Before Her Imminent Detonation, by Erica L. Satifka.

MK Hutchins

M.K. Hutchins
– ARCs for Drift are out! I’ve also turned back in the copy edit.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
– the full first chapter of The Clockwork Dagger is currently featured on Tor.com
– science fiction short story “Measures and Countermeasures,” about the future of eating disorders, is on Daily Science Fiction
– poem “Nisei” in the new issue of Mythic Delirium alongside folks like Jane Yolen and Rhonda Parrish
– will be participating in the April Poem-A-Day Challenge using daily prompts from the the Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides Blog.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
– the 2nd of April is my personal annual holiday, the anniversary of my dissertation defense. I call it “Doctoral Day” and I burn a vacation day from my regular job to treat myself especially well. I encourage everyone to bloviate and be pompous on this most hallowed day. Soapbox pontification is expected, as well as obnoxiously educating anyone who crosses your path. Truly a glorious holiday!
– the last weekend of April will see me down in Richmond, VA as I return to RavenCon after too long away. The incomparable Elizabeth Bear is the con’s GoH, so you know it’s going to be a great event. Hope to see you there!
– In other news, I am simultaneously working on polishing a YA novel and developing two new novels (one of which is a spin-off using characters from last year’s Nebula nominated novella “Barry’s Tale”). I’m not sure if I’m being super productive or procrastinating actually finishing a project. Time will tell.

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood
March was a busy month (and April will be even busier).

I submitted The Younger Gods to my editor, and wrote, revised, and submitted a short story promised to a RPG anthology.

At the start of the month, I attended FOGcon outside of San Francisco, which was a great deal of fun. I got to dispense harsh & beautiful publishing truths alongside colleagues to an eager audience.

Early reviews for Attack the Geek are coming in from all around the blogosphere:

Science of Couponing
Journey of a Bookseller

At Skiffy & Fanty, I participated in Shoot The WISB episodes about the original Godzilla and part three of our ongoing Babylon 5 Re-Watch.

And right at the end of the month, I was a guest on the SF Squeecast, talking about expectations.

…so that’s why I’m exhausted!

Fran WildeFran2014

At the end of March, I gave a reading at ICFA – the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. It was fabulous.
I also visited my publisher for the first time. That was a blast. Photos coming soon…
I’m preparing new Cooking the Books columns with Mur Lafferty and Novelocity’s very own Mike Underwood.
I sold audio rights to my very short story, “The Naturalist Composes His Rebuttal,” to Lakeside Circus – coming soon!
And some stuff I can’t talk about just yet. Watch the skies….

Steve BeinSteve Bein
Thrilled to see the US release of The Time Traveler’s Almanac! I think you’ll like my story in it, but let’s face it, I am not the #1 reason to buy this one. It’s got stories from George R.R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, H.G. Wells, William Gibson, Ray Bradbury… well, the list goes on. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
– Speaking of star power, I’m looking forward to some great panels and mega stars at Chicago Comic Con.
– Still pushing full steam ahead on Disciple of the Wind

Vectors: Favorite Fantasy Trope

This week we tackle the question:

“What’s your favorite fantasy trope?”

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney

Ah, my favorite fantasy trope….the human/horse shapeshifter.

I’ve always liked horses. I was the only one in my city-raised family who wanted to ride. As a kid, I drew horses, I read all the horse books, I wanted to be a horse sometimes. I took horsemanship in college, and rode when I could drum up the cash. GreyHorse

So when it comes to Fantasy, I love reading the horses. Well, not so much the horses but creatures who are sometimes horses, sometimes human. My favorite book by Judith Tarr is A Wind in Cairo, wherein the heroine finds herself atop a particularly intelligent horse. He is actually a human transformed into a horse as recompense for his crimes (not a spoiler, I promise) and the story follows their time together. Another I particularly adored is R.A. MacAvoy’s The Grey Horse which does a lovely job of showing us a pooka’s life and loves.

And yes, I’ve even written this trope, just so you know. (My novella “Iron Shoes” and its sequels cover this ground, heavily inspired by the two above novels, I confess.)

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato

I have a number of favorites–magical horses (high five to J. Kathleen!), selkies–but my very favorite trope is one that’s usually relegated to side characters in books and games: healers.

From the age of 12, I fixated on white wizards, clerics, priests, and most any occupation that involved healing the injured. This all started with my greatest, deepest love of the fantasy genre, Final Fantasy II for Super Nintendo (now best known by its true Japanese number, Final Fantasy IV). The game came out soon after my grandpa died after prolonged terminal illness, so the idea of curative magic resonated strongly with me. In FF2, I always changed Rosa’s name to “Beth.” I was the queen of Mary Sues before the term Mary Sue existed in that context. Within months, I fell into the fantasy book genre–Prydain Chronicles, Dragonlance, and so on. It always frustrated me that healers were never the heroes–just like in Final Fantasy II, they were relegated to the back row in battles.

My obsession never went away. When I resurrected my writing dreams in my late 20s, I still gravitated to that kind of magic. I wrote a superhero urban fantasy novel about a healer; that connected me with my literary agent. Then I wrote my steampunk fantasy novel about a healer–The Clockwork Dagger. My heroine is a medician, but she’s not relegated to the back row in battle.

In all honesty, I feel like I wrote the book I would have absolutely adored at age thirteen.


Fran2014Fran Wilde

I’m torn. Surprising absolutely no one, I love fantasy food tropes – the banquet, rivers of chocolate, elevenses. My touchstone for much of Cooking the Books is going beyond STEW (as described by Diana Wynne Jones in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. But my other favorite trope is The Unexpected Swordswoman. From Eowyn to River Tam. Yup.


Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen

My favorite trope — which I tend to see more in SF than F, because I read much more SF than F — is the classic bit of coming to understand humanity through the eyes of the other. It sparks that same awe that I felt that day in some introductory course in college when I was introduced to the bizarre habits of the “Nacirema” (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, by all means Google the word and prepare to be amazed and feel foolish at the same time).

What makes this trope work for me is the way it plays on the unconscious assumptions we all have about our culture, our society, our every day behaviors. All the things we take for granted that other people (whether they be elves or aliens) have to dissect with meticulous care when they meet up with us. It’s like being an infant, thrust into a world that overloads the senses, and trying to determine what is important and what is not, what is signal and what is noise.

The other side of this is of course that the POV group has its own set of rules and rituals that it is often as not equally oblivious of as well (because they’re as commonplace and automatic as breathing) and the author has to not only paint humanity’s behaviors in tones of confusion, bemusement, and/or disgust from this POV, but also let the reader in on what passes as ordinary for these folk, when in fact the reader would be horrified, delighted, bewildered to encounter them firsthand without the insiders’ perspective.

This trope runs rampant throughout genre, but if you’re looking for a few authors to start with, let me suggest Ursula K. Le Guin as well as C. J. Cherryh, both who have written many books that might be construed as having an “anthopological” bent.

I normally like my fiction — both the stuff I read and the stuff I write — to end on an optimistic note. This trope gets in the way because at its core is the notion that any kind of First Contact situation is going to be doomed unless both sides are very very patient, open-minded, and forgiving. Oh look, just that easily, we have plot conflict from the beginning.

MK HutchinsM.K. Hutchins

I never get tired of self-sacrificing characters who give up what they want for what they — or their world — needs. This has to be one of the most ubiquitous and oldest tropes in fiction, seen in lowly hobbits and lonely Spidermans. It made me cheer for Katniss Everdeen, who loved her sister more than her own life. It tore my heart in two at the end of Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron, the second book of the classic Prydain Chronicles. It’s probably fair to say that most books on my shelf have some aspect of self-sacrificing heroism, but I never get tired of it. There are so many different kinds of heroes and so many different costs they pay for being heroes.faith

This is one of the things that sucked me into historical k-dramas. The stories often pit the character’s larger goals against their personal desires. Achievements and victories always come with a price. If you haven’t watched any k-dramas and want to jump in, I highly recommend Faith.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly

I’m sure if I kept thinking I would come up with my favorite fantasy trope, but my favorite SF trope IMMEDIATELY leaps to mind, and that’s time travel. I LOVE time travel stories, and I probably wouldn’t even notice that I love time travel stories so much, except that everyone’s always complaining about how much they hate them.

There are lots of things I love about time travel stories. You can easily play with nostalgia and regret. Depending on what sort of time travel you come up with, you can see the butterfly effect from changing little things, or you can have fun with the immutable timeline (time can’t be broken, but we can reveal what REALLY happened twenty years ago…) There’s lots of room for cleverness in time travel.

A middle grade book that immediately springs to mind is Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City. Not precisely time travel, as Time City is *outside* time, but it plays with a number of fun time things. And, it has butter pies (which are a little bit like those new Ben & Jerry’s core flavors, if the core managed to be hot at the same time that the ice cream was cold, all the way down.) Mmm…butter pies…I’m sorry, what was the topic again?


Vectors: Favorite new author from the past year

We’re holding back on the childhood nostalgia this week and looking to the more recent past. Our question: What’s your favorite book from an author you hadn’t read a year ago?


Steve BeinSteve Bein:

I finally started Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. I’ve had this one on my stack for a long time.

Somehow I came to think about it as a cousin to my own work. They share both a birthday and a milestone: it’s Gladstone’s first novel, and it came out the same day my first novel came out. Christian McGrath did the cover art for both books. The covers are even in the same general color spectrum, gold and orange ranging into black. They both feature badass women with blades.threepartsdead

I don’t judge books by their covers. I do judge them by their first sentences, though. (Not exclusively by their first sentences, but it’s a factor.) So how’s this for a first sentence?

When the Hidden Schools threw Tara Abernathy out, she fell a thousand feet through wisps of cloud and woke to find herself alive, broken and bleeding, beside the Crack in the World.

Sold!Daughter of the Sword

On the day Daughter of the Sword came out, when I rushed out to see my very first novel right there on the shelf in an honest-to-god bookstore, Three Parts Dead stared up at me from the next shelf.

Now I have finally delved deep enough into my to-read stack to uncover it again. It was worth the wait; I’m really enjoying it.


BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato:

First of all, I’d like to chime in with agreement for Steve’s choice. Three Parts Dead is a fabulous book. I just read the sequel Two Serpents Rise and enjoyed it immensely, too. Fantastic secondary world urban fantasy/epic fantasy/steampunk/dystopic vibe across that series.

Ahem. To go on with my answer…Fangirl

I read Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl last year and was awed and delighted. It’s not a genre book, but it’s absolutely about the love of genre. It’s New Adult with all the angsty experiences of a college freshman, with boy drama, sister drama, roommate drama… but it all feels utterly real. This is totally not my normal kind of book, but the characters are so relatable that it works. The heroine, Cath, is a super-introvert who writes Simon Snow fanfiction. Snow is obviously based on Harry Potter, though Potter exists in this world, too. Cath isn’t just a writer in her fandom–she’s THE writer, with a huge online following for her slash stories about Simon and his very-Draco-like roommate, Bas. I couldn’t help but get a huge kick out of this since my core group of online friends through my college years consisted of women writing anime and game-related slash.

The realism is what really got me about this book. I felt like I knew all these people. It has one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in recent years and it’s not formulaic in the least. Nothing is formulaic here. It’s raw, it’s real, it discusses sex and drinking and college life with real consequences, and through it all is the sustaining love of fandom and how it gives Cath stability. It even delves into the “is fan fiction real writing?” debate and handles it with a deft hand.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve heard that Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park is likewise amazing, and I need to buy it.


MK HutchinsM.K. Hutchins:

Yangze Choo’s The Ghost Bride is simply gorgeous. It delivers prose that’s both rich and mesmerizing without being florid. It was easy to lose myself in various settings. Add compelling characters, a world of ghosts and hell banknotes, and plenty of mystery. I couldn’t put it down.cracked

The Ghost Bride

Cracked by Eliza Crewe is also fantastic. I love the voice — the sarcasm, the dark humor. That voice and the tight, YA-pacing, make the book addicting. I got to read it before it came out, and promptly re-read it in hard copy when it launched. It’s a laugh-and-cry-and-cheer kind of story…and I don’t know how to describe it more than that without dropping giant spoilers.


tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly:

I’ll ditto the Max Gladstone lovefest!

Another couple favorite books from people I read for the first time last year are:seachange


Graham Joyce, Some Kind of Fairy Tale, and S. M. Wheeler, Sea Change. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a lovely book that walks the line between fantasy and reality. Twenty years ago a teenager named Tara disappeared. Now she walks back into her family’s life – and she looks exactly the same. It’s almost as if she’s spent the intervening years in fairyland… And Sea Change is a gorgeous fairy tale full of monsters and friendships and beautiful, horrible things, surprising and sharp and lovely.


J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney:

I must admit that my new fave came from an Amazon recommendation. (Wow…sometimes they do work.) Since I’d read some historical mysteries on my vacation in late 2012, and I have a history of reading Regency, Amazon suggested that I start reading the Regency Mysteries of C. S. Harris. After some consideration, I picked up her first novel in the Sebastian St. Cyr series over Christmas break….and was hooked. I read all 8 books in the series last year; the 9th came out March 4.serpents_200

If I were to pick a favorite of them, I would choose the 4th book, Where Serpents Sleep. It takes our hero in a totally different direction for his life after a terrible discovery in Book 3. I think that makes it the most interesting one, since it’s almost as if he’s learning who he is again. (Only to have another bombshell dropped on him in Book 4, then Book 5…)

But seriously, if you’re going to read these, you need to start at the beginning.

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen:
About ten minutes ago I finished reading Max Gladstone’s excellent Three Parts Dead, and I was blown away. I’m tempted to echo Steve Bein and include it as my answer to this week’s question. But, the question was posed before I read it (actually, before I even started it), and so I’m going to go with the answer I’d been intending to type up for days and days.

Allow me to point you at The Lies of Locke Lamora, book one of the Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch. Despite the rather unwieldy title (which at first glance made me think this book was about falsehood told of a Scottish body of water), I was instantly absorbed by the author’s voice, the intricacies and detail work he crafted, and the utter delight he drew out of me as scene after scene raised the stakes to ever dizzying heights only to have the next scene’s reveal/reversal turn everything on its head, remove the previously perceived threat, and ramp things even higher for other reasons. ScottLynch-TLoLL

I’d met Scott several years back, chatted with him at conventions on multiple occasions, but somehow never got around to reading his work until a couple months after our last chance meeting in a hallway at the San Antonio WorldCon. I’m kicking myself for having waited so long, but now I’m glad I delayed because Novelocity is giving me an opportunity to send a shout out about the book and encourage you (yes, dear reader, I’m talking directly to you!) to give it a read if like me, you’ve somehow missed reading this gem.

I should add that a lot of things that Scott Lynch does in this book, Max Gladstone does in his (although with very differently built worlds as backdrop). Perhaps best of all, both authors have already written two sequels to both books. It’s a great time to be a reader!