Good news you might have gotten elsewhere

1. I sold a story, “A House of Gold and Steel,” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It’s not actually very much like “Minnie the Moocher,” although that’s where the title comes from. When I announced this on shorter social media, I linked to Cab Calloway singing in Blues Brothers, which is classic, but I also always do get Stephen Fry in my head saying, “Yes, His Majesty King Gustav does seem to have been extraordinarily generous with the young lady, sir.” But really, His Majesty King Gustav is Sir Not Appearing In This Story.

2. Tim’s Kickstarter funded! If you’re interested, there’s still time to back it and get yourself a lovely photo book, or the related cards, prints, etc. This is a thing that will definitely happen now–he’s completed all the photos, the Kickstarting is for the cost of printing etc.–and as Kev said in another social medium, it is a lovely bandwagon to jump on. Mostly I am pleased that it funded before the last minute. You may not have known this about me, but I am not the least anxious person ever, and knowing that this very cool project will actually exist in the world has been a very happy relief for me.

3. It’s raining. I like rain. I like rain almost as well as snow, and everybody else is a great deal less grumpy than if it was snowing today, so hurrah rain.

I can in fact quit you: the triumphant return!

I used to make posts about why I quit reading the books I quit reading, and a couple people have poked me about doing another one, so here we are! Why I have quit on various books lately!

1. Stereotyping of thin big-breasted women as stupid. At least, I think that’s what he was, like, saying? I dunno. He, like, used some kinda big words? and there weren’t any men (or flat-chested ladies or fat ladies or non-binary persons) around for me to ask? so I had to put the rully rully hard book down. FOREVER.

2. If you want to compose a novel by putting a prose poem on each page, make sure it’s a good prose poem. A bad prose poem per page = a bad novel. (A good prose poem per page might still = a bad novel, but at least you have a shot at it.)

3. If you have to pick a subculture to endure forever, despite major (MAJOR) social upheaval and major (SERIOUSLY MAJOR) technological change, make it something more fun than whiny pretentious hipsters. Complete with the word “hipster” meaning identically what it means now.

4. Pacing. Pacing, pacing, pacing. And more pacing. When people talk about something needing to be faster-paced, they don’t actually mean that it needs to have a fight scene or a sex scene closer to the opening of the book. Sometimes they mean that something central to what is going on needs to happen closer to the opening of the book, but if the action (of whatever kind) is not central to what is going on–or you don’t have any reason to know that it is–that’s not going to help. No matter how many action verbs a scene has, it can bog down the pacing of a book if it seems irrelevant.

4b. More pacing. Putting more things central to what is going on towards the start of the book does not actually fix all pacing problems, or even most pacing problems. Starting with an opening that goes whiz-bang-boom is only a good idea if your book goes whiz-bang-boom. You’re allowed to have a quieter, slower-paced book. Having a quieter, slower-paced book that you have set up to go whiz-bang-boom at the beginning is going to give me whiplash.

5. When I said my tolerance for sexual violence in SFF was pretty low, I really meant it.

6. When I said my tolerance for sexual violence in SFF was pretty low, I did not mean “so you should give me a protagonist who merely pretends to rape people, who lets his friends assume he has raped them in the next room but does not actually do the raping. NOT HELPFUL, DUDE. NEXT.

7. Addiction does not fascinate me the way it does some people. After about the twentieth consecutive page of how much someone wants a fix, I am ready to read about something else, particularly if the book purported to be about something else. No matter how future-cool you think the drug you came up with is.

8. Zombies + Mris = no. There are a few exceptions to this. Vanishingly, vanishingly few.

9. Making sweeping statements in works of nonfiction about What Repressed Homersekshuls Do is bad enough. But when you are also arguing that the historical figure in question has had same-sex affairs with everyone of their sex they come across, you may wish to consult a dictionary regarding the meaning of the word “repressed” and rethink how much these theories apply.

10. If you are going to claim in a work of nonfiction that an historical figure has molested another historical figure (who was a child at the time), you need some kind of footnote. Seriously. Citation of some kind. This is a major allegation. I understand that sexual abuse is hard enough to prove in a court of law with the actual involved parties on hand, much less a hundred years or more after the fact. But you should be able to complete the following sentence: “I believe this because ________.” Biographers are not speaking ex cathedra. Your claims can, should, will be evaluated. If you have better evidence than “I have taken a dislike to this historical figure,” it really behooves you to produce it. Really, there is behooving here.

Narrative conventions from a different angle

A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I went to the symphony, and we heard Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Opus 34. It’s available here, with just a still image on the Youtube link, not any kind of montage as far as I’m aware (I didn’t watch all the way through). It’s like the soundtrack to the nonexistent fourth Indiana Jones movie. (No, they didn’t make a fourth Indiana Jones movie lalalala I can’t hear you no magical anti-radiation fridges lalalala what.) It’s just a lovely little piece, just over 15 minutes, adventure and excitement, one thing after another.

It also sounds deeply conventional in some ways, and there’s a reason for that. Ever wonder why modern movie soundtracks sound like they do? One of the reasons is because Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the book. Literally. The book is called Principles of Orchestration. He wrote it. He said, “here’s how it’s all supposed to sound and what you use things for,” and it’s a very useful book indeed, setting down how this particular Romantic style of orchestral composition goes. So now when you listen to a movie and the violins swell at the right emotional moment, thanks Nikolai, that’s what you told them to do.

This is bad? This is good? Well, no. This is a tool. If Rimsky-Korsakov hadn’t written the book, people would still have fumbled around figuring out what the heck the Romantics, particularly the Russians, were doing with their orchestras, and we’d probably still be able to listen to a piece like Capriccio Espagnol and point out what the story’s doing, because it’s culturally embedded. It’s just kind of fun to play spot-the-theorist sometimes, and what he’s doing when he applies his theories, or what he’s doing before his theories congeal.

Sword and Chant, by Blair MacGregor

Review copy provided by author. Read on my Kindle.

This is an epic fantasy with focus on imperial succession, but the empire in question is more a collection of tribes than something more established and administrative like the US, Victorian Britain, China, or Rome. There are feuds of varying levels of intensity among the peoples under the Iyah’s domain, and of course there are border disputes–aren’t there always? The Iyah-ship is not limited by gender, and at the beginning of the book the old Iyah, the father of several of the major characters has just died, and one of them is about to become Iyah. Beyond that…well, beyond is the land of spoilers.

The unfamiliar terminology is introduced easily. While there are scads of relationship names and tribe names, they flow smoothly and do not break down the epic fantasy pacing here. And by “epic fantasy pacing,” I mean that it’s not a short, machine-gun paced book, but on the other hand, the focus is on fights, action, betrayals and redemption. There are human relationships here, but they are very much on the backdrop of empire–not a lot of time to stop for the budding friendship or see what it would be if it were not tested against loyalty to the Iyah, because that’s the focus of this book.

Sword and Chant is self-published, so the fact that the pacing is smooth and subgenre-appropriate is particularly noteworthy: that’s the thing that has fallen down most often for me not only with self-published but also with small-press works. The production is also good, with one or two typos, which is the same level that I notice from the big name publishing houses that send me review copies. MacGregor is someone I know online, not a close friend but someone with whom I am friendly, so I know that she chose self-publishing for this book as her main option, and she took the time to make it work here.

If I have a complaint about Sword and Chant, it’s that I can’t really attach to any one part of the world and say “ooh shiny, this is the part I loved.” It was very readable all the way through–recommended for those who like their epic fantasy with plenty of fight scenes. For me there was no moment where I started grabbing passersby and saying, “here is the thing you MUST know about this book because it is SO COOL.” Since I just read a Terry Pratchett book that I reacted to the same way, this is no great condemnation–I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Blair’s other stuff.

Books read, late April

Light fortnight for books, looking even lighter because of the stuff I’ve been reading in manuscript.

C.J. Cherryh, Foreigner. Reread. I had forgotten how this began, with two vignettes of people we will never seen again. I honestly don’t think those vignettes improve anything about the series. I had also started to forget how directed the early volumes seemed compared to the leisurely stroll that the later volumes have become. Atevi culture is far less developed, but plot, oh, plot. I sigh for you, plot. Even with insufficient Jago.

Andrew Levy, The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves. An interesting read, and not a long one. Levy is particularly on-point and acerbic about the places that the example of Robert Carter blows up modern-day pieties about some of the other founders.

George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, editors, Old Mars. This is a particularly bad example of what happens when you just call up the people you’re usually pals with and ask them for stories without regard to whether the results are well-suited for the anthology at hand. The result is a limp and uninspired collection of stories that would have confused the heck out of me if I had been more naive in the genre and thought that there was any reason to believe them to be the best pre-Voyager-style Mars stories available to Martin and Dozois instead of just editorial laziness. Possibly it’s just coincidence that the two best stories of the collection are by some of the youngest writers, “James S. A. Corey” and Chris Roberson. Possibly the Martin/Dozois usual suspects were really excited about the concept and it just failed to come through in their stories; that can happen. (And then it’s the editor’s job to deal with that honestly….) But in general: what a yawn, what a waste of pages.

Mizuki Shigeru, Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939. This is a comics representation of Japanese history of this period. (I would say “graphic novel” due to the size, but it’s nonfiction, so…terminology, ack.) It’s a very strange combination of things to do. It’s Japanese history interspersed with personal anecdotes from the same period of the author’s life. The perspective on what a Japanese person of that generation found important and noteworthy (doughnuts; I would never have guessed doughnuts) can be fascinating, but I really didn’t feel like the history was very successfully integrated into the comics format. A lot of it was very heavily reliant upon the text in the footnotes, with flipping back and forth required every few pages, not for “additional information” but to make basic sense of what had just appeared on the page.

Steven Posch and Magenta Griffith, The Prodea Cookbook: Good Food and Traditions from Paganistan’s Oldest Coven. Discussed elsewhere.

Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam. I like trains, and I like Discworld, but this Discworld Book About Trains was kind of…well, it was fine. It was a fine enough book, I guess. It was entertaining while I was reading it, I just don’t expect to want to reread it all that often. It felt a bit formulaic-ly Moist, and it felt a bit like he was trying to Say Some Things. I don’t regret reading it, but I also wasn’t sorry to be done.

William W. Warren, History of the Ojibway People. An interesting case. Warren was a young man in the 19th century who had an Ojibway mother and a white father, and all those influences were extremely clear. He used the word “savage” un-self-consciously, as though he had learned what it meant by watching what the people around him applied it to rather than by reading the dictionary definition, which was a very curious thing in some of his contexts–he very clearly does not use it to mean anything unpleasant or negative, and yet there it is, savage, right there on the page, hard to get around. Warren’s own story was a tragic one: he kept trying to resolve conflicts between the two sides of his own heritage and wore out his health, dying very young. In the meantime, he left us this and other attempts to explain his people to each other. Not at all unbiased; nothing is. Very interesting stuff, though. And the people who put out this volume are immensely valuable, because they footnote it with things like, “So-and-so says that this is not true, he has this family’s clan wrong.” They…went and asked more Ojibway people about stuff on which they were authorities and made notes about what they said. Oh best of book editors, oh very very best. We need more footnotes that basically say, “1. Nope,” when the author cannot be reached to fix things and yet they are questions of fact on which we have better information. (Note: sometimes Ojibway is also spelled Ojibwe or Ojibwa. Putting things into alphabets they were not originally in is hard. I have gone with Ojibway here because that is what William Warren himself preferred.)

Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold, editors, Bordertown. Reread. Slightly disorienting to reread, because I remember buying it and reading it in finals week when I was a freshman in college, and oh, it was so very hot, no air conditioning in the dorms, and I needed everything to be magical, I needed the escape so very much. Now I found the stories a very direct split: I liked “Danceland” and “Mockery,” and the other two left me pretty lukewarm with my now-brain, but it was very easy to just slip into my then-brain and read them on that horrible college mattress again with the barest hope of a breeze in the window.