For something a little lighter, by which I mean utterly silly, try The Temporary Magic Series, by Craig Shaw Gardner. This tale concerns one Lenny Hodge, a young man of peculiar talents—who goes to work for an even more peculiar temp agency, Terrifitemps, which quietly controls the world. Pitted against the evil Fu, Lenny must join forces with the likes of a swami, a vampire, a werevole, and Bob the charming but annoying magic horse. If you liked Craig’s hilarious Ebenezum series about a wizard who’s allergic to magic, you’re sure to like this. Silliness for all ages.
Craig is another of my writer friends who did great with traditional publishing… until everything changed, and suddenly he found himself without support from the big city. Like many of us, he’s been working on bringing out his backlist in various formats, including ebook, audiobook, etc. Rather than going indie, he opted to go small press, and Crossroads Press has been doing a fine job releasing his old work and his new. In fact, this book came out for about one week from a mainstream publisher, who didn’t seem to know what to do with it; and now it’s back, from Crossroads.
It occurs to me that I’ve probably told you about these books before. But that was a while ago, and a good recommendation never gets old!
Speaking of young adult science fiction, here’s a series you really should read, whether or not YA is your thing, or for that matter, science fiction. It’s a parallel worlds story that treads the boundary between young adult and adult fiction (the way Harry Potter did), which means I can heartily recommend it for both audiences. The Portal Series by Richard Bowker begins with Portal, published a few years ago, about two young men (boys, really) who find themselves in an alternate Earth, and entangled in an American civil war. That’s followed by the more recently published Terra, which takes one of the boys, Larry, to another alternate Earth resembling ancient Rome. Richard is currently writing a third in the series, Barbarica, and it’s even better. Also, I don’t think we’re in YA-land anymore.
Richard Bowker is not as well known to current audiences as he should be. He had a bunch of novels published by New York publishers, to good reviews. But somewhere along the way, traditional publishing failed him and he quit writing for a while. Then he returned, writing better than ever, this time indie publishing. And his new stuff is great! You owe it to yourself to give his books a try! Here are the two current Portal books:
One of the things we always struggle with as writers is knowing how much detail to provide in a given scene. Too little, and you haven’t given the reader enough of a sketch to complete the illusion. Too much, and you risk boring the reader, or depriving her of the chance to use her own imagination to fill in the picture. To make matters worse, the balance is different for every reader. You will never be able to please everyone.
What got me thinking of this was Heinlein’s young adult classic Starman Jones. I first read this book in a library hardcover as a, well, young adult, and certain scenes have stuck with me ever since. I recently downloaded the audiobook from Audible, and started reliving the story of a young man’s journey from vagabond to starship astrogator. (It holds up remarkably well, despite the basic premise—that starship jumps would be calculated at lightning speed with paper and pencil—now seeming ridiculous.)
Early on, there’s a scene where Max is running away from his no-good stepfather, and he risks hoofing it through a tunnel where ring-jumping trains blast by at supersonic speed. He makes it through by the skin of his teeth…
“He reached the far end with throat burned dry and heart laboring; there he plunged downhill regardless of the sudden roughening of his path as he left the tunnel and hit the maintenance track. He did not slow up until he stood under stilt supports so high that the ring above looked small. There he stood still and fought to catch his breath.
“He was slammed forward and knocked off his feet.
“He picked himself up groggily, eventually remembered where he was and realized that he had been knocked cold. There was blood on one cheek and his hands and elbows were raw. It was not until he noticed these that he realized what had happened; a train had passed right over him.”
Those lines go by pretty fast, especially in the audio narration. But my first reading of them left an image scored in my memory: the magnificent silver ring trains, lancing through the hoops across the countryside; the peril of venturing too close, much less into the tunnel; and the moment of truth, when an unscheduled train blasts overhead, the concussion wave nearly killing our hero before he can get more than shouting distance from home. That scene took pages, in my memory—in my imagination. But the core of it was just one line: “He was slammed forward and knocked off his feet.”
Did that scene hold the same power for every reader? Maybe not. But maybe for some, it did.
Where does that leave the rest of us, following in Heinlein’s footsteps? Trying to decide, scene by scene, what to tell and what to leave out. Writing, rewriting…
In case you wondered what I was up to with the Reefs of Time rewrite.
Here’s a book that was up for the Norton Award. Though it did not win (Arabella of Mars, by David Levine took that honor), I really liked it. It’s a young adult SF novel called Railhead, by Philip Reeve—an author I know nothing about, except that he wrote this sparkling and imaginative far-future tale. In this distant future, trains form the backbone of interstellar travel. The difference between these trains and ours is that when these trains go through tunnels, they’re jumping through stargates from one world to another. Also, the locomotives are sentient. We learn about these trains through a kid named Zen Starling, who, caught between formidable opposing powers, must find his own path to what’s important. Written with a light and sure touch, this is one of those YA books that has good reason to appeal to any audience.
I especially like finding good science fiction in the YA offerings. Most of the Norton finalists tend to be fantasy. I like fantasy; don’t get me wrong. But I keep remembering that it was YA science fiction that first got me hooked on SF as a kid, and I sometimes wish that there were more of it being written today. Well, here’s one worth your notice. Railhead, by Philip Reeve.
I don’t recommend good books as often as I should. But there’s no time like the present. Between my regular reading and my reading for the annual Nebula Awards, plus the audiobooks I listen to while walking Captain Jack, I’ve read some really good stuff lately.
Let’s start with Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerwoman series. This isn’t new, but if you haven’t read it, you should, and then it will become new and wonderful to you. There are four volumes so far, and she’s working on the fifth.
The first is The Steerswoman. The story is set in an apparent fantasy world in which there are wizards and regular folk and Outskirters… and steerswomen. The steerswomen are itinerant gatherers of information; they seek and record knowledge of all sorts. They are honored and a little bit feared. Sort of like action-adventure librarians. Rowan is one such steerswoman, and her quest is for knowledge about a most unusual kind of stone. She’s smart and savvy and good with a sword when she needs to be. So is her new-found friend Bel, an Outskirter.
As the narrative winds on through Rowan’s adventures, you gradually begin to understand that what seems to be fantasy might be something else altogether.
Terrific writing, characters worthy of your care, a world of familiarity and strangeness: It’s all here, and well worth your time.
I’ve known Rosemary as a colleague and friend for many years, but it took me until this year to read these books—despite my best intentions, and rave reviews from both my wife and my brother. Don’t you make the same mistake.
Here are the first two, in the Kindle store. You can also get them at Nook, iBooks, etc. These are her own reissues; they were originally published by Del Rey.
The soon-to-be-released audiobook of Neptune Crossing, narrated by the marvelous Stefan Rudnicki, is now available for pre-order on Amazon (CD version) and Downpour.com (Blackstone Audio’s downloads store). Libraries can pre-order the library CD. This is an important release for me, because if it sells well, they’ll probably go on to do the rest of the Chaos books. But that’s an important “if.” I’d love it if you could share and otherwise help spread the word! Thanks!
According to an article in the Boston Globe, audiobooks are growing rapidly in popularity as more and more people—and I include myself—find them a wonderful way to read while walking, cooking, etc. I discovered the pleasure a few years ago, when I learned you could download audiobooks from the library and put them on your mobile device. I hope a lot of people do that with Neptune Crossing, and ask for more!
Pre-order links are on the front page of my website at starrigger.net. If it’s something you plan to buy, I hope you’ll consider a pre-order. It can make a big difference at the launch! And in some cases, it can get you a preferred price, as well. Thanks again. I appreciate your support!
Straight down, on a tail of fire, that’s how. Anyone who’s read science fiction of the 1950s (Tom Corbett: Space Cadet being a particularly fine example), or seen Destination Moon—or, come to think of it, watched any Apollo landing on the Moon, knows that.
After several attempts, and several failures, SpaceX succeeded with a nighttime launch on December 21, hurling a satellite into orbit, and sending the first stage back to make a soft landing at Starbase Canaveral. It’s not just for show, though the sight was a beautiful one. The purpose is to bring down the cost of space travel by making it possible to reuse these rockets, instead of letting them burn up in the atmosphere or slam down in the ocean.
This is a remarkable achievement for SpaceX, and another step toward more affordable space travel.
and a comparison of this achievement with the recent landing of the New Shepherd rocket from Blue Origin. (Hint: New Shepherd was an outstanding achievement, but this one went higher, faster, harder—and launched an actual satellite in the bargain.)
It takes a good sense of humor to attend a worldcon. Last year, at Loncon, we procrastinated too long in getting a place to stay, and we wound up camping on a sailboat moored somewhere off the Thames. This year, we put in for a room early, and requested a room on a quiet floor of the main con hotel. (No more schlepping an hour each way to get to the con for us!) What did we get? A room two doors down from the con hospitality suite, open 24 hours a day!
To our surprise, it worked out okay. The soundproofing was good, and we were rarely bothered by the noise. And when we got the munchies around midnight, we just had to throw on some pants and shoes and go down the hall.
If there’s one thing (most) science fiction fans have in abundance, it’s a sense of humor. When I saw this T-shirt at Sasquan (just weeks after my attendance at the Schrödinger Sessions for SF writers), I knew I had to have it.
Wanted: Schrödinger’s Cat
After Sasquan, we visited relatives in the Puget Sound region, and got a further look at the extreme drought conditions currently afflicting the U.S. Northwest. The grass is brown, and even many bushes are brown. Here’s picture of a rhododendron that’s surely alive… and dead… all at the same time. (Not unlike some con-goers I saw early Sunday morning.)
One personal highlight of the con was at last meeting my friend Ann, who for years has been helping me format my ebooks—yes, those same ebooks I’ve been flogging (not too relentlessly, I hope) for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. Ann lives in Washington, and all this time our communication has been by email. She’s a fan who offered to help, because it’s fun! (!!!) At last, we met face-to-face, and Allysen and I got to take her out to dinner, as a very small thank-you for all the work she’s done for us. (But was I smart enough to take a picture? Noooo…)
Finally, here’s some of the quirky fan art that accompanied Sasquan. I love fan art.
During the lead-up to the worldcon and the Hugo Awards, there was a good deal of commotion about the attempt by the Sad Puppies coalition (consisting largely, but not entirely, of conservative white male writers), joined by the more toxic Rabid Puppies, to hijack the awards and stuff the final ballot with their choices of candidate works. I say “attempted,” but in fact they managed to overwhelm several of the major categories. (You might have heard about it on NPR, or read about it on Slate.com, or seen it elsewhere on the net, where it seemed to be ubiquitous. Personally, I tried to avoid spending much time reading about it, because life is short and mean-spirited drama is long.) If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, those links will bring you up to speed. The bottom line: A group of conservative-to-rabid voters organized to game the awards this year. In response, a couple of thousand more convention registrants than usual showed up to vote, in defense of an open awards process.
After a long, angry buildup, many con-goers expected to see blood in the hallways of the convention center. It didn’t happen. David Gerrold, one of two author Guests of Honor (Vonda McIntyre was the other), was a target of some nasty pre-con slurring, and he could have chosen to lash out in his GoH speech. He did not. In fact, he delivered a classy affirmation of his love of science fiction and science fiction fandom (transcript here). His only reference to the whole affair was an expression of gratitude to those (not present) who had helped clarify in his mind what he wanted to say. Connie Willis, who had earlier declined to be a presenter, showed up in mid-program to cheer on the process.
David Gerrold and Tananarive Due MC the Hugos
Awards time came, and in five categories that had been largely or completely taken over by the puppies, the voters chose “No Award,” in a clear repudiation of the hijack attempt. You can see the final results here, including the categories voted “no award.” My congratulations to the winners! But it was not a victory without price.
While I stand firmly with the rejection of the gaming effort of the SPs, I feel for those writers and editors who were hurt by the whole affair. Some innocent writers and editors were unwillingly associated with the puppies slate, because the SPs happened to like their work. Other worthy individuals were kept off the final ballot because of the stuffing. Still, the winning novel, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), got its place on the ballot because another author withdrew his work after receiving support from the stuffers.
Some say that the Hugo Awards as an institution were strengthened by the voters’ repudiation of the attempt to game the system, and I hope that turns out to be true. But it’s hard to say that there were winners in the affected categories. Those writers who were shut out may get another chance, another year, and then again they may not. Either way, it has to hurt.
For perhaps the most thorough summary of the matter, I recommend this article from Wired, which includes coverage of “supplementary awards,” the Alfies, created and handed out with great cheer by Game of Thrones’George R.R. Martin. In all, I have to agree with his summation, that vindication of the process came with considerable regret.
We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.
The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.
On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!
Meanwhile, if you’re attending the con, I hope you’ll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I’m on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I’m autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.