Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review: Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon

I pick up a new Elizabeth Moon novel with anticipatory delight. In its pages (or phosphors, for the ebook version), I will find fascinating characters with skills and intelligence, subtle conflicts of culture, superbly handled tension and plot twists, and insights into people who are different from me. Unlike the heroine of Into the Fire (and Moon herself), I have no military experience whatsoever (30 years of Chinese martial arts notwithstanding). I was a long-haired, sign-waving war protester. Most military fiction leaves me looking around for those love beads. But not Moon’s, and a big part of that (aside from her sheer story-telling skill) is the intelligence and compassion of her military characters.

In the previous novel, Cold Welcome, Ky Vatta and an assortment of people under her command and not-under-her-command manage to survive a shuttle crash into icy waters and make their way to an abandoned base in a frigid, barren landscape. Their survival depends not only working together and making the best decisions but a huge measure of luck. Ky’s training and experience give her a structure to establish leadership and discern what must be done, and by whom, and in what order, how to best use the skills of the others, how to resolve conflicts without squelching initiative. Most of the book centers on how leadership, delegation protocols, the balance between negotiation and creativity and obedience, and the skills to construct and carry out strategic planning can save lives. In fact, there’s very little shoot-‘em-up and a great deal of wow, these people have thought carefully about how to manage desperate situations. Into the Fire continues that story.

After the grand finale and rescue, Ky might think her ordeal is over. Ha! Her meticulously collected records of the sabotage go missing and her people mysteriously disappear, drugged and kept incommunicado by forces inimical to her family. The focus shifts from physical to political survival. Sabotage, betrayal, immigration raids, poisoning, and a rescue executed in typical Ky Vatta style build and sustain tension. Again I was impressed by the skillfulness with which Ky and her companions make and execute plans, whether it’s marshalling an academy full of unseasoned cadets to defend the planetary president or nab the drugged prisoners from several different locations. Ky didn’t just jump into action, as characters in many other military novels so often do. She didn’t say, “Trust me, just do what I say” to her subordinates. She conferred with those with expertise, made plans, revised them, revised them again, made backup plans and backups to the backups, made sure everyone had the information they needed to do the best, smartest job. Things went wrong, as of course they must in fiction. And that’s half the fun of the adventure.

Moon provides enough backstory for Into the Fire to stand on its own, but I recommend reading it together with Cold Welcome. And I do recommend it!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

If You Were a Story...

“We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.”

― Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

"How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer."

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Judith Tarr

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from online booksellers in ebook and paperback editions.

Deborah J. Ross” Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Judith Tarr: I've always been a writer, in the sense of telling stories. I can't remember not doing that.

DJR:  What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?

JT: A piece of jewelry. The wonderful Elise Matthesen names all of her pieces, and they're all part of her Writer's Challenge. Those of us who are so inspired can write the story or poem or article or whatever else seems to us to fit the name of the piece.

I bought a beautiful pendant of silver and boulder opal, called "On the Peacock Path." I could see the path and the colors, and realized that it had something to do with the (or a) Peacock Throne. And that led me to Iran, which was ancient Persia. The rest came as I followed the path into the jewel.

DJR: Why do you write what you do?

JT: Because that's what happens when I get ideas. I love history, especially ancient history. I love to mix up genres. I get in trouble for that, but I can't seem to stop.

DJR: How does your writing process work?

JT: Horribly slowly now, but it still works, after a fashion. I get ideas and prompts from all kinds of places. I keep a file of them, multiple files in fact, and when one really needs to have a story, I pull it out and make notes and brainstorm and throw things together and see what comes of it. I do outline, but it's an ongoing, circular, organic process, which grows and changes as the characters wake up and start talking (or often yelling), and the settings make themselves visible, and the gears of story--the friction, the "what does this character want?" and "what are the stakes here?" questions that move it all forward--start to turn. Sometimes in totally unexpected directions.