Friday, June 9, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Lessons from an Early Novel

The Seventh Canon of the title refers to a principle in the practice of law: that an attorney shall do his utmost to represent the best interests of his clients. In this case, that leads to attorney Peter Donley becoming a detective to solve the murder of which his client, Father Thomas Martin, is accused. There’s more to the murder than meets the eye, of course, and one plot twist leads to another. As a legal/detective thriller, the story moves right along, competent although not extraordinary.  What is fascinating and makes the book noteworthy beyond its intrinsic uncomplicated reading pleasure, is that it is an early work by an author who went on to become an award-winning bestseller. The author made the decision to leave the story as it is, set in the time in which he wrote it, and the setting reflects that era (late 1980s). More than that, I could see the glimmerings of a deeper talent within a well-executed but fairly conventional story. The author tried to give his characters internal conflict and depth of background, which was much less usual when it was written than today. If the characters and their motivation seem predictable (abusive alcoholic fathers seem to be the simplistic reason for nightmares, poor self-esteem, you name it), that’s a judgment made by today’s more sophisticated standards. Then, too, the author was laboring under fairly rigid genre restrictions. Given the expected length (or lack thereof) of this type of novel when it was written, there just isn’t much room for the kind of in-depth character development possible at longer lengths. Today, the same story might well be viewed as a psychological thriller, with the expectation and scope to delve more deeply. So the resulting story must be viewed in context: not only the effort of a fledgling author, but a product of its literary times. I found that understanding this context enriched my reading experience and recommend the book not only for the story itself but for insights into how genre types as well as individual authors mature and change.


Decades ago, a well-established science fiction author told me of a novel written in the late 1950s in which the plot hinged on the inability of the human body to withstand the gravitational forces of space flight. No matter how good the story was (and the author thought it very good), it would not longer fly, not after Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 flight. Around 1984 I wrote a science fiction novel that hinged on the “Star Wars” satellite defense system President Reagan promised to build; another learning experience on the dump heap. Dugoni managed to write a thriller that, while dated, is still enjoyable, and for that he gets my applause.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Seichi Journals: Welcoming a New Family Member

Back in 2014, we adopted a retired seeing eye dog, Tajji, and I began a series of blog posts about our life with her. She departed over the Rainbow Bridge  last December at age 12 ½, rather old for a German Shepherd Dog. We now welcome Seichi (or, as she might be called, Seiji Esmeralda McBoing-Boing for her bouncy energy). Her shelter name was Sage, but for various reasons we added on to it, keeping the S and long A.

Here is her shelter beauty pose:


The way she came into our lives was this. While browsing through the German Shepherd Dog Rescue website, I saw a dog on the private party page that looked really good. Going on the supposition that perhaps the universe was presenting us with our new dog, we called his owner. It turned out (a) someone else was already seriously interested in the dog; (b) he had serious noise phobia issues. Having wrestled with Tajji’s dog reactivity, we had been hoping for a dog that we could take anywhere, but as it turned out, the other person adopted this dog. However, the owner notified us that a friend of hers who worked at an animal shelter said they had a female GSD that sounded lovely. So, although the shelter was 90 minutes away, we drove up to take a look. Sage/Seichi was more than we’d hoped for. Only 4 years old, loving and sweet, bouncy and eager to please. We said yes. They had to keep her another couple of days as she wasn’t spayed yet, but she soon came to her new home.

Here's Sarah's video of Seichi loading up to come home:




We’re now in the process of letting her settle and then for her and the cats to get a peek at one another through safe barriers. We’ll get a better sense of her previous training, if any, and what motivates her (so far, love trumps food, but that could change as she calms down). Seichi did beautifully on her first neighborhood walk. Although clearly excited, she stayed close to “her people,” glancing back (“checking in”) from time to time, and she didn’t freak out about anything – dogs, tree trimmers with noisy machinery, etc. So begin her adventures – stay tuned for more!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Another Marvel from Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is a marvel; she makes deep, complex, compelling stories read in an effortless fashion. And it doesn’t matter where in a series you pick up a book; they all read as if they are stand-alone novels, with the story being part of a larger world. I love that her characters have past histories and how those histories affect them – and how they either go on to be victims or manage to transcend what has happened to them to shape their own lives. 

Although I’d read Marillier’s early work, Den of Wolves was my first foray into the adventures of Blackthorn, wounded healer, and her friend Grim, her comrade during the darkest time of her life. Now, for the first time, she has the chance to bring the sadistic tyrant who tortured her and many others to justice. But her life has become entangled with others, including Cara, a lord’s daughter sent to court under mystifying circumstances. Together Grim and Blackthorn unfold Cara’s secret and learn her true identity. In the end, Blackthorn has to make a choice between old revenge and the new life she has created for herself. The two story lines are woven together seamlessly, with dramatic tension beautifully balanced with character development and the daily rhythms of a non-industrialized sort-of mythic Ireland. I enjoyed the sense of spaciousness within the tale; nothing seems hurried, even when the action is intense. There’s a great sense of a world beyond the pages, and even minor characters have their own lives, motives, and sorrows. If you have not yet had the pleasure of exploring Marillier’s worlds, come on in. Sit down, have a cup of brew and listen to a tale or two. You’ll want to stay for a long while.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BayCon 2017 Report

BayCon is my local science fiction convention, one I have attended regularly for quite a few years now. At first, the hotel venue was within commuting distance, so long as I did not indulge in too many late night events that left me driving twisty mountain roads when I was already fatigued. But as the convention moved to different hotels, as conventions sometimes do, each successive move took it farther away until I was faced with either driving over an hour in either direction or shelling out for a hotel room. Fortunately, a dear friend and writer colleague offered me a guest bedroom and the chance to carpool from her house. Her adolescent children attended the con, too, so my own experience was colored by becoming a temporary part of her family and also the rhythms and accommodations of young folks. Among other things, I heard about the teen track programs, the gaming room, and other aspects of conventions I otherwise would be oblivious to. The kids reminded me that although conventions are primarily work for me, they can and should be play, as well.

The other difference in this convention is that Book View Café had one of two tables in “author’s alley,” near guest registration (the other was Tachyon Books, featuring Peter S. Beagle). Although the various attending members were not particularly organized, it was a somewhat successful learning experience and some of us sold books, talked about BVC, and chatted with fans.

We arrived at the hotel Friday afternoon, in time to hear both Juliette Wade and Chaz Brenchley read. Listening to authors read their work, sometimes work in progress or yet unpublished, is a special treat. When I have a heavy schedule of panels, I regret not being able to attend, so this was a great beginning to a convention. Not only did I get to hear two very different but equally wonderful stories but sitting quietly in a convention atmosphere helped with the transition.

It seems the older I get and the longer I live in the redwoods, the more difficult it is for me to “shift gears” into convention mode. I’ve become accustomed to long, deep silences, not to mention a slower pace of conversation. I always feel as if I’m moving (and speaking) too fast, which of course increases the risk of mis-speaking or not listening carefully enough to what the other person is saying. Most of the time, no one seems to notice. Being so aware of my own limitations, however, does make it easier for me to respond with gratitude when I am called out on an error. I appreciate not getting backed into a defensive posture.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Short Book Reviews: The Life-Changing Power of Kittens

The Lost Cats & Lonely Hearts Club, by Nic Tatano is a sweet little story that definitely appealed to
the cat lover in me. The premise – how a litter of orphaned kittens transforms the life of a hardened news reporter – is right up my alley. By “little” I mean that the scope of the story is contained and domestic, rather than universe-shattering. The focus is on the heroine, her closest friends, her parade of potential, boyfriends, and of course the kittens. There’s a nice balance between romance, personal growth, and the notoriety that comes from blogging the lives of the kittens and becoming a spokesperson for adopting not only kittens but human children.

The one bobble for me almost knocked me out of the story at the outset, which was designating a tortoiseshell kitten as male. Although male tortoiseshell cats occur, they are extremely rare, as the coat color pattern requires two X chromosomes (females are XX, males are XY, so male tortoiseshells must be sterile XXY – if you want to read more about how that works, check here). I love this sort of genetics (not to mention tortoiseshell cats) and spotted the error right away, but determined to plow on with the story, albeit wincing (and casting aspersions at both the author who did not do the homework and the copy editor who did not catch it) every time that kitten was called “he.” Aside from that, it was a lovely, heartwarming story with a predictably uplifting, happy ending.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Baycon 2017 Schedule

I'll be appearing at BayCon in San Mateo this year. I hope you'll drop by to say hello (and enjoy a panel or two...or get an autograph). This year Book View Cafe will have a table in "Author's Alley" and I'll be there, at least part of the time. I'll have books to sell and gift bookplates to autograph.

Here's my schedule (I'll be moderating all of them)"

Sat. May 27, 11:30 am. Science Fiction (and/or Fantasy) as a Tool for Social Change. With A. E. Marling, Dirk Libbey, Carrie Sassarego, and Wanda Kurtcu.

Sat. May 27, 1:00 pm. Stand-Alone or Series? Pros and Cons. With Chaz Brenchley and R. L. King.

Sat. May 27, 4:00. Writing in Someone Else's World. With  Kathleen Bartholomew, A. E. Marling and R. L. King.

Sun. May 28. The Care and Feeding of Your Creative Muse. With Skye Allen, Jennifer Nestojko, Mark Gelineau, and R. L. King.

Monday, May 22, 2017

"Nevertheless, She Persisted" Anthology Table of Contents

Book View Cafe's Mindy Klasky has edited an anthology, Nevertheless, She Persisted. Here's the Table of Contents (with my historical fantasy story about Dona Gracia Nasi). Release date is August 8, 2017.

What an amazing lineup!

“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan
“Sisters” by Leah Cutter
“Unmasking the Ancient Light” by Deborah J. Ross
“Alea Iacta Est” by Marissa Doyle
“How Best to Serve” from A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle
“After Eden” by Gillian Polack
“Reset” by Sara Stamey
“A Very, Wary Christmas” by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
“Making Love” by Brenda Clough
“Den of Iniquity” by Irene Radford
“Digger Lady” by Amy Sterling Casil
“Tumbling Blocks” by Mindy Klasky
“The Purge” by Jennifer Stevenson
“If It Ain’t Broke” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“Chataqua” by Nancy Jane Moore
“Bearing Shadows” by Dave Smeds
“In Search of Laria” by Doranna Durgin
“Tax Season” by Judith Tarr
“Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Glory in the Skies

Today's "Astronomy Picture of the Day" is so beautiful, so uplifting to my spirits, I cannot resist posting it here. For all the troubles on our small globe, the universe is an awesome place. Often I need reminding of the scale of things, "this too shall pass," and that there is always beauty and wonder to be found if we but lift our eyes.



About 170,000 light-years across, this galaxy is enormous, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. ... Its core is dominated by light from cool yellowish stars. Along its grand spiral arms are the blue colors of hotter, young stars mixed with obscuring dust lanes and pinkish star forming regions.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Urban Fantasy Circa 1991

Street Magic, by Michael Reaves, Tor 1991. This isn’t a new book, as you can see by the date. In fact,
I believe it’s the first urban fantasy I read, along the lines of “elves in Manhattan.” In this case, the city is San Francisco, but it could be any big, grimy, noisy city that draws runaways, abandoned kids, and the disillusioned. It’s a fairly short book, and by today’s standards quite simple, but in its time, the tropes were sufficiently new to stand on their own without an overly elaborate plot. I tried to step aside from the urban fantasy of the last 15 years and re-read it with fresh eyes. The characters and elements that appealed to me then still do. The ones that didn’t (like the street kid to whom magical creatures are drawn) still don’t; however, what was once annoying I now see as a not-so-successful exploration of a literary shorthand we now take for granted and that has not weathered the years well.

My favorite characters included an elderly woman bookstore owner (of course!) and the photographer who once glimpsed a door into Faerie (at Muir Woods, of all places – where I visited many times as a teen and college age student, hiking in the “back way” from my parents’ house – well, redwood grove and magic do go together, or so I have always thought), botched his chance to step through that door, and now has descended into a haze of alcohol and regret. He’s not a major character and doesn’t drive the plot, but the way he grapples with his yearning to find Faerie again (and this time, seize the chance he missed before) in conflict with living an ordinary, mortal life in an ordinary, mortal world touched me deeply. Isn’t that what we all do – try to balance and integrate the unrealistic, idealistic dreaming and the humdrum, hoping to forge lives that in some way connect and nurture the miraculous?


The verdict: If you haven’t read it, do take a look. It’s a short book and moves right along, and even after all these years has something to offer, especially in the secondary characters. If you missed it and you love urban fantasy, I commend this historical perspective on the genre.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Short Fiction Sales News


I've just sold two pieces of short fiction to exciting projects.

The first, "Unmasking the Ancient Light," is to Nevertheless, She Persisted, an anthology edited by Mindy Klasky, to be released from Book View Cafe on August 8, 2017. It's a reprint from Ancient Enchantresses, (ed. Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch and Martin H. Greenberg, 1995), and is based on the life of Dona Gracia Nasi, whose family fled Spain after the expulsion, ran one of the largest spice trading firms in Europe, set up a Jewish "underground railroad" from Venice, and eventually established one of the first attempts at a Jewish homeland at Tiberias.

The second is an original story, "The Girl from Black Point Rock," to Sword and Sorceress 32, ed. Elisabeth Waters. More about it later.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Short Book Review: A Post-Apocalyptic Midwife

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere, Book 1) by Meg Elison, 47North. Just as I finished reading this book, I listened to a radio program on the role of dystopic literature in today’s political landscape. The books referenced were generally those so well known they had been made into films ( The Hunger Games, Divergence, The Handmaid’s Tale). The context was one of social commentary and political warning. Meg Elison’s Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, although depicting a future as grim as the others, focuses instead of a human story. There’s no explanation for the plague that wipes out most of humankind, or why most men turn into rapists bent on enslaving women; that’s not the heart of the story. Via alternating journal entries and narrative sections, an unnamed woman – a nurse midwife working in a hospital -- chronicles her own personal journey through a landscape of dead people and dying cities, caught between the desolation of being utterly alone and the peril posed by the few other survivors. As she survives one crisis after another, she gains in wisdom and insight. No matter how lonely she is, she refuses to sacrifice her hard-won independence – both of body and of spirit. The writing is clear and lucid, its simplicity a perfect vehicle for the power of the emotional arc. In the end, the seeds of trust and kindness only partly glimpsed at the beginning of her harrowing tale come to fruition in a thoroughly satisfying way.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday Cat Blog

This is Gayatri, She Who Sings. Also known as The Pirate Queen because one of my eyes was severely damaged when I was young. I don't see why Shakir should have all the fun. Don't get me wrong, he's a fine fellow, especially when he isn't smacking me. Here we are in our salad days (before my surgery to remove my eye).



Having only one eye has never slowed me down. Even at the august age of 10, I zoom around the house and up the climbing tree. I am also a Fearsome Hunter. Some years ago, my humans allowed me out in the garden. I rewarded them by depositing a reptile or small mammal (killed, of course) on the back porch. The ungrateful monkeys wouldn't let me out after that.

And here I am on Mom's shoulder, checking out the new dog. This was a couple of years ago and, after a period of suitably abject worship, the dog went over the rainbow bridge. You would think that made my life perfect, purrrfect, but oh no...



My most recent adventure was both painful and humiliating. I developed an abscess of my anal glands. Sooo embarrassing. The vet, who is otherwise a perfectly civilized human, did Terrible Things to my rear end. Now there is a draining hole, which my humans squirt with betadine and smear with honey (medicinal, they insist) a couple of times a day. That's all right because they also dose me with nice pain meds. Here I am in the Cone of Shame (to prevent me from licking, which is the Obvious Thing to do with wounds). At least I can sit on my bottom again!


Monday, May 8, 2017

Rebecca Fox on "Where You're Planted " in MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Here I chat with the marvelous authors who have enriched the world of Darkover with their creative vision.

Masques of Darkover was released May 2, 2017 and is now available for at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo.

Rebecca (“Becky”) started writing stories when she was seven years old and hasn’t stopped since. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky with three parrots, a chestnut mare, and a Jack Russell terrier who is not-so-secretly an evil canine genius, but no flamingos, pink or otherwise. In her other life, she’s a professional biologist with an interest in bird behavior. 


Deborah J. Ross: What was your introduction to Darkover?

Rebecca Fox: I was somewhere around fourteen years old, and away at a science camp
aimed at aspiring astronomers. I was roommates with a girl with whom I’d become pretty much instant friends, and one of the things she’d brought with her was an entire pile of books (see above: nerdy teenagers). She was kind enough to loan me two of them, since I’d been a little short-sighted in the reading material department, and hadn’t brought along any of my own. One of the books was Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey; the other was Hawkmistress! I devoured both within a couple of days, since I apparently didn’t believe in sleeping at that time in my life. The loan of those two books must have been some sort of omen, because while I didn’t in fact become an astronomer (having been seduced by biology instead), I have since written stories for both Valdemar and Darkover anthologies. 


DJR: What about the world drew you in?

RF: Honestly, I’ve always been a sucker for animal stories and for plucky teenage heroines with a penchant for giving the finger to the established social order. Hawkmistress! was essentially the perfect gateway drug. As a teenager in the early ‘90s, I came for Romilly and her hawks and stayed for the magic (well, matrix sciences; same difference) and adventure. These days, as a professional academic with a taste for Le Carre, I’m in it for the politics, the culture clash between Terra and Darkover, and the tales of peripatetic scholars. Funny how tastes change over the years. Books in the vein of The Bloody Sun, which bored me to tears as a teenager, are now some of my favorites.


DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover? How has its readership changed over the decades? What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover?

RF: I think there are still lots of stories to be told about Darkover, since it’s not as though we’ve really dispensed with any of the issues Marion dealt with so eloquently in her novels. We’ve admittedly made progress in some areas, like women’s rights, but these days we humans here on Earth have the ability to make some pretty terrifying changes in the natural world, via techniques like gene drive, that put me rather in mind of some of the weapons from the Ages of Chaos.

As far as readership goes, of course new readers are going to keep finding the series just as my friends and I did as teenagers twenty-odd years ago. I teach at the college level, and I can tell you that despite all the dire talk about smartphones ruining the world, my students still love to read and have an appreciation for actual books. If anything, they’re more sf-mad than my generation was in the ‘90s, thanks to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and all the Marvel movies.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Richly Depicted World

The Unquiet Land, by Sharon Shinn, (Ace)

Although I had heard the author’s name, I had not read any of her work. It’s always a risk picking up a book in the middle of a series; much of the time, you get either huge chunks of expository backstory or you are lost by references to the same. Shinn skillfully draws the reader into her rich, intricate world, filled with marvelously depicted characters and even more nuanced relationships. This world is one of small island states, each with its own unique and sometimes bizarre culture. Although there is definitely a story “off the pages,” it’s not at all necessary to have started at the beginning to fully enjoy this one.


Leah has returned to the city of her birth after a period of exile, political intrigue, and a relationship that might develop into a romance. In between getting to know the young daughter she left behind, figuring out her place and what she wants for her future, she crosses paths with travelers from another island state, strangers whose political ambitions and utter amorality threaten everyone she holds dear. Although the story has plenty of suspense and dramatic movement, what stood out for me was the emphasis on relationships – new ones, old ones, those laden with regret and those inspiring hope. The sheer number of characters and the system of magic, the religious blessings and traditions, all these elements might have seemed overwhelming in the hands of a less competent writer, but Shinn weaves them all together to bring dimensionality and emotional resonance to every aspect of Leah’s world. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Special Sale Price on JAYDIUM

This month's specials at Book View Cafe include Jaydium for just $0.95. DRM-free, multiple formats (there's an audiobook, too, but it's not on special.)
Here's the newsletter for more offerings.


Hungry for “a wild and woolly journey through time and space,” some really cool aliens, and a touch of romance?
Far in the future, an interplanetary civil conflict has ground to an uneasy halt, leaving its human victims bitter and desperate: Kithri, the daughter of a scientist, abandoned on a desolate mining planet with no hope to use her talents, and Eril, shell-shocked pilot, finding adapting to peace more difficult than he dreamed. A freak accident sends them back to a time when their desert world was lush and green, when an alien civilization stands on the brink of a war of total destruction. Unexpectedly linked with Lennart, a spaceman from an earlier era in galactic history, and Brianna, an anthropologist from an alternate universe, they must choose to remain outside the conflict or to stand up for what they believe, even at the cost of never getting home again?

REVIEWS
“A wild and woolly journey through time and space that contains enough imagination and plotting for an entire shelf of books.”
— Don D’Ammassa in SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE
“Beautifully executed . . . marks Wheeler as a stellar new talent.”
— Catherine Asaro in MINDSPARKS
“There is an emphasis on the quest for peace that is unusual when so many novels focus on the quest for dominance and victory.”
— Tom Easton in ANALOG
“JAYDIUM sweeps the reader into a well-designed world populated with realistic people . . . a fast-paced and fun read.”
— Mary Rosenblum
“Excellent hard science-fiction!”
— Marion Zimmer Bradley

Monday, May 1, 2017

Robin Wayne Bailey on "The Mountains of Light" in MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Masques of Darkover was released May 2, 2017 and is now available  at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo. 


Robin Wayne Bailey is the author of numerous novels, including the Dragonkin trilogy and the Frost
series, as well as Shadowdance and the Fritz Leiber-inspired Swords Against the Shadowland. His short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies with numerous appearances in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword And Sorceress series and Deborah J. Ross's Lace And Blade volumes. Some of his stories have been collected in two volumes, Turn Left to Tomorrow and The Fantastikon, from Yard Dog Books. He's a former two-term president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a founder of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He's the co-editor, along with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, of Little Green Men--Attack!

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover. What about the world drew you in?

Robin Wayne Bailey: I first encountered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover world when I was a teen and, I think, working in a bookstore. I found a DAW publication of Darkover Landfall, read it and loved it. The idea of a spaceship of humans flying off the known star charts and crash-landing on another world, of surviving and building their own culture excited me. I read the next three or four books as quickly as I could get them. Unfortunately, after the publication of Stormqueen, I drifted away from the series. Yet I never parted with those early Darkover books. Later, when I met Marion, she signed them for me, and they have honored places on my bookshelves to this day.


DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover?

RWB: I see the future of Darkover as wide-open. Marion wrote the world as dynamic, constantly undergoing conflict and change. Nor was she slavish about continuity. I’m deeply enamored of this new anthology series under Deborah Ross’s editorship, not just because I’m a regular contributor, but because she’s allowed me to fuck with some of the concepts. To me, that’s where the fun and the challenge lies. If Marion was alive and still writing Darkover novels, that world would not look the same now as it looked when she left us. She would have changed it in ways we can’t know. On the surface, it might look similar, but it would be different. That certainty informs my entire approach to writing in her world.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Two Great Novellas

Readers often give the novella short shrift as a literary form. It’s too long to read easily in one sitting and not long enough to make a satisfying novel-variety reading experience. It’s also hard to write. You need a single plot line that’s rich enough to sustain the length but doesn’t meander off into the subplots and so forth that give a novel its complexity.


Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold. 
The short review: A new Bujold novella set in the world of The Curse of Chalion! (Everyone jumps up and down for joy and runs out to buy it!) 

The longer review: To say Bujold is a master of her craft is an understatement, also that she has the ability to take what seems to be a simple enough proposition (in this case, tracking down a murder suspect) and imbuing it with emotional resonance. Her work rarely leaves me unmoved, and this one is no different. She manages to bring the reader into her world of five gods, shamans and sorcerers and spirit animals (as a dog lover, I adored what she did with more-dog and Great Beast dog) and ordinary folk without ever inflicting massive backstory or infodump. The richness of this world and its potential for powerful human stories never fails to amaze me. The alternative viewpoint characters (Penric, a sorcerer-divine who is host to demon Desdemona, who carries the memories of all her previous partners; Locator Oswyl, beset by his own rigid sense of honor and his limited abilities; and Inglis, a shaman now bereft of his powers, struggling to keep the ghost of his best friend from being eternally sundered from grace, at the cost of his own blood) provide both close-up emotional intimacy and a wider perspective of events. Did I say I loved the dogs. And the ghosts. And the demon. And the dogs.



In Calabria, by Peter S. Beagle, Tachyon. The short review: A new Peter S. Beagle novella-- with unicorns! (Everyone jumps up and down for joy and runs out to buy it!) 

The longer review: Claudio Bianchi, a crusty not-so-old hermit, farms an
aging plot of land in rural  Southern Italy. At first glance, he is not very prepossessing; he’s crotchety, battered, and solitary. He also has a secret: he writes poetry. One day a unicorn appears on his land, and she too has a secret, one that will forever transform their lives. Like everything else by Peter S. Beagle I’ve ever read, this short work brims with earthy magic and tenderness. He has the ability to take a character who at first glance is not particularly appealing (middle-aged, grouchy hermit with dubious social skills and personal hygiene) and draw us into that character’s world, weaving the threads of our own disappointments, humdrum lives, deferred dreams. Claudio has all but given up on his dreams, so much so that he no longer knows what they once were until the impossibly magical creature touches the dreamer within him. In Calabria is not The Last Unicorn, but they share that sense of longing and transcendence, and offer the same thoughtful, immensely satisfying reading experience.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In Troubled Times: Quaker Wisdom

No clear impressions, either from above or from without, can be received by a mind turbid with excitement and agitated by a crowd of distractions. The stillness needed for the clear shining of light within is incompatible with hurry.
~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909


I believe there is something in the mind, or in the heart, that shows its approbation when we do right. I give myself this advice: Do not fear truth, let it be so contrary to inclination and feeling. Never give up the search after it: and let me take courage, and try from the bottom of my heart to do that which I believe truth dictates, if it leads me to be a Quaker or not.

~ Elizabeth Fry, 1780-1845

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Anthology Special Price

Two anthologies I've participated in are on sale at a reduced price right now. Across the Spectrum, which I edited with Pati Nagle (and which celebrates Book View Cafe's 5th anniversary and includes stories by Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Sherwood Smith, Judith Tarr, Katharine Kerr, and Madeleine E. Robins). The Shadow Conspiracy III: Clockwork Souls (also from Book View Cafe) contains my story "Among Friends," pertaining to Quakers, the Underground Railroad, and a slave-catching automaton. They're $2.99 each.

The sale ends May 1, so grab 'em while you can! (And the others look great, too!)




Monday, April 24, 2017

Evey Brett on "Only Men Dance" in MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Masques of Darkover will be released May 2, 2017 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo. The print edition will be on sale on the release date.

While this is her first sale to a Darkover anthology, Evey Brett is no stranger to magic, especially when it comes to horses--just ask her Lipizzan mare, Carrma, who has a habit of arranging the universe to her liking. Carrma not only insisted that Evey move to southern Arizona to coddle her during her retirement, but she was also the inspiration for her books Capriole, Levade, and Passage as well as an anthology featuring supernatural horses. “None of those are based on real life,” she says. “Nope, not one.”

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover. 

Evey Brett: Back in 2002 when I was just out of college, I got a job working retail at a now-extinct Foley's department store in a mall. There was a Waldenbooks right across from the store, so I'd often go get a book and settle down in a comfy chair somewhere in the mall to eat my lunch and read. One day I was looking for a new book and picked up The Fall of Neskaya, and I was hooked. Fortunately for me (and the bookstore) they had several of other Darkover novels as well.


DJR: What about the world drew you in?

EB: I'm a sucker for stories with telepaths and damaged characters. I'd gone through a number of Mercedes Lackey's books, so finding Darkover gave me a whole new world with a sizeable canon to explore. Having just read the back of The Fall of Neskaya, I'd still pick it up to read because it's got everything I want--telepaths, power, gifts, a tormented character with a secret he can't reveal.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

[links] Electric Sand and Other Glories

Titan is covered with dunes and plains made of sand consisting of a range of organic molecules. Méndez speculated that the moon's sand might readily become electrically charged, making its behavior significantly different from that of Earth sand.
Méndez's specialty is electrified particles. He investigates phenomena such as volcanic lightning, which is powered by electrically charged volcanic ash particles, and studies "powders in the pharmaceutical industry, which can clump together or stick to the walls of pipes because of their electric charge," he said.



Tatooine world could be habitable despite its inevitably complicated orbit, as long as the planet stays within a particular range of distances from its two host stars, researchers said.
"This means that double-star systems of the type studied here are excellent candidates to host habitable planets, despite the large variations in the amount of starlight hypothetical planets in such a system would receive," Max Popp, an associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey and the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, said in a statement.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday Cat Blog

Hello, I'm Shakir. After relentless campaigning, I have convinced my human to give me equal blog time. Well, not truly equal. We all know that truly equal would mean she'd never get a word in edgewise.



Here I am, relaxing on the nicely cushioned comforter my human has thoughtfully provided. As you can see, I'm of the green-eyed black-haired tribe, although I do have an elegant frosting of white hairs on my chest. I was found roaming the wilds at about 10 months of age, so I leave you to guess at my early life, but everyone at the shelter recognized what a good cat I am, and after a long time, I was invited to join the household of humans (and cats -- hiss! -- and a trainable dog -- well, all right) who understood the unique charms of black cats.




You can see from this portrait that I am a cat of Very Large Personality. (Is there any other kind?)

I look forward to receiving your adoration in future posts.

Shakir (his mark)


Monday, April 17, 2017

Leslie Roy & Margaret L. Carter on "Believing" in MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Masques of Darkover will be released May 2, 2017 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo. The print edition will be on sale on the release date.


Margaret L. Carter specializes in vampires, having been marked for life by reading Dracula at the age of twelve. Her Ph.D. dissertation even included a chapter on Dracula. Her vampire novel Dark Changeling won an Eppie Award in the horror category in 2000. Other creatures she writes about include werewolves, dragons, ghosts, and Lovecraftian entities with tentacles. In addition to her horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance fiction, she has had several nonfiction books and articles published on vampires in literature, including Different Blood: The Vampire As Alien. Recent work includes Passion In The Blood (a vampire romance), Sealing The Dark Portal (a paranormal romance with Lovecraftian elements), and “Crossing the Border” (horror erotic romance novella with Lovecraftian elements).


Les and Margaret Carter attended the College of William and Mary together as a married couple and earned their bachelors’ degrees there. Les later received an MS in Electronics Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from the U.S. Navy as a Captain after thirty years of service. He and Margaret co-wrote “Carmen’s Flight,” published in one of the early Darkover anthologies. They have also collaborated on a fantasy series, beginning with Wild Sorceress, for which he’s the primary author. Les has over fifty years of experience in search and rescue as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. Les and Margaret have four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

[personal] Milestone Birthday

I'm 70 years old today. It feels so strange to be that big a number. I have no idea what it means to be This Many Years. But it does feel like a milestone, a sea change.

It comes after a period of wrestling with my engagement with the repeated, periodic parole hearings for the man who raped and murdered my mother -- who was 70 at the time, so that's another reason this age is a huge change for me. I'll likely write about this more, but basically I have decided to not participate in any future hearings 30 years is long enough and past long to carry such a burden. It's done terrible things to my life, and I've fought so hard to regain my peace of mind, let alone my happiness. This is what my mother would want for me, and now I'm finally able to leave the nightmare behind. Turn the page, shut the door, throw the whole vile mess into the ocean.

Back to the birthday. I had a lovely early celebration last week, when younger daughter was home from medical school for spring break, and she and her wife and older daughter and beloved spouse and I all went out to a very fancy dinner. Having both my girls and my daughter-in-law and my husband all together was the best present ever.

I've been unhappy with how unproductive and unfocused I've been for the last year. The parole hearing was only partly to blame, but I have the feeling the right moment to tell the stories and do the other things that are meaningful to me is slipping away, or in danger of doing that. So my present to myself is a promise to sit down, with my journal if helpful, and figure out what's distracting me and how to structure my days. To live well, work well, love well, take excellent care of myself, fill my time with joy.

Monday, April 10, 2017

India Edghill on "The Price of Stars" in MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Masques of Darkover will be released May 2, 2017 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo. The print edition will be on sale on the release date.

A writer of historical novels (so far, mostly set in Ancient Israel) and fantasy short stories (set everywhen from India to Darkover to Imperial Russia), India Edghill's love of history has resulted in the acquisition of far too many books on far too many subjects. A former resident of the beautiful Mid-Hudson Valley, New York, India and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels now live in the beautiful Willamette Valley in Oregon.


Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.  

India Edghill: Oh, heavens, that was so long ago I don't even remember.  I was in my teens and had just discovered science fiction.  Back then it was hard to find and one couldn't just pop off to the Internet to find something you wanted.  If your library didn't own the book, or you didn't spot in at a yard sale, you were out of luck.  Sometimes -- wonder of wonders! -- a science fiction book would show up in the rack of paperbacks at the drugstore, but not often.  And there weren't that many bookstores in suburbia.  Now Amazon, eBay, ABEbooks, and Indiebound have made it so easy to find not only new books, but used ones too, and Project Gutenberg makes thousands of out of print and out of copyright works available free.  The Internet also makes it easy to find a local bookstore no matter where you're going.  But back to Darkover!  Somehow, at some point, I managed to pick up a copy of -- I think it was The Bloody Sun and that did it.  I was hooked.


DJR: What about the world drew you in?

IE: Marion's storytelling, of course!  She created a world of wonders and fascinating people and spun terrific stories about them.  I found Darkover back when a science fiction novel was only about 50,000 words, and boy, could she weave a universe for you in those words.


DJR: What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover?

IE: Well, there's always The Door Through Space…for those really into Darkovan backstory…  Okay, okay, Door isn't technically a Darkover story.  But it's my favorite, and in a sense it's the ultimate Darkover book.  For anyone who's interested in the Dry Towns, it's required reading.


DJR: What inspired your story in Masques of Darkover?

IE: Queen Elizabeth I's eye color.  Semi-seriously!  To start with, all I had was a vague idea:  "what if the most powerful laran-user ever was a girl born in the Dry Towns?"  The Dry Towns have always interested me, so the setting was a "gimme."  And since I'm totally enamored of Good Queen Bess (in fact, my first sale to Mzb's Fantasy Magazine was "Maiden Phoenix", about the young Elizabeth), I swiped her for the character.  And since no one can agree on Elizabeth's eye color -- sources from her own time describe her eyes as every color from blue to grey to hazel to black -- I blended that in as well.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Dave Duncan Tackles Chinese Fantasy Right

I’m a long-time and unabashed Dave Duncan fan. I love his literate, compassionate, exciting fantasy novels. He always comes up with fascinating twists and insights into standard themes, and his handling of the material seems effortless. My only quibble is that much of his work is in series forms, three or four volume (or longer) tales, so if I find a book from the middle, I pretty much have to hold on to it until I complete the set. So I was delighted to find this stand-alone, set it Duncan’s inimitably original version of a magical alternate China. Such stories go through cycles of popularity. Barry Hughart published a series (Bridge of Birds, etc.) back in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings and its sequels have attracted much attention. But Duncan’s vision is all his own, and with smooth mastery of his craft, he draws the reader into his marvelous world. His characters, from a starving orphan to a reincarnated god to the scheming, ruthless mother of the imbecile emperor, are vivid and engaging. While the story lines initially share little except a common culture and time, I had no doubt that Duncan would bring them together in the end; I was not disappointed, for the plot twists and thorny decisions resolved beautifully and with Duncan’s signature gracefulness. A treat for Duncan fans and a great introduction to his work, particularly if you are looking for non-Western settings.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Shariann Lewitt on "The Wind" In MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Masques of Darkover will be released May 2, 2017 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo. The print edition will be on sale on the release date.

Shariann Lewitt has published seventeen books and over forty short stories, including “Wedding Embroidery” in Stars of Darkover and “Memory” in Gifts of Darkover. When not writing she teaches at MIT, studies flamenco dance, and is accounted reasonably accomplished at embroidery. Her expertise with birds arises in part from being the devoted servant of two parrots.


Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover. What about the world drew you in?

Shariann Lewitt: I started reading Darkover when I was very young and it grabbed me in a special way, because it showed girls and women doing active, great stuff, not just sitting around being passive.  But unlike a lot of other more feminist stories of the era, the girls and women had to struggle to get to powerful positions and often had to make sacrifices (like Keepers having to remain virgin) in order to wield power.  I could relate to these women because this felt real, this felt like the world I lived in.  I hated having to read stories where the only people who got to do anything that meant anything were male, but on the other hand, I found the worlds where full gender equality was taken for granted was just a little too unbelievable.  A little too much like the magic.  I could relate to the struggles of the women and girls on Darkover and that drew me in.  It all felt so REAL.


DJR: Tell us about your story in Masques of Darkover.

SL: I've been *dying* to tell about this! This is my Bernie Sanders story!  Really! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

R.I.P SFF.NET

Sff.net has gone the way of GEnie and other beloved communities. GEnie was my introduction to online gatherings. I met people, made friends (still going strong), brainstormed anthologies (and then sold stories to them), kept an eye on friends in need (and noticed when they disappeared and dispatched local friends to check on them), engaged in gossip I wish I hadn't, engaged in kindness I'm glad I did.

Dueling Modems and then sff.net picked up when GEnie couldn't survive the 2K transition. For me, neither had the same vitality, although folks did their best. Sff.net provided an email address and website, however. And we all had to find new hosts as The End neared. As much as I valued these communities, I've oozed on over to blogging, FB, Twitville, and the like.

Life moves on. Communities evolve. Friendships endure.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Can't Get Enough of Lois McMaster Bujold

The short review: A new Bujold novella set in the world of The Curse of Chalion! (Everyone jumps up and down for joy and runs out to buy it!)

The longer review: Readers often give the novella short shrift as a literary form. It’s too long to read easily in one sitting and not long enough to make a satisfying novel-variety reading experience. It’s also hard to write. You need a single plot line that’s rich enough to sustain the length but doesn’t meander off into the subplots and so forth that give a novel its complexity.

All that is prelude to the deliciousness of a Bujold novella. To say she’s a master of her craft is an understatement, also that she has the ability to take what seems to be a simple enough proposition (in this case, tracking down a murder suspect) and imbuing it with emotional resonance. Her work rarely leaves me unmoved, and this one is no different. She manages to bring the reader into her world of five gods, shamans and sorcerers and spirit animals (as a dog lover, I adored what she did with more-dog and Great Beast dog) and ordinary folk without ever inflicting massive backstory or infodump. The richness of this world and its potential for powerful human stories never fails to amaze me. The alternative viewpoint characters (Penric, a sorcerer-divine who is host to demon Desdemona, who carries the memories of all her previous partners; Locator Oswyl, beset by his own rigid sense of honor and his limited abilities; and Inglis, a shaman now bereft of his powers, struggling to keep the ghost of his best friend from being eternally sundered from grace, at the cost of his own blood) provide both close-up emotional intimacy and a wider perspective of events. Did I say I loved the dogs. And the ghosts. And the demon. And the dogs.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Meg Mac Donald on "Upon This Rock" in MASQUES OF DARKOVER

In the spirit of a masqued revel, here is a gala presentation of tales set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Some of these stories are humorous, others dark, some gritty, and others whimsical or romantic, but all reflect the richness and breadth of adventures to be found on Darkover.

Masques of Darkover will be released May 2, 2017 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble and Kobo. The print edition will be on sale on the release date.


After a number of years away from writing, Meg set pen to page again in 2011. Delightful chaos ensued. She shares her home in Michigan with her husband, children, a Norwegian Elkhound and a clowder of cats (yes, it actually is bigger on the inside). She would like to own horses again, sell a novel (how about a series? Any takers?) and has, sadly, never been to the Moon. Meg's sold stories to two previous Darkover anthologies (when she was very young but no less silly, she says).

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Meg Mac Donald:  I landed on Darkover as a nerdy teenager who had very little in common with other people aside from being (mostly) human.  I was introduced to the series by a new friend who, in turn, had swiped some books from her older brother.  The John Norman Gor series didn't excite us, but the Darkover books were intriguing.  I'm thinking The Bloody Sun, Planet Wreckers and Sword of Aldones (which was probably the book that grabbed us both).  My friend (still a friend these decades later) was totally geeked about them and the idea that the Darkovans did not use long range weapons.  SF with swords and "magic" that wasn't magic.  Psychic powers.  Laran.  Cool.  I don't think my friend's brother ever got his books back and suspect some of them are still in my possession.  Sorry about that.  :-[

DJR: What about the world drew you in? 
MMD: Two things come immediately to mind.  First, likeable, memorable characters that fascinated me (even if they were a bit tortured).  Lew Alton being at the top of the list.  And Regis Hastur.  Loved Regis.  I remember having such sympathy for him.  I also liked how the world-building unfolded across so many books (sprawling, anyone?), the backgrounds of characters and events, the connections between stories--albeit some of those require more than a bit of mental juggling as the stories were not written in order and clearly Marion's concept of who some of these folks really were and what the world/culture/events were all about changed over time.  I always forgave the contradictions.  Maybe I instinctively recognized that Darkover grew and changed just as the author's world did.  Looking back, it seems very organic.  I certainly relate to that as a writer.  Some of those early books are tough reads now, but what a complicated tapestry the author wove over time.  How rich and intricate.  Family sagas and culture clashes are fertile grounds for story-telling and I was the right age at the right time.


DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover? How has its readership changed over the decades? What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover? 

MMD: I sincerely hope that books are kept in print and made available for new generations of readers.  I also hope the anthologies continue.  I believe that would have pleased the author a great deal because sharing Darkover obviously gave her a lot of joy.  Might new novels about new (and old) characters continue to be published?  Why not?  So much to still explore... and perhaps to reexamine. 

I really don't know that there is what you would call a "typical" Darkoever fan. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Short Fantasy Book Reviews: Near Misses, But No Banana

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco.
I really wanted to like this YA described by the publisher as “Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind.” It opened with great promise, and it has many things going for it. I loved the idea of an evolving relationship between the heroine, Tea, and her brother, Fox, after she inadvertently brings him back from the dead. The author gets kudos for a non-Western setting. There are lots of details about the city, the school, the monstrous and occasionally draconic daeva, and so forth. I loved the idea of heartsglass that changes color and reveals much of who you are, although I was perpetually confused about how it worked (also the geisha “asha” and why sometimes a bone witch – necromancer is one and sometimes not). There are a number of wonderful characters like Mistress Parmina (a most un-Japanese name) and Likh, who longs do dance but who is male and so is destined to become cannon fodder for the Deathseekers) and a sense of history and tradition. Unfortunately, the development of intriguing ideas fell short. The relationship with the brother happened slowly, almost as an afterthought or something pinned on. At first I thought how cool it was to have a Japanese Hogwarts, but the culture did not ring true. Attitudes and speech patterns felt Western, and the seemingly random inclusion of elements (like cuisine) from other areas of the world created a slap-dash patchwork instead of a seamless whole. The major problem though, was that there was no clear goal or threat that built to a climax. The result was a story that felt flat and episodic. The hazing from other students had as much emotional weight as the threat of the Faceless (a generic, all-purpose enemy who seem to be evil for its own sake). The utter absence of sex, even sexual feelings, was a jarring omission. These young women are being trained as hostesses and entertainers; it is impossible that the issue of intimate favors for their patrons never comes up. Even if the younger ones are protected from forming liaisons, surely the questions must come up for the more mature asha. It’s ridiculous to thing that a YA novel must exclude all references to sex when it is so important to teens in real life. Discerning older readers may well give this one a pass.

Toward a Secret Sky by Heather Maclean  is a YA novel of the “Twilight with Angels and Demons”
sort. Our teen orphan heroine finds herself shipped off to grandparents in Scotland where she explores scenery, makes friends, and encounters the devastatingly gorgeous angel assigned the guard her. Even though she is told in no uncertain terms of the dire consequences of human-angel love affairs, she plunges into one obsessive daydream after another, refuses to heed his warnings to leave him alone, and in general behaves like an infatuated adolescent incapable of making rational decisions. To be sure, she has personality and strengths, not the least of which are keen mental abilities and a generous heart, and the story moves along nicely, with enough twists to keep the reader engaged. Logic bobbles (like why would a handsome, rich incubus need a date-rape drug when looks and money alone would get him as much sex as he wants?) flawed an otherwise enjoyable flow of prose, and the “the war [with demons] is just beginning” epilog felt tacked-on. These shortcomings may pale in comparison to the overall enjoyability of the story, particularly for a young adult reader but a more critical reader may find them annoying.