Monday, May 21, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Rebecca Fox

Now available, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!

Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Rebecca Fox: As a moody teenage girl with SFnal leanings in the early/mid-1990s, I really had three main reading choices: Pern, Valdemar, or Darkover. Pern I’d found on my own, in a sixth grade language arts reader of all places. My discovery of Valdemar and Darkover (simultaneously) at the age of 14 or 15 and the subsequent loss of at least a week’s worth of sleep while I devoured several books as fast as I could possibly read them I owe to a camp roommate.
 My introduction to writing Darkover came via Rosemary Edghill - who is, incidentally, a brilliant human being, a terrific writer, and a truly stellar teacher - who mentored me through my angst-filled and far less than graceful move from Darkest Fanficcia to the Land of Paid Professional Writers and somehow managed not to murder me in the process (it would have been entirely justified, trust me). At any rate, Rosemary invited me to collaborate with her on a story for Stars of Darkover (“Second Contact,” of which I’m still terribly fond) and the rest is history. I remain more grateful than I can really express for the invitation, as well as for patient lessoning in things like how to pace a story and how to edit my own work and more than a few good stiff doses of humility. I wouldn't be here without her, and I hope one of these days I’ll at least get the chance to pay it forward.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover?
RF: Well, the glib (and not in the least untrue) answer here is: my complete inability to let anything go, ever. I get so attached to some worlds or characters that it’s hard to simply bid them adieu after a bare six thousand words or so. And I just couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to Jamie MacRorie and Miralys after nothing more than a few paragraphs in “Where You’re Planted” (never you mind that I’d originally produced them simply because Cat needed to get her parents from somewhere).

The less glib answer is that at the time I sat down to think about my next Darkover story, I’d been wallowing happily in the very earliest Darkover books, and in one of them – I think it was The Bloody Sun but I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law – there’s this really brief mention of the Terranan and the Darkovans having fought a war over “resources,” with the implication that the Terrans lost or were somehow humiliated. Since that one paragraph was the only time I’d ever seen that “war” mentioned, it couldn’t have been much of a war, could it? Between the fact that I found myself kind of obsessing over what might have happened (because that’s what I do) and the fact that I’ve never met a spy story I didn’t like, “The Short, Inglorious War” was born.

Friday, May 18, 2018

In Troubled Times: The Challenge of Compassion

Nov. 10, 2009

"All real living is meeting." -- Martin Buber

At World Fantasy Convention, three friends and I ventured forth from the hotel in search of un-conditioned air and reasonably-priced food. Our path took us into a pedestrian mall with a lively street scene. Two encounters stand out in my mind. The first was with a homeless man. As he asked us for money, his voice was low and dispirited, as if he had no expectation of a response. He seemed on the edge of giving up hope. Usually I feel uncomfortable giving cash, although if I have the time, I may offer to buy the person a meal. I didn't have the time, but something in this man spoke to me. Without questioning that inner prompting, I turned back, dug in my purse for a dollar, and offered it to him. It seemed to me that a kind word and the recognition of our common humanity was as important as that small amount of money. As I spoke to him and met his eyes, I saw them fill with tears. In broken tones, he told me of how he had lost his job and left his home, rather than be evicted. I don't know if he was telling the truth or if he later used the money to buy drugs or booze. I'm not sure it matters. The moment between us, his response to being treated with kindness, was real. For all I know, it might have been the tiny nudge that kept hope alive.

Further up the street, a group of young adults in uniform-like black sweats was holding forth in loud voices, lecturing all within earshot, preaching their religious beliefs. Their voices echoed against the buildings and their eyes were hard and angry. As we passed, I tried to imagine what I might say to them -- "Live and let live"? A few people on the street shouted back at them. My friends and I thought of all sorts of snappy retorts, none of which would have amounted to any real communication. I realized this was a way of diffusing the discomfort caused by the abrasive behavior of these young people.

How can speech that is combative to the point of hostility be answered? It seemed to me impossible to have even a token conversation with someone who is browbeating me at the top of his lungs. Isn't it necessary for both parties to be willing to take turns, to listen to one another? It did occur to me that these young people, berating all within earshot for their sinful ways, were not at all interested in hearing anyone else's point of view. I wonder what would have satisfied them.

Afterwards, I was struck by the contrast in the two encounters. Certainly, the evangelists were more intent on pounding home the evils of this world and terror of the next than in giving to the poor. But there is this: reaching out to the homeless man was easy. His manner was gentle and humble. He spoke out of need and then gratitude. The angry young people, on the other hand, presented a much greater challenge, one I was not equal to. I still do not know how I might be present with them without getting drawn in to acrimony and name-hurling.

Charity is easy. Seeing the common humanity in people who are screaming hatred at you -- that's hard.

The drawing is by Isidre Nonell (1872–1911)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Robin Wayne Bailey

Just out, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!

Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Robin Wayne Bailey: The first Darkover tale I ever read was Darkover Landfall, and I came across it perhaps in an unusual way. At the time, I was working in a bookstore part-time to earn college money, but I was also already a fairly dedicated book collector. Among the books I collected were DAW's yellow-spined paperbacks, which DAW was kind enough to number. I searched these out in new bookstores and used bookstores, determined to own them all, and this is how I came across Darkover Landfall. I'm not sure if I had previously read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley's earlier work, but this book captivated me. I was a sucker for a good "lost colony" story, and this proved one of the best. I remember the day we unpacked that latest DAW shipment and removing this book with its shiny cover and artwork by, I think, Jack Gaughan. It excited me then, and although I drifted away from the series after a time, it continues to excite me.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
RWB: Several things about Darkover struck me as fairly unique, even daring, at the time the books were appearing. The blending of disparate cultures immediately stood out. The first ship that crash landed on Darkover carried an interesting mix of Celtic and Spanish colonists, and maybe a few others I'm forgetting. In so many sf novels, then and now, humans seem to be a homogeneous group without national or cultural identity. Not so, Darkover. Marion emphasized and celebrated these differences. The other thing that surprised me was her willingness to play with sexuality and gender roles. Lots of early sixties and seventies science fiction played with sex, but always of a rather tame heterosexual variety. Marion went further. Her depictions of the Renunciates and the society established by the Free Amazons was remarkable for its time, as was way in which polygamy was regarded throughout the series. Her views on homosexuality and her willingness to write gay characters into the series was also almost revolutionary, although her depictions of gay men and relationships troubled me then and continue to trouble me. But that's for another essay, perhaps.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Classic Nancy Springer Fantasy

The Oddling Prince, by Nancy Springer (Tachyon Publications) is pure, classic Nancy Springer. In a faroff land, not unlike northern England, a king returns from a mysterious absence, wearing a magical ring that rapidly drains his life force. Just as he is about to perish, a young man appears, riding a steed of untamed light, and lifts the curse. The narrator, the king’s son and heir, befriends this stranger, his half-fae half-brother. But all is not well, as residual evil poisons the king’s mind and danger lurks just beyond the borders. Springer’s style sometimes reminds me of Tanith Lee, yet is completely her own. The love and fidelity of the two brothers, the steadfast discernment of the queen, the twists and turns and unexpected character developments, all kept me enchanted, page after page. Springer is in fine style!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Diana L. Paxson

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!

Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Diana L. Paxson: I first heard of the Darkover books when I discovered fandom in the mid-60s, became even more involved when Marion Zimmer Bradley admitted they were a series in the 70s and started using Darkover as a setting for some ground-breaking ideas.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?
DLP: I asked myself what Marion Zimmer Bradley would be writing about if she were here. I am sure she would have tackled trans-gender issues. My perspective might be different, but I am trying to push the envelope a little further as she would have done.

DJR: Is there another Darkover story you would particularly like to write?
DLP: I am happy for the opportunity to further develop the characters from my previous stories.

DJR: What have you written recently? What is your favorite of your published works and why?
DLP: Most recently, a non-fiction book on the Norse god Odin, and short stories for Lace and Blade and the Valdemar anthology. I am getting a new Westria novel ready for publication.
DJR: Hooray!

DJR: What lies ahead for you?
DLP: Non-fiction and fiction on Norse Pagan topics and on political magic, more novels if I have time.

DJR: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, Darkover, or life in general?
DLP:  Now that we are living in such “interesting times”, I think writers should seize the opportunity to use fiction to say what cannot be said (or will not be heard) in any other way.

Diana L. Paxson is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the books that continue Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series. She has also written eighty-six short stories, including appearances in most of Marion's Darkover anthologies. She is currently working on a novel about the first century German seeress, Veleda.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Guy Fawkes with Magic

Fawkes, A Novel by Nadine Brandes (Thomas Nelson)

This YA novel centers around two brilliant premises. The first is the setting, England on the eve of the Gunpowder Plot (1605) and the origin of Guy Fawkes Day. The second involves a fascinating new system of magic in which power arises from the various colors, focused by specially constructed masks, constructed by the practitioner’s same-sex parent. A third strength arises from the protagonist narrator, son of the conspirator Guy Fawkes, and his inner turmoil as he is drawn deeper and deeper into a plot to blow up King James I’s Parliament.

Therein, however, lie the book’s weaknesses. Few Americans, unless they are English History buffs, are familiar enough with the Gunpowder Treason Plot to appreciate the cultural, political, and legal aspects. The plot in the book follows the historical order fairly closely but not always in the most logical fashion. Magic is tacked on to historical events; practitioners use their powers only when they don’t change the way things really happened. But any world in which people wield those powers is going to operate very differently than ours, and that requires careful working through all the implications of those powers, of which I see little here.

The attempt to translate the historical Protestant-Catholic struggle into a battle between those who adhere to the color system (“Keepers”) and those devoted to the primal White Light (“Igniters”) is awkward and often confusing. The real struggle was based not only in religious dogma but in politics, arising from the establishment of the Church of England with King Henry VIII and consequent independence from Rome. Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter, did much to establish religious tolerance, although even her emphasis on secular loyalty could not eliminate the plots to restore a Catholic ruler. Without the context of the struggle, the rift between Keepers and Igniters, each hating the other for no apparent reason, come across as superficial. This is all the more so because for most of the story, I had trouble remembering which side was which. Everyone has access to the White Light (which is a snappy, smart-ass voice, quite apart from any references to direct experience of the divine, which also strikes me a reversal of the Catholic-Protestant quarrel). Anachronisms of speech and social attitude added to the confusion.

Besides the system of magic, this story includes a supernatural “Stone Plague” that infects the victim and gradually ossifies both skin and internal organs, resulting in death. Somehow Igniters have concluded that the plague is the fault of the Keepers and the only way to bring it to a halt is to slaughter all of them. Since no one offers any other explanation for how this fascinating disease works, and apparently the magical healers are just as ignorant and incurious, this persecution is arbitrary and baffling.

Despite its significant shortcomings, this novel has many appealing moments. If it sends readers to the history books to find out what really happened, or generates conversations about prejudice and religious persecution, so much the better.

The publisher asked that I include a disclaimer saying I'd received a complimentary review copy through NetGalley and my opinions do not represent theirs.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Evey Brett

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more! Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

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 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.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?

EB: Since I came awfully close to the deadline with my last Darkover story, I kept trying to think of a plot early on. I had a vague idea of someone with a number of gifts but in nearly useless amounts, but when I started writing there wasn’t really room for more than one gift. I did keep thinking of Allart Hastur from Stormqueen!, and how the multiple futures he saw kept getting in his way, so I went with a variation on that gift and figured out a plot from there.

I did ask Deborah what she thought of a couple ideas when I was partway through, and she gave me a couple ideas which helped tremendously, so I was able to finish this story with time to spare. It was also the only complete story I managed to finish in 2017, so I’m glad it was for a world I care so much about.

For me, it's actually easier for me to write stories within the limits of a particular world or theme, and I've been doing far better at selling stories for anthologies than I have at selling stand-alones. Limits, like historical or world-building details, actually seem to force a better story. I like puzzles and problem-solving, so figuring out how to make my own ideas work within certain limits is fun.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Magical Bookstore Tale from Connie Willis

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, by Connie Willis (Subterranean Press). 

This latest novella from SFWA Grand Master Connie Willis offers a new take on the “magical bookstore” story. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of wandering the aisles of the Library of Alexandria or discovering a manuscript of Shakespeare’s lost Cardenio? Or a store where we can find books so odd, so enchanting, that we can never return unchanged to our mundane lives? (Actually, one could argue that all bookstores and libraries do this.) One of my favorites is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, in which a boy is taken into a library and allowed to choose “his” book.

In her inimitable fashion, Willis draws us into a magical realm coexisting with the drab life of an author on a book tour in New York City. Tucked among the skyscraper office buildings, he stumbles upon a shop named, oddly, Ozymandias Books. Any student of high school English will recall the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal Wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.

Slowly the author is drawn into the store and its mysterious workings, discovering on its shelves more and more obscure works (including the aforementioned play attributed to Shakespeare). Even more puzzling is the way the books are arranged, not by author or subject but by the disaster that destroyed the last remaining copy…except the one he holds in his hands. (Nothing beside remains…)

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land is a delicious treat for readers and collectors, and a love song to those who treasure books.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Leslie Fish

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!  Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

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

Leslie Fish: I've been a Sci-Fi fan since I was a little kid.  I started on comic books, and learned early to recognize the difference the characteristic drawing styles of Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and Jack Davis.  I visited our local corner drugs/convenience/comics store at least once a week, and noticed when they started including magazines and then paperback books.  One day I picked up an Ace Double paperback with The Planet Savers on one side and The Sword of Aldones on the other -- and finished them both in a single week, and was forever hooked.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?

LF: The fascinating ecology and resulting society: at least 5 different intelligent species -- not counting the two immigration-waves of humans -- and how they interact, the politics of a psychic society, the endless mysteries of its history and future.  Wow!  Yes, you could spend a lifetime studying this intricate world.

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?

LF: I can see fans and authors exploring the details and mysteries of Darkover until...well, until we're out in the stars ourselves.  

The Darkover audience was originally romantic/adventuresome teenagers;  over the years it's grown to include not-just-young adults, and more thought-provoking tales than only romance and adventure;  people are exploring more widely the details and remote corners of this whole fascinating world, it's widely assorted peoples, and its history -- and future. 
I'd recommend that a beginner begin where I began -- with The Sword of Aldones, in whatever incarnation it's reached now.  I still think that's the core story of Darkover, and everything else branches out from there.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Detecting Fake Social Media, the Origin of the Dinosaurs, and Other Cool Science News

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beer-Sheva, Israel) and University of Washington (Seattle) researchers have developed a new generic method to detect fake accounts on most types of social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. According to a new study in Social Network Analysis and Mining, the new method is based on the assumption that fake accounts tend to establish improbable links to other users in the networks.The algorithm consists of two main iterations based on machine-learning algorithms. The first constructs a link prediction classifier that can estimate, with high accuracy, the probability of a link existing between two users. The second iteration generates a new set of meta-features based on the features created by the link prediction classifier. Lastly, the researchers used these meta-features and constructed a generic classifier that can detect fake profiles in a variety of online social networks.

Lead author Dr Massimo Bernardi, Curator at MUSE and Research associate at Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, said: "We were excited to see that the footprints and skeletons told the same story. We had been studying the footprints in the Dolomites for some time, and it's amazing how clear cut the change from 'no dinosaurs' to 'all dinosaurs' was."
The point of explosion of dinosaurs matches the end of the Carnian Pluvial Episode, a time when climates shuttled from dry to humid and back to dry again. There were massive eruptions in western Canada, represented today by the great Wrangellia basalts -- these drove bursts of global warming, acid rain, and killing on land and in the oceans.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured this photo while flying over the western United States. The wide field of view stretches from the Sierra Nevada of California to the Columbia Plateau of Oregon and the Snake River Valley of Idaho.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Two Delights from Kevin Hearne

In which I review two quite different pieces by versatile author Kevin Hearne

The Squirrel on the Train, by Kevin Hearne (Subterranean Press)

My introduction to Kevin Hearne’s work was Iron Druid, so I was delighted to discover that the dogs belonging to Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, or perhaps the other way around, he belonging to them, have their own adventures. This one begins with a train trip to Portland, during which the dogs are terribly upset because there is a squirrel (die, evil squirrel!) on top of the train. Atticus explains that the wind shear will cause the squirrel to jump off and when they arrive, squirrel in place, of course the dogs conclude that all natural order, including the laws of physics, will now be overturned. Their fears are confirmed when an Atticus look-alike is murdered, and so the chase is afoot. A-four paws, that is.

This utterly charming novella showcases Hearne’s skill at whimsical humor and his versatility as an author.

A Plague of Giants, by Kevin Hearne (Del Rey, 2017).

At some time in the past of this fantasy world, the balance of trade and power has been overturned through not one but two invasions of oversized warriors; one race being known to the others, quasi-Viking fire-wielders driven from their lands by a volcanic eruption. The second, strangers from over the sea, are mysterious and even more lethal. How these upheavals came about and were responded to is related in the present time through a bardic storyteller who assumes the likeness of various participants along the time line. In the present, we know that the giants have been defeated at a terrible cost, yet wounds remain unhealed and intrigues abound, threatening chaos.

This is a long, slowly-paced book that incorporates the stories of a large cast of characters from different cultures, much of it channeled through the central storyteller, with past and present timelines looping back on themselves. The world-building is amazing in itself, rich and complex, with each culture possessing its own form of magical gift (“kenning”) acquired through near-lethal trials. The individual stories are marvelous, the characters clearly distinct. My favorite is Abhinava Khose, born into a clan of plains hunters and unable to tell his family that not only does he never want to kill animals, but he is gay. He’s sensitive, compassionate, a natural leader, and unexpectedly courageous. The inner conflicts reflect and intensify the outer drama in his tale.

Read at a leisurely pace to savor the adventures of each person, the book is a delight. It’s not a tale to skim for “what happens next.” The ending is already established. However, that slowness, when combined with the length and complexity of the timelines, means it’s easy to get lost in the story of the moment and forget the multitude of details that have come before, to keep track of the cast of thousands and the sheer number of place names, group names, and so forth. In the ebook version I read, there are no maps or helpful lists, but there are series of charming portraits of important characters. Add to this the revelation that A Plague of Giants is only the first in a series means either loving the world so much you never want to leave it, or not experiencing the satisfaction of a complete story arc.

Kevin Hearne is an immensely capable author. A Plague of Giants and its subsequent volumes represents a highly ambitious project that I have no doubt he will carry on in a brilliant fashion. Besides the difficulties presented by the length and complexity of the book, I would have liked to spend more consecutive time with my favorite characters, each of whom surely deserves an entire book of his or her own.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Pat MacEwen

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!  Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Pat MacEwen: My introduction to science fiction happened in the back of a station wagon on a cross-country road trip when I was 13. An older cousin took pity on me, and gave me a box full of paperbacks to help me pass the time. That’s where I met up with Asimov, Doc Smith, Poul Anderson, Heinlein and more. Once home again, I began to explore the genre, and was delighted to encounter female authors as well, and books with strong female characters and story lines.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
PE: Darkover was a rarity then – a complicated world with a long history where women mattered quite as much as men, and which often explored nonbinary questions of sex and gender and family and inheritance, and of course laran. Like most writers, I was something of a misfit in high school, but here was a place where I could see myself fitting in, one way or another. I’m also strongly attracted to moral questions in story-telling and tales of Darkover often focus on intricate problems concerning what’s right and wrong in this setting, compared to Terran mores.

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?

PE: When I look at the various maps of Darkover, I have to wonder how so many different species of sapient and semi-sapient species developed within what is really very limited space. Then I think about laran, and the ancient strengths of the chieri, and wonder if it was always that way. Whether it will stay that way. Between Terran geoengineering and long-lost arts in controlling laran, what if there are sunken continents or ice-covered regions that were once inhabited and might be rediscovered? What secrets might be hidden by water and ice? Where did the Catmen and the Ya-men really come from? Are the chieri all done with their genetic engineering projects? Are they quietly reshaping humans? Toward what ends? What about those four moons? Are they really moons? All of them? Are there more chieri elsewhere?

As for an introduction to Darkover, my personal favorites are The Shattered Chain and Thendara House, but there’s a lot to be said for Stormqueen too, and Heritage of Hastur, The Alton Gift, and Sharra’s Exile.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?

PR: I have a background in forensics and physical anthropology, having worked as a CSI for a California police department, and for the International Criminal Tribunal during war crimes investigations in the Balkans. I do independent research on genocide, and one of the aspects I’ve studied is the occurrence of certain crimes and atrocities during genocidal campaigns that are not expressly forbidden by law. They are acts almost never encountered in the course of “normal” warfare, no matter how savage. They are not committed by ordinary criminals, or even by serial killers. In many cases, they are so rare that no one keeps statistics on their occurrence, making research on the topic rather difficult. We don’t bother to even keep track of these acts because we don’t make laws against the things people simply don’t do. But on Darkover, thanks to laran and certain environmental cues, like the Ghost Wind, there are some kinds of assault and of murder that can be committed, and aren’t on the books. So how do you investigate them? How do you even prove they’ve been committed, let alone who did it? Even when you’ve made your case, how can you obtain justice?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Another Novella Gem from Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric's Fox, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Subterranean Press)

I’ve loved Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods ever since I picked up a copy of The Curse of Chalion. This novella follows the adventures of a sorcerer-scholar (Penric) and his resident chaos demon (Desdemona) as they encounter a murder mystery. In this world, chaos demons bestow various powers upon their hosts and carry the personalities of those hosts as they shift from one to the other when each host dies. 

The mystery centers of the death of a sorceress and the absence of any trace of her demon, since no other human was nearby at the time of her passing. Where has the demon gone? Who killed the woman, and why? Where has the demon gone? (Yes, I know I asked that, but it's really, really important to not have a chaos demon either floating around or destroyed because it can't leap to a new host.)

Throw in a handful of utterly charming shamans, as well as other nicely depicted secondary characters, and the result is a delightful novella, just the right length to both savor the world and move the plot along nicely. When’s the next one coming out?

The usual disclaimer: This review arose from the gift of a complimentary review copy and nobody paid me to love the author's work because I already did. Are you happy, FCC?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.”

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Monday, April 9, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interviews: Jenna Rhodes

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!  Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

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

Jenna Rhodes: I met Marion Zimmer Bradley at a Westercon in northern California, while browsing the book dealer room. She indicated a selection of books and I looked them over, saying, “Oh, I don’t know her.” I did buy one or two paperbacks then and found out the next day I had been talking to the author.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?

JR: I always thought of Darkover as a challenging and intriguing world full of possibilities.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover 

JR: I’ve always been curious about the matrixes and how they live/function beyond the holder to which they’ve bonded. My story touches on that a little. How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination? If you are steeped in the books’ backstory, I think it’s easier to write stories that fill in the empty spots. Researching the canon is the challenge.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A New Take on Dorian Gray

Creatures of Will and Temper, by Molly Tanzer, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2017.

Part Victorian Gothic, part sword-swashing adventure, part witchcraft and part romance, this is a thoroughly delightful tale. With a nod here and there to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story concerns two sisters on a visit with their uncle in London. The older sister, Evadne Gray, loves fencing and the neighbor youth, but the latter has left her heart-broken by announcing his engagement to another. She’s in London as a diversion from her sorrow and also as chaperone for her vivacious, rebellious, artistic younger sister, Dorina Gray. Soon they’ve gone their own ways,  Dorina to the salon of Lady Henrietta Wotton and Evadne to study at a fencing academy. But matters are not all they seem, for in this world of Victorian high society, demons bargain with their human hosts in pacts ranging from benign to bloody.

This was my introduction to the work of Molly Tanzer but it won’t be my last. Besides the supernatural and mysterious, the depiction of a world of privilege and heartache, the story delves with sensitivity and insight into human relationships, thus setting it apart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Monday, April 2, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interviews: Robin Rowland

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!  Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: What about the world of Darkover drew you in?

Robin Rowland: I live in the mountainous coast of British Columbia, where we often experience what I like to call “Darkover weather.” This year winter started early, in mid-November. It started with rain, which changed to freezing rain, to wet snow to snow. One day we had 24 hours of heavy snow, followed again by sleet and then rain, and then another 24 hours of heavy snow. One day, I dug out my driveway four times, the next, the sun came out and it was warm and there was a heavy snow melt underway. Now in mid-January, we have had a lot less snow than usual, but over this weekend we had freezing rain that left layers of ice everywhere.

Many years ago Marion Zimmer Bradley told me in the Darkover Suite at Westercon that she was first inspired by the snow in upstate New York and later, in California, by the Sierras. Every science fiction fan brings their own experience to their enjoyment of stories. I grew up in Kitimat and retired here. In a local First Nations (Native Canadian) language Kitimat means “people of the snow. The valley at the end of an 80 kilometre fjord has a unique micro climate. Four times we’ve had a record one day snowfall for all of Canada. The weather can change to warm to wet in a half hour. Winters can see snow up to the roof of a typical Kitimat 1950s two story ranch style house or sometimes so little snow I only use a half bag of snow melter. Summers can either be dreary, overcast and wet or warm to very hot with the occasional drought. So for me, that unique micro climate of the Kitimat valley is perhaps the closest thing on Terra to Darkover.

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.

RR: My family moved to Toronto when I was fifteen. As my only income at the time was an allowance, I haunted a huge used book store in downtown Toronto called “Old Favourites” which had a large science fiction section. I bought Star of Danger, the boys were my own age and the description of Darkover made the planet sound like the home town I had just left. I kept buying Darkover books, first used and then when I got after school jobs, new releases from a variety store near my home which always stocked with a lot of science fiction in the late 1960s. What convinced me that I loved the planet was Darkover Landfall, which again, reminded me of Kitimat.

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?

RR: I'd always recommend Darkover Landfall as a starter for any one who wants to get into the series, it is a great introduction.

One factor that is emphasized in today's fiction overall, is that in a diverse society more readers have to see themselves in the stories.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Short Reviews: A New, Award-Worthy Novella from Juliette Wade

The Persistence of Blood, by Juliette Wade (Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 138, March 2018)

Juliette Wade’s newest novella, set in her underground world of Varin, begins with what must surely squick out a certain percentage of male readers: a woman beginning her menstrual flow. But this is Varin, not Earth, and everything that looks familiar runs orthogonal to our expectations. The plight of Lady Selemei, who has now recovered sufficiently from her last, near-fatal childbirth to become pregnant again, must be understood in light of her technologically advanced yet highly stratified cavern-dwelling society. She is not a 21st Century Earth woman, and yet her situation must surely resonate with every woman who has thought for a heart-stopping moment that she might have an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

Selemei has few choices in the matter: forbidden to use or even possess information about contraception, and expected to churn out baby after baby for her caste in the hope that some of them might be healthy enough to survive, it seems her fate is sealed. If this description evokes of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the resonances are deep rather than superficial. Selemei’s husband truly loves her, and the couple enjoys a rich and satisfying sexual relationship. She is not disposable in his eyes, or in her own. Celibacy to preserve her life is a an unappealing option. The two of them concoct a strategy to challenge the laws regarding contraception for their caste, within the limited circumstance of risk to the mother’s life. While insufficient in 21st Century terms, this represents a historic break with Varin tradition, certain to provoke fierce resistance. Whether in the chambers of the ruling council or a tea party for aristocratic ladies, or the simple fact that she cannot walk unaided, Selemei faces daunting obstacles.

The story’s strengths rely on the nuanced portrayal of the characters and the subtleties of their distinct, sometimes alien cultural context. In this sense, Selemei’s dilemma is not that of the Handmaids in Atwood’s tale or poor women throughout the world who lack affordable, effective birth control. It’s as much a love story as it is a political narrative. Never preachy, Wade invites the reader to draw conclusions not by diatribe but by following Selemei’s emotional journey. Courage comes in many different forms.

The painting is "Anxiety" by Edvard Munch.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Monday, March 26, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Marella Sands

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, 
love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more! Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: What are you working on today?

Marella Sands:  I should be working on the next chapter of a novel I am writing with fellow author Mark Sumner. However, I'm kind of stuck in a place where I've got one character in a concentration camp, and another just outside the gate, and somehow they have to communicate enough to manage a rescue without much in the way of resources or backup. Thus, it seems like a good time to answer author interview questions. It's also laundry day and that's currently sitting on the bed in a pile waiting for me. So, you know, priorities.

DJR: What was your first novel-writing attempt like?

MS: Awful. I had no idea how to write a novel or structure a long story, and writing is a lot of work, which I didn't quite realize at the time. So I'd write a little every now and then when it seemed like fun. Needless to say, I didn't get more than five or six chapters in. I tried again a few years later and the same thing happened. I had to join a writers group where others were producing book-length manuscripts before I started to figure out how to do it and had people to ask questions of (this was in the pre-internet, pre-email era).

DJR: What was your first successful novel-writing experience like?

MS: When I finally realized how much slogging was involved in getting out a book, I started writing every evening after work from about 6:30-9:00. It still took me months to get the first draft out, but at least I got to the end. And then I got the joy of realizing how much MORE slogging was involved in getting draft #2 ready. What sane person does this to themselves? Since I'm still doing it 30 years later, my sanity is clearly in question.

DJR: Is there a Darkover story that has eluded you so far?

MS: I want to write a story about the origin of the clouds in the Lake of Hali. At least, with "The Song of Star Girl," the characters visit the future location of the lake. But I still don't really know what story to pair up with that idea. I also like a line from "The Forbidden Tower" where someone says that, in the ancient days, the matrices were used to summon all kinds of monsters from other dimensions. I think a monster story could be exciting. Maybe some kind of wiggly tentacled semi-Lovecraftian thing could ooze out of the Lake of Hali after being called forth by a powerful matrix and an unscrupulous Keeper.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Superb New Single-Author Collections: Walton, Beagle, Yolen, Rowe

I’m delighted to see the single author collection returning as a literary form, for it’s immensely easier, not to mention more satisfying, to find if not all then surely the best of an author’s short fiction output all in one place. Here are four luminous examples:

Starlings, by Jo Walton

Jo Walton is not only an amazing novelist, but she is an accomplished poet. I’m always in awe of writers who can do both well. I settle into writing a novel with ease, but whenever I need a poem or song lyrics, it’s like pulling hen’s teeth for me to create anything serviceable. Yet poetry seems to flow from Walton with ease, if the poems she has posted on her LiveJournal are an example.  Starlings offers both, plus the script of a hilarious play, Three Shouts on a Hill.

One of the many things I loved about this collection was Walton’s comments on the process of writing short fiction (as opposed to longer-form novels). It’s been said that novels teach us what to put in a story and short stories teach us what to take out. Short stories are not truncated novels, at least not good ones, ones that work. They’re like tiny gems, focused and spare. In and out, nailing the ending. Not surprisingly, Walton’s short stories are as personal as her other work. Deceptively subtle, they evoke depths of connection and emotional impact.

This book would make a wonderful gift for someone you care for, someone who would love words like this:

Hades and Persephone
You bring the light clasped around you,
and although
I knew you’d bring it, knew it as I waited,
Knew as you’d come that you’d come cloaked in light
I had forgotten what light meant, and so
This longed for moment, so anticipated,
I stand still, dazzled by my own delight.

The Overneath, by Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon)

My children introduced me to the works of Peter S. Beagle through, of course, The Last Unicorn. I proceeded to delve into his other work (A Fine and Private Place, and so forth), and had the opportunity to “talk shop” with him on the lawn outside the reception at one World Fantasy Convention. Over the years, I’ve come across his wonderful short fiction, most notably a story in which the late, much missed Avram Davidson takes the author for a wild and woolly chase through alternate dimensions (the “overneath” of the title).

Over the decades, unicorns have populated Beagle’s stories. I reviewed his novella, In Calabria, here. The Overneath features a number of different traditional versions, including a dangerously nasty Persian beastie. The tales range from sweetly romantic to surreal to horrific (a spine-chilling aquarium), all expertly crafted with wonderful characters and powerful authorial voice. 

The Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen (Tachyon)

I’m not sure what I can say by way of introduction to Jane Yolen, recipient of SFWA’s Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, as well as uncounted other awards, that has not already been said. My children grew up on Sleeping Ugly, Owl Moon, and Commander Toad in Space, and I came of age as a writer with Sister Light, Sister Dark, Briar Rose, and The Devil’s Arithmetic.  

This current collection, the latest of many, showcases Yolen’s brilliant capacity for taking characters and situations, even worlds, and turning them literarily on their heads. Whether it’s Emily Dickinson sailing away on a starship made of light or Wendy organizing a labor strike in Neverland, or the real story of Disraeli and Queen Victoria, Yolen twists the old tales in innovative, delightful ways. I look forward to many more of her stories, short and long.

Telling the Map, by Christopher Row (Small Beer Press) 

This collection of loosely related short pieces follows the deterioration and transformation of society over time and environmental collapse. The farther from the present, the weirder and more wildly imaginative the technology and society. Most have been previously published, but the final one is original.

Although my favorite story was the first, “The Contrary Gardener,” as much about free will as agriculture, I loved this passage from “The Voluntary State,” which captures much of the sensibility of the collection:

But today, after his struggle up the trail from the each, he saw that his car had been attacked. The driver’s side window had been kicked in. 
Soma dropped his pack and rushed to his car’s side. The car shied away from him, backed to the limit of its tether before it recognized him and turned, let out a low, pitiful moan. 
“Oh, car,” said Soma, stroking the roof and opening the passenger door, “oh, car, you’re hurt.” Then Soma was rummaging through the emergency kit, tossing aside flares and bandages, finally, finally finding the glass salve.

Rowe’s beautifully crafted, emotionally literate stories are worthy of re-reading and savoring.