Friday, July 23, 2021

Book Reviews: Superb Sea-Faring Fantasy

In this highly original, vividly depicted world, ships powered by magical flames sail across an ocean of exotic grasses. Crews harvest the lucrative psychoactive plants, although the area around the principal island has been growing increasingly barren of such prizes. A mob boss is gradually taking control of the free ships by rationing their access to drinking water, a vanishingly rare resource. The Forever Sea presents its own dangers. Pirates sail the grasses, of course. Exceptionally nasty ones, who slaughter vanquished captains for their bones to fuel the flames. Below the surface, dragons lurk, as well as even more fantastically gruesome, lethal creatures. For any ship that can reach it, the legendary Once City beckons.

Into this world comes Kindred, a young hearthfire keeper with a rare, intuitive gift for singing to the flames. Granddaughter to a legendary captain, Kindred struggles against both the ordinary dangers of the Forever Sea and the restrictions of the hearthfire keeper academy. To make matters worse, her grandmother has disappeared, leaving cryptic messages about the world beneath the surface of the sea. Kindred’s voyage will test her loyalty to her ship, captain, and crewmates, against the longing of her heart to follow in her grandmother’s path.

This is a huge, gorgeous story. The world-building is highly original and filled with brilliant details. The characters have depth and complexity, and most of all, heart. Their choices – loyalty to the ship, to each other, to themselves – their mistakes and losses and triumphs, their loves and grudges, all exemplify what it is to be human. At times the narrative read like prose poetry, and I had to slow down to savor it.

Superb storytelling in a brilliantly original world with memorable characters make The Forever Sea a stand-out.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Interview!

 I was interviewed by NF Reads. Here's a sample:

# How do you deal with creative block?

For a long time, I used to joke that I couldn’t afford writer’s block. I began writing professionally when my first child was a baby and I learned to use very small amounts of time. This involved “pre-writing,” going over the next scene in my mind (while doing stuff like washing the dishes) until I knew exactly how I wanted it to go; when I’d get a few minutes at the typewriter (no home computers yet), I’d write like mad. I always had a backlog of scenes and stories and whole books, screaming at me to be written. The bottleneck was the time in which to work on them. Now I understand that it is indeed possible to run into a brick wall, creatively speaking. This usually means there is an issue in my set-up or I need more time to mull over a problem that just under the surface. In all of these cases, the best thing I can do is to write something else: a journal, poetry (I’m a terrible poet), blog posts, something hideously self-indulgent and unpublishable, letters, shopping lists…the point is to keep the words flowing while the “back” part of my mind sorts things out.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, July 19, 2021

“Plain Speech” and Spiritual Intimacy in The Seven-Petaled Shield

One of the aspects of world-building that I most enjoy is creating religious and spiritual traditions. Each of the cultures in The  Seven-Petaled Shield conceptualizes the relationship between human and spirit in a different way. On the vast Azkhantian steppe, the nomads live in harmony with the seasons. They depend on their flocks and particularly their fast, agile horses not only for sustenance but defense. Their primary deity is, of course, Mother of Horses. By contrast, Meklavar is an city-state with an ancient tradition of written scripture; its religion is monotheistic and non-gendered (the Source of Blessings is never referred to as He or She); literacy is highly valued as a way of preserving the cultural and religious heritage. 

Gelon is a nation of scientists, empire-builders, and cultural magpies, freely appropriating what they deem worthy from the cultures they conquer. It seemed logical to me that their formal religion would include a pantheon of gods. People would worship different gods according to their status (King’s-god), occupation (One Who Blesses Commerce, Guardian of Flocks, Protector of Soldiers), personal concerns (Source of Fertility, Bringer of Sleep), idealism and aspiration (Essence of Beauty, Giver of Justice), or solace (God of Forgotten Hopes, Sower of Mischief, Kindler of Hearts). Many of these are embodiments or aspects of historical gods – Essence of Beauty is surely the Gelonian version of Venus or Aphrodite. 

Some of these gods are lofty, looking down on the plight of their human devotees with indifference. But others are more friendly and accessible, attending to everyday domestic affairs and not the fate of the world. In designing the Gelonian pantheon, I wanted the qualities of nurture and compassion to be present in a variety of forms, but I also wanted a specific deity who embodied these characteristics. I took my inspiration from a variety of sources – the Buddhist Kwan Yin, Mary in the Christian tradition, and the Shechinah or feminine aspect of the Jewish god. It seemed logical that a system as varied as the Gelonian pantheon would include such a figure, so I called her the Lady of Mercy.

While most of the other Gelonian sects provide background (with the notable exception of that belonging the Scorpion god, Qr, which has been appropriated by the awakening Fire and Ice), the followers of the Lady of Mercy play an active role in the beginning of The Heir of Khored (the third book of The Seven-Petaled Shield). I wanted to also take this opportunity to show positive aspects of Gelon – the people of goodwill and kindness who are to be found in every society. One important aspect was the ability to treat every person compassionately. Not just sympathetically, but as one divine creation to another. In Hinduism, one might greet another by saying Namaste, "The divine (or light) within me salutes the divine within you.” In Western terms, Martin Buber described this relationship as “I-Thou.”

Friday, July 16, 2021

Short Book Reviews: Romantic Military Science Fiction

The Rush's Edge, by Ginger Smith (Angry Robot)

Is there such a thing as romantic military science fiction? If not, Ginger Smith is inventing the field. In this dystopic, far-flung star empire, human soldiers are too costly to waste in battle, so technologically enhanced vat-grown troops have become the era’s cannon fodder. With accelerated growth, limited life expectancy, and nearly unbreakable psychological conditioning, they’re considered expendable during their term of service and disposable afterward. One such retired vat soldier, Hal, has found sanctuary in a salvage ship captained by his former CO, Ty. Hal, like other vats, is addicted to the overwhelming adrenaline rush of combat, which will rapidly burn him out, but Ty has been able to talk him down from the worst episodes. Into this tight ship family comes Vivi, a young tech expert fleeing an abusive relationship. As her mind and body heal, she and Hal grow closer, although Hal is still subject to being triggered into the “rush,” and each bout shortens his already fast-shrinking span. Various adventures ensue, pitting this small crew against the Coalition Powers That Be (and their fear of the growing power of vat-grown soldiers). The gradually developing love story is interwoven throughout, neither hijacking the action nor feeling like a pasted-on element. It’s integral to how humans bond to another, how trust and devotion not only heal the past but form the foundation of hope. It’s a lovely tale, at times page-turning drama, at times heartfelt, always reflecting what makes a person and what are the limits of personal autonomy.