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 CafĂ© 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 Listening to authors read their work, sometimes work in progress or yet unpublished, is a special treat.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?

“A wild and woolly journey through time and space that contains enough imagination and plotting for an entire shelf of books.”
“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.