Friday, June 30, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Motorcycle Gangs on Dune

Hunger Makes the Wolf, by Alex Wells (Angry Robot, 2017). A colleague described this book as “Mad Max Meets Dune.” I’d amend that to “Mad Max: Fury Road Meets Dune,” because yes, there are wild motorcycle gangs, and yes, it’s set on a planet hauntingly reminiscent of Arrakis (spice mining and all), but what sets this apart is its heroine. Hob begins as one of many castaways who find their place in the mostly-lawless gangs. Like the gang’s leader, she has an ability that might be thought magical: she can generate fire from her fingertips. Not only that, she’s bold and just about fearless, and doesn’t take guff from anyone. She’s been slowly working her way back up the ranks after a near-disastrous lapse in judgment when the mining conglomerate that essentially rules the planet begins taking an unhealthy interest in its local inhabitants – and Hob. Working conditions for the miners and farmers become increasingly oppressive as the megacorp, TriRift, tightens its grip. Any attempt to emigrate to a more hospitable world leads to seizure and secret imprisonment, while TriRift scientists attempt to unravel the changes every inhabitant of the planet manifests. One of those being held and experimented on is Hob’s dearest friend. The plot moves briskly along, from one twist to the next, with nifty revelations at every turn and tension escalating to a satisfying climax. Once I got past the resemblance with other books I’d read, which took about two pages, I enjoyed this action adventure thoroughly.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Seichi Journals: Hitting a Wall

Seichi at the dog park
Sometimes we embark upon a new adventure with all the good will and skill in the world, and it just doesn't work out. The time may be wrong, or the clash of personalities may be overwhelming, or unforeseen, insurmountable problems may arise. This is as true for adopting a pet as for marriage, employment, or any of a host of other life changes.

When last I wrote, we had adopted Seichi, a 4 year old German Shepherd Dog, likely purebred, from a local shelter. She was young and bouncy, but intelligent and eager to please. She'd just been spayed, too. For the first few days, Seichi was subdued. Then both the delightful and exasperating aspects of her personality began to emerge. Playfulness, yes. Smarts by the bushel. House manners... not so much.

Very shortly, we realized she wasn't potty trained. Three accidents (all on carpets that now must be professionally cleaned) later, we embarked upon a puppy protocol. Seichi, to her credit, got with the program very fast and had no more accidents. Meanwhile, it was bare floors and gates all around.

The real deal-breaker came when we had to admit she was not only not cat-safe, she wasn't cat-workable (the difference is whether the dog can learn to leave indoor cats alone). We set up our usual procedures for introducing her to the house and the cats (initially behind closed doors, then her in crate/cats loose, then baby gate barricades so they could gradually smell and see one another, then supervised cat-on-tree approaches. At first, all seemed to be going well. The various species sniffed where the other had been and regarded each other curiously from a distance. We put Shakir up on the cat tree, out of reach, and let Seichi approach. A little hissing ensued. Seichi's response -- to continue to stare, which is threatening in both cat-speak and dog-speak -- clued us that she had not had previous experience living with cats. We kept an eye on them to see if they'd work it out. Several things emerged: one was that Seichi continued predatory behavior even when Shakir was giving very clear "back-off" signals (growling, yowling, hissing, pupils dilated, ears flattened). If he swiped at her with claws extended, she'd jump away, but then come right back. Worse yet was that any movement on his part would engage her prey drive.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lace and Blade 4 Table of Contents

My editorial career began a decade ago when Vera Nazarian, having founded Norilana Books (in 2006) asked me if I'd ever considered editing. Like many other writers, I often wondered what it was like "on the other side of the desk," both in terms of the choice of stories and their evolution into final form. I have had the honor to work with many fine editors; I knew just how helpful a sympathetic and insightful editor can be in bringing out the best in a story. In other words, an editor is -- or can be, if allowed to edit and not simply push numbers around for a multinational conglomerate ‑‑ a story midwife. I also have strong ideas of what works for me in a story, what touches my heart and stirs my spirit. I want to read stories that expand my horizons, that enrich my experience of being human, that evoke a larger sense of community. Vera suggested several themes, including one she coined ("lace and blade," a type of romantic, elegant, swashbuckling sword and sorcery -- think Zorro with magic). She'd also begun working with Tanith Lee to bring out her backlist, and Tanith had agreed to send a story for the anthology

How could I let such an opportunity pass?

Norilana published 2 volumes of Lace and Blade, which not only received wonderful reviews but individual stories made the Nebula Final Ballot and inclusion in "Year's Best" anthologies. The third volume got re-titled something else. After many years and a series of complicated changes, the series found a new home with the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust (which had also inherited publication of the Sword and Sorceress series that Norilana had taken over after DAW decided not to continue it after Marion's death -- see what I mean about complicated changes!) Now we're back in action, with an amazing, breath-taking lineup. 

Here's what you can look forward to: 

 “At the Sign of the Crow and Quill,” by Marie Brennan
“On the Peacock Path,” by Judith Tarr
“Sunset Games,” by Robin Wayne Bailey
“Sorcery of the Heart,” by Lawrence Watt-Evans
“The Butcher’s Boy and the Piri Folk,” by Pat MacEwen
“Gifts Tell Truth,” by Heather Rose Jones
“A Sword for Liberty,” by Diana L. Paxson
“Hearts of Broken Glass,” by Rosemary Edghill
“The Game of Lions,” by Marella Sands
“The Sharpest Cut,” by Doranna Durgin
“Pawn’s Queen,” by India Edghill
“The Heart’s Coda,” by Carol Berg
“The Wind’s Kiss,” by Dave Smeds

The anthology will be released Valentine's Day (of course!) 2018.

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.