Friday, August 31, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Magical Stitchery

Torn, by Rowenna Miller (Orbit)

In a land and time not too distant from our own Western European late 17th Century, first-generation immigrant Sophie is at last achieving her dream and pulling herself out of poverty. She’s managed to get a license to operate her dressmaking shop and even hire a couple of assistants. It’s enough to not only support her but to help her brother, Kristos, a day laborer who also has a dream: achieving fair working conditions for his comrades. But Sophie is no ordinary seamstress: she has a flair for design, and she’s inherited her mother’s magical gifts. For special projects for special patrons, she stitches in spells of love, of protection, of luck. Her upward mobility blinds her to the nativism and bigotry that give rise to endemic social and economic injustice. Just as Sophie gets her big break, creating spell-stitched garments for the aristocracy, the workers’ revolution begins to heat up. Initially nonviolent, the protests become increasingly confrontational -- and deadly -- under the direction of a mysterious leader, an academic who himself has foreign roots and who has an agenda of his own…and a use for Sophie’s special talents.

Sophie is an interesting character, and we see her changing world through the lens of her own frantic attempts at head-in-the-sand neutrality. In times of upheaval, those who have scratched together a little are even more desperate to hold on to it than those who have nothing. It would be easy to portray the workers’ movement as ill-conceived and naïve, playing into the hands of an unscrupulous, power-hungry manipulator. Certainly, from Sophie’s vantage, the revolution lurches from one fulminating disaster to another, and if the leaders would just go home and let her continue in her business-as-usual, that would be fine with her. In some ways, the noble ladies who include her in their salons are more politically astute, and more aware of how unstable their society has become. For this very reason, telling the story from Sophie’s viewpoint highlights the hypocrisies on all sides, for she is both an innocent victim caught in the cross-fire and complicit in the maintenance of an oppressive regime. Yet if bloody upheaval comes at too great a cost, what is a better path forward? Our world has yet to figure that out. Perhaps, as this series unfolds, Sophie’s world will.

The verdict: Surprisingly deep socially aware fantasy, plus a very cool magical system.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

Short Book Reviews: World-Hopping Middle Grade Adventures to Delight the Parents, too

Unwritten, by Tara Gilboy (Jolly Fish Press) 

A story in which a character finds her way into the world of a book has enduring appeal, and I’m at the front of the line to read such adventures to my favorite imaginary places. So when I read the description of a story in which our young heroine escapes from the world of a book into our own, I was intrigued. Unwritten fulfills the promise of its premise with quirky, immediately sympathetic people whose personalities warp and evolve as they are revealed through the plot. Gracie and her (single, waitress) mother are exiles from a storybook world in which, Gracie has always been told, she dies. Our ordinary world is the only place they’re safe from the evil queen. They keep their heads down, trying to not attract any attention that might draw the queen to them.

When the author of the book comes to town to do a bookstore signing, Gracie defies her mother and sneaks into the store to find out more about her own story. “I don’t know,” says the author, “that book never worked, so I threw away the manuscript.”

A series of mishaps, catalyzed by Gracie’s act of rebellion, catapult her, her mother, the man who might be her deadbeat father, and her best friend and his parents, along with the author, into the storybook world. Just as she was warned, the story itself begins shaping each character according to how she has been written. Despite her best intentions, Gracie finds herself acting out her own plot line, not as the tragic victim but as the villain.

The way the book played with subjective versus consensus reality, not to mention a plot paced briskly enough to hold the attention of younger readers, was enough to carry me along, through twists and turns, star-crossed love stories, and questions about how much control any of us have over our destiny. Although it’s marketed as Middle Grade (Gracie is 12), it’s a fine, fast read for fantasy lovers of any age.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it.

An unusual disclaimer: Rumor has it that the author will be making a blog tour for her next book, including a guest appearance here. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cover Reveal: Lace and Blade 5

Lace and Blade 5, an anthology of elegant, witty, romantic fantasy, will be released on Valentine's Day 2019. The Table of Contents is here. And here is the gorgeous cover, trade papberback print version, designed by Dave Smeds:

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Where's Deborah?

With Cliff Winnig at BayCon
I haven't been posting as frequently as I once did, but for the next few days I'll be even scarcer around here. I'm finishing up the second pass of the next Darkover novel, The Laran Gambit, before I meet with my NY editor this weekend.

If you're attending WorldCon, please stop by my KaffeeKlatch (Sat 5-6 pm 211B1 (San Jose Convention Center)) or my autographing (Sunday 12-1 -- I'll have print copies of Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel for sale, and free book plates). If not, have a grand weekend anyway and I'll see you once I come up for air!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Today's Moment of Art

Clark Hulings (1922-2011); Flower Market, Aix-en-Provence

Monday, August 13, 2018

Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel – A Journey into Print

I am what’s called a slow adopter of technology. I’m not the draggiest of the late-comers, but I am a far cry from the cadre of those eager to try out all things shiny and new, especially electronic gadgets. I got dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of cellphones when my tempestuous younger daughter started community college and for various reasons it was important that she be able to contact me in a speedy fashion (and vice versa, although less crucial). We tromped down to the physical store and came away with a pair of stupidphones, sequential phone numbers, and a family service plan. Needless to say, one of the first things she did when she was on her own was to get a smartphone with a new number. My stupidphone lasted almost another decade, when I broke down and joined the app-generation. (I am gradually learning new things to do with my device, although I keep leaving it at home or forgetting to charge it, which tells you how important it is to me on most days.)

My relationship with e-readers followed somewhat the same path. I kept having the thought that one would be handy but there wasn’t money in the budget for it (and it wasn’t high enough priority to shove other things lower on the list – I had plenty of paper books to read, after all). That same daughter, now in college, passed on her very-early-version Kindle to me, and I loaded up a bunch of BVC editions and jumped in. I took that Kindle with me while taking care of a friend in the final months of her life. Being able to carry around an entire library in an object the size of a thin paperback opened up a new world for me. Now I tuck my much newer e-reader into my purse whenever I expect to have to wait, and I get a lot of reading done that way.

In these two examples, I was the consumer, the recipient of technology or technological products. As a professional writer, though, I have learned how to actively use this technology. I came of age as a writer long before electronic publishing appeared on the horizon. My first sales, in the early 1980s, were to print markets, mostly mass market books, anthologies, and magazines. Vanity presses existed but were not to be considered by any serious author (money flows to the author, remember?) Fans produced various ‘zines, using mimeograph or ditto machines. Eventually publishing shifted from print-only to the digital era. For a time, neither publishers nor agents considered how to treat royalties for sales of electronic copies, but eventually terms that were more fair to authors became the standard. I watched and tried to stay informed. Then I found myself in the same state as many authors: I had a growing list of out-of-print novels and an even longer list of stories in out-of-print anthologies and magazines.

Enter Book View Café.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Encrypted Blood

Implanted, by Lauren C. Teffeau (Angry Robot)

This dystopic YA novel revolves around several nifty premises: the Earth has been so polluted that the majority humans survive only in domed cities, while efforts are underway to ameliorate the toxins and re-establish a viable ecology; the dome cities are stratified, with the rich elite living on the topmost levels, with access to greenery and sunlight, while the poor scrabble for a living in the “Terrestrial” slums; brain implants that permit direct mind-to-mind communication as well as social media are near-universal and because of this, data is highly insecure, so... sensitive material gets encoded in the blood cells of specially trained couriers who physically transport it from sender to 
recipient. That’s only the setting.

The plot itself draws together a variety of threads. The heroine, Emery, comes from a lower level and has worked her way to better prospects. She’s been on a crusade that’s pit her skills against the thieves who rip implants from the skulls of their victims. She’s also become romantically entangled with a fellow gamer, although they’ve never met in person and she doesn’t even know his real name. As for the agency that recruits her to carry encrypted data in her blood, she uncovers plots within plots as New Worth (the city built on the ruins of Ft. Worth, Texas) stumbles toward “Emergence” into the supposedly restored outer world.

The setting, main character, and evolving action were absorbing enough to keep me reading for most of the book, but toward the end I had problems with the lack of focus. It seemed to me that the book couldn’t decide what it was about, and my attention kept being pulled in different directions: ecological disaster story? Romance? Techno-spy thriller? Victim seeking revenge? “Betrayal and reconciliation”? Other readers might feel differently. The book certainly stands out for creativity of conception and narrative voice. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the author’s next adventure.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Friday, August 3, 2018

Short Book Reviews: The Last Man Alive

Relic, by Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey)

In the far future, humanity has managed to wipe itself out not only on Earth but on every other colonized planet. So far as he knows, Ruslan is the last human in existence. He’s not alone, though. A race of benign (seeming?) aliens, the Myssari, have taken him under their care. Their goal is to use his cells to clone a new generation of humans, thereby extending their knowledge of sapient races. His price for participating: their help in rediscovering Earth, birthplace of humanity. Of course, things go wrong, among them the appearance of a rival alien race who also want to form an alliance with him. And various other things that fall under the “spoiler” category.

This sounds like pure, classical Alan Dean Foster, full of action and imagination.  Alas, that is not the experience I had reading this book. I’ve loved Foster’s work for decades, and I don’t know if he ran out of ideas, got sedate in his prose, or simply tried something more thoughtful, but the result was a soporific, meandering narrative punctuated here and there with a bit of suspense or action. (I highly recommend it for insomniacs.) It felt like a perfectly respectable piece of short fiction padded out to novel length with emotionally distant, almost Victorian prose.

Here’s an example:
He had no doubt that the dedicated if diffident Wol’daeen and her colleagues would try their utmost to successfully revive some of the other cold-stored humans. It would be a scientific triumph for them if they could do so. But having seen what he had seen and heard what he had heard, he was not sanguine.
The ratio of prose to passage of time in the story varies from plodding and repetitious to the whiplash feeling that all the interesting parts got skimmed over and it’s months or years later.

In the end, the story elements came together well. I would expect no less from an author as seasoned as Foster, but on the whole I found it neither absorbing nor satisfying. Which was a pity, because I'd been so excited to read it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New Paperback: Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel

I have now embarked upon the wonderful and terrifying world of Print On Demand. My first project is a print edition of my collection of short fantasy fiction, Pearls of Fire, Dreams of Steel, that spans my literary career from my earliest sales to more recent work. It's been available as an ebook for awhile, but now is in tangible, hold-able, sleep-with-it-under-your-pillow form.

And, need I say so, it's gorgeous. Both the wrap-around cover designed by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff from an initial design by Amy Sterling Casil, and the amazing interior formatting and designs by Marissa Doyle make the physical book a delight.

It's available nowat Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the usual suspects, plus will be orderable by your local brick-and-mortar local bookstore through Ingram. Only $12.99 for right now.

The Table of Contents:

Bread and Arrows
A Hunter of the Celadon Plains
Storm God
Nor Iron Bars
Poisoned Dreams
The Sorceress’s Apprentice
Under the Skin
Our Lady of the Toads
Pearl of Fire
Pearl of Tears
Dragon Amber
The Casket of Brass
The Hero of Abarxia