The Sea Thy Mistress, by Elizabeth Bear
The Human Division, by John Scalzi
An enjoyable return to the Old Man’s War universe
A Memory of Light, by Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan
Breakdown, By Katherine Amt Hanna
Less action hero-y and more introspective look at how people might really act in a post-apocalyptic world.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by Tad Williams
Noir with angels.
The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson
Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear
The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert V. S. Redick
I picked this one up on the freebie table at World Fantasy Convention and now I think I’ll be picking up the rest of the series at my bookstore. Sailing oriented high fantasy series.
Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos
Mil-SF with bite. Well-paced read. Looking forward to the next book in the series.
Finder, by Terri-Lynne DeFino
Original fantasy exploring racial and slavery issues.
By The Mountain Bound, by Elizabeth Bear
Chang Terhune has one of the more different takes on writing a novel, in particular, tackling the story out of order. This one’s for all those people out there whose moms told them they were getting too old to play with action figures.
Chang: It’s all because I played with action figures until I was 16. Right up until I discovered that girls were not particularly sexually motivated by this.
The toys went away into the attic but I never lost the storytelling I learned in play; long, involved stories, fantastic space operas involving a combination of Micronauts, Fisher-Price Adventure People, GI Joe and Star Wars figures. Stories were woven from Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien and a steady diet of TV.
I pursued the affections of the ladies with varying degrees of success (finally caught one that didn’t mind the action figures 20 years later). But I never stopped loving science fiction nor what the toys inspired in me: story. Over a period of two decades — the Lost Years is what I call the period when I either wrote bad angsty white guy fiction or stopped writing all together — I never stopped thinking about those action figures.
In the early 2000’s, via Ebay, I was reunited with the toys of old and displayed them on shelves in my office. I’d gaze at them while I was working and daydream. At some point I felt a story bubbling up from them. This led to me beginning my first novel in almost ten years.
I continued to pursue an idea: a robot, alone on a spacecraft in the depths of space.
Why was it there?
What was its purpose?
Where was it going?
Eventually the story shifted to a crashed ship the robot served on and then the story of the crash’s effect on the crew. I thought I might tell the story through staged photos of my favorite Fisher Price Adventure People, which have a certain generic appearance that lent themselves well to one’s imagination at age 8 or 38.
I thought the best point of view was the captain’s, in a log format. This was the first version of what would eventually become Harvestman. It had a lot of problems and like any first effort born of mad science and untuned genius, it wobbled, smelled bad, was rotten, walked funny and generally survived only in the mind of its creator.
I knew my baby had problems. But it was my first book in almost ten years!
So I worked Harvestman over for a year or two until I thought it was ready then I let my friend Mary read it. Later she sat me down at a cafe and told me… It didn’t work. An epistolary novel is rather hard to pull off especially as a first novel.
And if it didn’t work for someone like Mary, a lifelong reader of SF, then who else would it work for? We were the target audience! I was disappointed but took her words to heart.
And didn’t touch the book for two weeks.
I remember spending a lot of time fuming in fact. Then one rainy day I went into my basement office and sat down at the keyboard. I rewrote the first chapter in just about one sitting, looked at it then swore loudly. Mary was right: it worked better as a prose novel. Damn. So I set about writing the novel over again and it eventually became a much, much better story.
Other things happened to it along the way.
For one thing in the earlier versions the captain was always a little too earnest, a little too lantern jawed hero. That had to go. The more I thought the more I realized that he needed some problems. He had nothing to fight for, nothing to lose. I’m not sure how I came to seeing him as alcoholic but it may have been from my own battles with addictions. I worked hard to transform him from a lame Kirk pastiche or Capt. Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. Well, it worked. Over time he turned into Leonardo Valencia; alcoholic, adulterer and former decorated hero. Also black. Because otherwise he’d be too much like me. Ahem.
Then there were the Martians. In creating a group so isolated and weird I had to look no further than at the freak show that is North Korea (Kim Jong Il and his father were both huge science fiction fans, incidentally). Those who read Harvestman and its sequel will get a glimpse into the high weirdness of the Red Planet and just why they got so crazy and insular.
Then there is the matter of the largest but invisible characters of the book and that is the Transparent Ones (for whom the series is named). Two things contributed majorly to their development. One is a line from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “2001” from the movie of the same name, obviously. He says famously little about the beings that built the monument only that at some point they lost their flesh and blood bodies, then became biomechanical then simply beings of pure thought or energy. That stuck with me for ages.
The other thing was an email conversation I had with Richard K. Morgan. I loved his depiction of the Martians in his Takeshi Kovacs novels and begged him to write more about them or at least give me more details. “Better to keep them mysterious and vague,” he wrote back.
Screw that, I said to myself. He’d kick my ass if I said that to him.
But I thought a lot about that over the years especially as the Transparent Ones became more of a figure(s) in the novel. While they don’t really show up until The Astrogatrix (Harvestman’s sequel) I decided to ignore what two masters did and explore this great unknown race that made my world (no one will see any of them until the first book comes out which will also be the last released. That will be called “A Garden Galactic” and you can expect that some time in 2014 or so).
A fun little tidbit? All the Transparent Ones technology is derived from the paintings of Yves Tanguy. It is his painting, “The Transparent Ones,” where I got their name. So keep an eye out for them later.
But I’m rather happy with the book as it stands. It’s rare that one gets to spend so much time reworking one’s novels, especially in reverse order. I’ve written three out of the four books in the series, totally out of order. When I’m finally done I hope they present a solid universe that people will enjoy reading about as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
Now who needs a beer? I sure do.
Chang Terhune is the co-owner of Portland Power Yoga in Portland, Maine, with his wife Alice Riccardi. In addition to teaching yoga, he is an avid gamer playing on both Xbox and PS3 (not simultaneously), a writer of science fiction and other stories, and a musician. A writer since he was twelve years old, “Harvestman” is his first published novel. Chang is currently at work on several books, including Astrogatrix, the sequel to Harvestman as well as a book about yoga entitled The Accidental Yogi. He lives in Portland, Maine with his wife, wonderful daughter, dog Sparky and George Foreman-Terhune, a cat. Find Chang on the web at http://www.changterhune.com.
Harvestman is available from:
iBooks: Buy it on iBooks!
Marko Kloos’s debut military SF novel, Terms of Enlistment, demonstrates how one author parlayed deadline panic into a wildly successful publishing endeavour. I couldn’t be happier to be featuring Marko on Prime Writing today, because it’s always great to see good things happen to nice people.
I’d like to claim that Terms of Enlistment has an involved and fascinating genesis in multiple intricate ideas, all woven together in years of preparation…but the truth is that this particular novel came about because of procrastination.
I read about the Viable Paradise SF/F Writers’ Workshop some time in early 2008 and thought to myself that it might be a good idea to get serious about this writing thing and send in an application. Of course, I promptly forgot about it until about two weeks before the application deadline. The guidelines called for an 8,000-word sample of a novel in progress. I had two weeks to go, but I had no novel in progress. I had a few chapters of a fantasy novel I had noodled with over the years, but it wasn’t very good yet. I gave it to my wife to read, and she concurred, diplomatically suggesting that I may want to send in something else.
Last-minute deadline panic is one of my most effective motivators.
I sat down and tried to figure out what to write. I didn’t want to go with yet another attempt at Generic High Fantasy Novel #291 (“Now With 100% More High Elves! At Least Three Apostrophes Per Name GUARANTEED!”). The year before I had read John Scalzi’s excellent Old Man’s War, and the Viable Paradise information said he’d be an instructor that year. Old Man’s War is military SF, a genre I’ve always enjoyed reading, and I figured that if it’s fun to read, it may also be a lot of fun to write. I also wanted to have a chance to sprinkle in sensory and verisimilitude details from my own four-year stint in the German military, and MilSF seemed to lend itself to that.
“Young Man Goes To Boot Camp” is practically a genre staple. Because I wanted to write a military coming-of-age adventure, I would have to start at boot camp as well. But even if I didn’t outright want to subvert the trope, maybe there was a way to make it unique and interesting, and not your generic Super-Tough Boot Camp Experience.
What if the drill instructors don’t care whether you made it through or not? What if their pool of applicants is so high that they can afford to wash out 90% of recruits without having to lay a hand on anyone? You’d have to make military service so attractive that the young people of that society would flock to enlist. Military service is hardly ever a pleasant career, so you’d have to make it that not getting accepted into the service meant an even crummier life. You’d have to live in a real crapsack world to consider fighting interstellar wars an improvement of your life conditions.
From that, I came up with Earth in the 22nd Century: overcrowded, dirty, constantly low on resources, constantly strife-torn. And I came up with my protagonist, Andrew Grayson, a young man from the PRCs: Public Residence Clusters, the 22nd century version of public housing projects. In the PRCs, crime is sky-high, people have nothing to do except watch Network shows, and everyone gets a weekly 20,000-calorie ration of Basic Nutritional Allowance, artificially flavored soy mixed with reclaimed nutrients from human waste.
Stay in the PRC, eat chicken-flavored soy-and-shit meals, live a nasty and brutish existence, and die early. Join the military, and you get to eat real food, and if you make it through, they’ll give you a bank account and a retirement bonus that will let you get out of the PRC and into the middle class suburbs. In that kind of world, getting an induction letter and a slot in boot camp is practically a Golden Ticket.
Andrew Grayson has scored one of those Golden Tickets, and the novel starts the night before he ships out to boot camp. He thinks he has won the lottery, of course…but he soon finds out that things don’t usually go your way in the military once you’ve signed those enlistment papers. And he learns that access to real food, proper healthcare, and maybe a retirement account can come with a steep price attached. When part of your job description is to keep the unruly masses in the PRCs from spilling out into the ‘burbs, you may find that the $200 steak you had for lunch yesterday may come with the obligation to turn your weapons against your own people.
Marko Kloos was born and raised in Germany, where he worked as a soldier, bookseller, dockworker, and gas station attendant before he emigrated to the United States. He worked as a corporate IT drone for way too long before he figured out that he wasn’t cut out for the corporate life. Of all the forms of labor, making up stuff for money seemed like the least objectionable career.
Marko lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children at Castle Frostbite, a mighty compound patrolled by a roving pack of attack dachshunds. His debut novel, Terms of Enlistment, is published by 47North and available from Amazon.com. The sequel, Lines of Departure, will be released in January of 2014. You can follow him on Twitter (where he spends way too much time) at @markokloos.
Terms of Enlistment:
I had some very shabby chairs that I was hoping to take to shabby chic.
We paid rock bottom dollar for these off Craigslist a while ago because we had nothing to sit on when we bought our cottage. These were always viewed as temporary residents of the house because I was to receive some hand-me-downs from out East, but as with everything temporary they stuck around longer than expected.
So rather than cringe every time I looked at them I finally caved and gave them the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint treatment. But not before Guy took them apart and properly screwed them back together, with liberal application of wood glue (they used to be super wobbly to boot).
Of the four chairs, two were originally navy blue, and two dark green. I kept the half blue/half green theme, but softened them to Duck Egg Blue and Versailles green. The undercoat is Old White. All chairs sealed with the clear soft wax.
Magebane, by Lee Arthur Chane
I see by the copyright page that Lee Arthur Chane is really Canadian author Edward Willett. Go Canada! Magic meets science in this steampunky adventure. With zeppelins! And people who aren’t really who they think they are. Some nice twists in here.
A Trace of Moonlight, by Allison Pang
I’ve obviously come late to the party as this is my first exposure to a series that’s at least three books in with this one. Oh well.
The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia
Hide Me Among The Graves, by Tim Powers
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Home Fires, by Gene Wolfe
Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett
A Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling
Lots of angry, unhappy people in this book. Having written about unhappy characters myself I can’t imagine this was that fun to write. Hopefully it was cathartic.
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
Highly enjoyable read—I ripped through it in 24 hours. Has a really original take on dragons. This generation’s Dragonsinger.
I’d noticed he’d been lethargic, and had stopped jumping up on the couch or the bed, which I chalked up to a worsening of an existing chronic hip problem. But he started to park himself in front of his water dish, and drink constantly. Then he peed the bed, which I thought might be the beginnings of senior cat incontinence. I’ve since learned that true incontinence is very rare in male cats—it was more likely too painful for him to get up and move to the litter box, due to a condition diabetics get known as neuropathy.
Off to the vet we went, and boom! Our lives changed. We learned about twice daily insulin injections, on a very rigid schedule. We learned how to prick Diesel’s ear to measure his blood glucose (BG) levels. The very first time I took a measurement, I canceled a dinner engagement and rushed off to the vet, because the cat’s BG was into hypoglycaemia territory. In those first weeks, we could not get his BG to settle into any coherent pattern, and I lived in constant fear that I would accidentally kill my cat with an insulin overdose.
We learned about obligate carnivores. Unlike dogs, which can really eat just about anything and do, cats evolved as pure carnivores. Their bodies do not process carbohydrates very well. And unbeknownst to me, the dry food Diesel had been eating his whole life was at least 30% carbs. Most dry food for cats is very high in carbs. So eventually Diesel’s pancreas just couldn’t cope with the sugar overload anymore, and he developed diabetes.
But we also learned something else. Unlike people, cats can, if their diabetes is caught and treated early enough, go into diabetic remission. Which, in fact, Diesel did, and which is why his BG was so hard to regulate during that first month on insulin: when we switched him to an ultra-low-carb-high-protein wet food, his pancreas effectively started rebooting almost immediately. It took about six weeks, gradually tapering off his dose, before he was off insulin completely.
I like dry food because it’s not as messy as wet, and is supposedly better for cats’ teeth. But in the grand scheme of things, I’ll take bad teeth over diabetes any day. I don’t promote many products on this blog besides books, but I will give a big thank you to Nature’s Variety Instinct wet cat food. Diesel has eaten nothing but this food for over a year, and has been in diabetic remission since April 2012. The food has greatly improved his health, and both his and our quality of life. And on top of dealing with his diabetes, the Instinct has also made his coat softer and less matted, and seems to minimize his hairballs (BONUS!).
I will never feed another cat of mine dry food again.
Diesel’s path to remission fairly closely followed the protocol in this paper by Kirsten Roomp and Jackquie Rand, with variations based on regular consultation with our vet.
Worried your NaNoWriMo novel won’t amount to much? Heather McDougal illustrates how she turned an insightful idea about robotics into a novel, and worked on making it better until Songs for a Machine Age found a home and an audience.
I wrote Songs for a Machine Age as a NaNoWriMo project to begin with, basing it in a world I’d already been tinkering with in a YA experiment I’d been writing called Neddeth’s Bed (you can still go read what there is of it here http://neds-bed.blogspot.com/ ).
The idea for the world evolved from a robotics course I took for teachers. They ran the course in the traditional way, as a problem-solving situation: you create the parts of the robot based on an assigned task, and then tried to do the task. So, if the task was to move an object from one side of a maze to another, people came up with, for example, an arm that picked the object up, or a flat blade that pushed the object ahead of it like a bulldozer.
I went along for awhile, but in the end the thing that struck me was how prosaic, how mundane the challenges had been. And when it came to building our own designs, everyone went on to make machines that spoke of industry, of tasks. They all did something useful.
I come from an art-making background. I’m not used to making purely useful objects, and I wanted to experiment. I built a little 4-wheeled vehicle that had large and small tires kitty-corner to each other, so that when it changed direction it would also shift its center of gravity, making it waggle from side to side. It was a silly, floppy, dancing machine.
The others were intrigued by this machine of mine, its patently un-useful being. “What does it do?” they asked me, and I said, “It dances.” And they all commented on how unusual it was. They scratched their heads and smiled.
I couldn’t get this experience out of my head. I went home and kept thinking about it. I began to think about how much the Industrial Revolution has shaped the way our society approaches machinery — how, in fact, it was the needs of industry that created machines, and we don’t — we often can’t — think of machines except as framed in terms of their usefulness. Which is interesting, because machines weren’t always that way. If you look at 17th and 18th century machines, their inventors had a totally different approach: the machines were beautiful, devices that celebrated the act of creation itself. People were trying to imitate life, with singing birds and artistic automatons, and the point was to create wonder.
The industrial view of devices is actually changing these days. Burning Man, the Maker movement, indie music and even playlist technology have had a huge effect on why and how machines are created and used — creation is increasingly moving from industry to the individual. And more and more, homemade devices are being made for art, for fun, and for creativity. But what would have happened if, in the very beginnings of the industrial revolution, the whole industrial paradigm had been subverted? What kind of culture would we have then?
Because really, making things is essentially a political act. Do you make some of the things that you wear and use, or do you always go buy manufactured goods? Doing it yourself can be an incredibly empowering thing to do: it connects you with the process, and thus makes you aware of what it is you’ve been buying all this time, all the work that someone’s put into your sweaters and furniture and so on.
The people in this story come from a culture that has chosen this kind of empowerment over the ease of a manufacturing economy. Three hundred years before the narrative, they were in the middle of an industrial revolution — and then someone invented a truly horrific manufacturing technology which became the catalyst for a revolution. The result was that all machinery was banned, with the exception of handmade devices of purely aesthetic value. And skill in making things became a highly-prized commodity.
Interestingly, until I had written most of Songs and had begun re-reading it, it hadn’t been apparent to me that this little adventure novel I’d been cranking out was really a very political statement. I hadn’t realized how much the motivations for the characters were all about holding onto the Revolutionary ideals on which their culture was predicated — especially a revolutionary experiment that was so close to my heart.
I work with kids, and every day I see the effects that targeted advertising has on their self-esteem; and I see the disconnect they experience between what matters to them as children — the physical world, hand/eye coordination, the interaction between cause and effect — and the actuality of their lives, where they are handed food from mysterious sources on styrofoam plates, and where practically nothing they own or use is something they or someone they know made. It’s schizophrenic. I feel like someone needs to address this lifestyle we’re having.
So I rewrote the ending to Songs, then rewrote the beginning, and then had to add all kinds of stuff in in between. And the more I messed with it, the better I wrote, and then I had to fix all the early bits that weren’t written as well. And in the process I started to understand more and more about the culture I had created, and had to add more bits here and there.
It got to be a bit of a mess, and yet there was something there that I couldn’t let go of; the world of Devien was haunting me. Finally, Hadley Rille said they’d like to take the book on, and my editor there spent about a year combing through the book with me and helping me straighten out all the snarls (and helping me see which details I could throw away). It was not an easy birthing process, but I think I’m probably a much better writer now!
Heather McDougal is a writer and educator living in Northern California.
She has an MFA in sculpture but went back to her childhood love of writing.
Songs for a Machine Age was the Frankensteinian end to her 2007 NaNoWriMo project.