Sunday, February 22, 2015

[Book Review] Half the World

Half the World / Joe Abercrombie (Powell's Books)

Thorn is a girl touched by Mother War in a kingdom of men who raid and pillage and women keep the home.  Proud, aggressive, prickly and impetuous, she ends up with two choices, serve Father Yarvi in his machinations or face execution for murder.  Can she grow beyond an anger-fueled youth into a skilled warrior.  And can her country stand against the threat of war against half the world?

Half the World continues the story told in Half a King, in a gritty coming-of-age tale set in an unforgiving world.  Thorn is driven and complex, playing a part in a larger game as she literally fights her way to the top of a man's world.  Yarvi exists as a cunning mind, almost alien in the violent blood lust stirring around him.  Brand believes almost too much in doing the right thing.  Half the World does not pander to the reader, diving right in as the characters claw themselves through obstacles with determination borne of desperation.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

[Book Likes] Flex

Flex / Ferrett Steinmetz (Powell's Books)

Freelance 'mancers are feared and reviled, beings of nightmares who's magic threatens tears in the fabric of the universe.  Fortunately 'mancers are rare, but the magic infused crystals allowing anyone access to 'mancy as a street drug costs lives.  Magic has two sides, flex and flux.  Flex is the manipulation of chance to impose your order on the world around you.  Flux is the the backlash as the universe balances your manipulations, backlash that you may not survive.

Once upon a time Paul Tsabo was a cop who survived a confrontation with a 'mancer.  Now he's a paper-pusher for an insurance company and struggling with his own emerging 'mancy.  Paul's life is turned upside-down when a flux-fueled fire engulfs his apartment building, nearly killing his young daughter.  Paul needs to master his 'mancy and find the 'mancer who is tearing the city apart.

Technically, Flex is an urban fantasy.  Toss out any pre-conceptions you may hold on what urban fantasy entails beyond magic in a modern day city.  This magic filled thriller gives you a touch of Breaking Bad while delivering an urban high fantasy.  Fast paced and high tension, Flex makes for an engaging read.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

[Book Review] The Glittering World

The Glittering World / Robert Levy (Powell's Books)

In many ways a fey story.  Beautiful, deceptive, dark, and unreal.  We follow the story of Blue and his friends as he returns to his childhood home of Starling Cove, intending merely to settle his grandmother's estate before returning to life as normal in New York City.  But emerging secrets give light to a disjointed and jarring past, a legacy perhaps best remained hidden.

The story takes on a hallucinatory feeling as we Blue falls down the rabbit hole, dragging his friends behind.  It sways back and forth between beautiful and unsettling, but wholly creative throughout.

At the end I was left wondering if the story happened to the characters or if it was all a shared hallucination, a delusion born of creeping insanity permeating an entire community.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Love Quotes

Happy Horny Werewolf Day!  It seemed to be the appropriate time of year to release this post, but to be honest, it's been sitting around in draft form for about a year since I was using this as a collection point while trying to figure out how to write a wedding ceremony.  The biggest problem I had finding romance quotes (particularly in wedding planning books) that were religion-free.  So, with that in mind, I'm sharing a small collection of (mostly) literary quotes about love.

Love is the degree to which you are willing to sacrifice your own interests for those of another. It doesn't matter what sex you are. It doesn't matter who you are or were. It only matters that you care more for someone else than you do for yourself. It's when you eat minlatta with tarragon oil even when you hate pasta because someone with you enjoys it. It's when you value being alone more than anything but agree to move in with someone because they need you. And believe this, Ellis Rogers, for I am quite certain that love is most certainly when you push away the one person in all the world you want to be with because you think your thoughts would cause them pain.
-Hollow World / Michael J. Sullivan
Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words "make" and "stay" become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.
-Still Life with a Woodpecker / Tom Robbins
Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it.
-Jazz / Toni Morrison
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
-[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] / e.e. cummings
Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.
-Albert Einstein
In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth type planets. And in all of the universe three million, million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us.
-Balance of Terror, Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1
Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
-Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

Friday, February 13, 2015

Orgasmatron : The Erotic & Not So Erotic in SF/F

Content Warning: If you can't tell from the title, this post is going to involve a discussion of erotica and erotic content in science fiction and fantasy.  You have been warned.

My second Arisia panel was Orgasmatron : The Erotic & Not So Erotic in SF/F with JoSelle Vanderhoof (mod), Connie Wilkins (also known as Sacchi Green), and Victoria Janssen.  Originally N. K. Jemisin was also scheduled to be on the panel with us, but since she was on something like 15 panels over the weekend a few of them had to go.

Going in, I was intimidated about this panel, I was the only panelist who was not a published author and/or a professional editor.  But everyone was not only fantastic and friendly, but they valued the fact that I was there as a reader rather than writer/editor.  My notes for this panel went wider than SF/F erotica, because to be honest, there's some seriously sexy science fiction and fantasy that is not written as romance (and in my opinion, often has better written sex than romance novels).  Turns out, we focused largely on erotica/erotic romance, what makes for good erotic writing, and what makes for good SF/F.

One thing that I liked is we focused on what makes something good in our eyes, but avoided heavily bashing things that aren't our game.  We did have some fun with the discussion, particularly of possibly questionable word choices, or maybe bizarre story concepts..  I brought up the phrase "throbbing man-root," someone else brought up the phrase "milking the clitoris," things may have gone down hill from there.  There was a anecdote related by one of the panelists about a book they reviewed where they likened the story to John Norman's Gor novels with "daisy chains of anal sex."  Bizarro-fiction was brought up (such as The Haunted Vagina) as well as the fact that dinosaur erotica exists.  But we tried to remain respectful of the fact that not every story is for every reader.  It's really easy to bash writing that you don't like, be you find it poorly written or object to the content of the story.  It's important to remember that "Your squick may be someone else's squee."  I wish I could properly attribute that quote, but it hit the point when I quoted it to the panel.

Overall, this panel was a blast, and one that we could have gone on in more depth outside of the allotted time frame.  For those interested, I've compiled at partial list (ie. what I can remember) of titles and authors mentioned.

Honorable Mentions

Skin Games / Jim Butcher - The Dresden Files are not erotic novels by a long shot, there's no much sex on or off screen in the books.  However, I really liked the "sex" scene that occurs early on in this book.  Butcher did a great job with the build of tension and setting.

Protecting His Witch / Zoe Forward - This is a paranormal romance novel with a dominant alpha male love interest who cares about consent, and the author writes sexy and in-the-moment affirmative consent.  Kudos to that.

Charles Stross - Across a number of his books Stross explores the 'what-if' of sexuality, often creating a setting within 'normal' sex is distinctly different than the hetero-normative sexual norm of today.  One particular example of this is in Accelerando, which starts in a "near future" of a post-antibiotic society where BDSM has become the norm, but the idea of exchanging body fluids is nearly a terrifying oddity.

Fledgling / Octavia Butler - This book is on the list not because it is erotic, but because of the transgressive and well written nature of the sex within it.  The main character in the book appears to be a pre-adolescent black girl, when she is actually significantly older and the end result of a breeding program among vampires to increase tolerance to sunlight.  Part of the symbiotic relationship between the vampires and the humans they feed off of is sex.  This makes for deliberate discomfort while reading.

SF/F Erotica and Erotic Romance
Sacchi Green reviews for D. L. King's erotica review site

Lustfully Ever After : Fairy Tale Erotic Romance / Kristina Wright (ed) - Adult re-imagining of classic fairy tales, some with interesting and surprising results.

Hot and Steamy : Tales of Steampunk Romance / Jean Rabe & Martin H. Greenberg (eds) - As the title indicates, a collection of short stories combining steampunk and romance.

Best Erotic Science Fiction & Fantasy / Cecelia Tan - A highly creative and well curated collection of SF/F erotica.

Carnal Machines / D. L. King (editor) - I reviewed this one awhile back, and my review inspired my mom to ask to borrow my copy of it.  Fantastic collection of creative and sex-positive steampunk erotica.  D. L. King has also edited several other anthologies that fit within SF/F.

Kushiel's Dart / Jacqueline Carey - Politics and a god-touched courtesan that feels pain and pleasure as the same.  Not erotica, but filled with kinky sex.

Cthulhurotica / Carrie Cuinn (ed) - Not as explicitly erotic as the title suggests, but a collection of intriguing, titillating, and disturbing stories.

Emma Holly - Writer of paranormal erotic fantasy

Magic University / Cecilia Tan - Likened to a 'grown-up Harry Potter,' Magic University tells the story of a young man attending Harvard who stumbles across a building no one else sees and into a world of magic (and sex... and sex magic).

Erotic SF/F Comics

Lost Girls / Alan Moore & Melinda Gibbs - A pornographic high quality graphic novel set on the cusp of the World War I.  Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice meet in a hotel and share stories of their childhood and their sexual experiences and awakenings while exploring each other in the present.

Xxxenophile / Phil Foglio - A rare in-print (but available for purchase as PDF) erotic comic series.  A very clever and hilarious (in addition to being sexy) science fiction and fantasy comic book.

Curvy / Sylvan Migdal - Adventures of Ana├»s through Candy World.  Contains people made of candy, transgender and transspecies characters, sexy times, and more.

Athena Wheatley, or, Warp and Weft / Sylvan Migdal - A speculative fiction time travel webcomic that explores diversity and social justice.  Only occasionally NSFW.

Oglaf - A raunchy and rather hilarious fantasy webcomic.  Appears to be regularly NSFW.

Slipshine - Pornographic web-comic subscription website, tagline "Comics for people who think sex is FANTASTIC."  Focus on quality comics and stories, not exclusively SF/F, but a huge collection.

Flithy Figments - Erotic comics by women, not exclusively SF/F, but it's there.

Monday, February 9, 2015

My reluctant reader, part 2

In which I exploit my other half for blogging purposes.

I've mentioned this before, but while I read a ridiculous amount, my other half rarely reads recreationally.  We've been together for just over seven years (plus friends for years before that), and in the first six years of our relationship I saw him read one book.  In the past year he finished three.

And now he gets to deal with me actively seeking book matches.  Of course, I get to deal with responses along the lines of "Something like Ready Player One," and have to tease out further information regarding what exactly about Ready Player One (or Ender's Game) that he actually liked.  On the other hand, this makes for fantastic Reader's Advisory practice, since we have such a small title base to work with.

Book's he's liked:
Going forward I have a few additional bits of data.  He has no interest at this time in Fantasy (so no Dresden Files just yet), nor is he nearly as interested in socio-political essays packaged as Science Fiction (which largely cuts out Heinlein, among others).  Additionally, we have the fact that he likely will take a few months to finish a novelTo be honest, unless he's really absorbed by the book, most of the time spent reading will likely be in the bathroom.
I need this poster.
Most library books, with one renewal, I can keep out for maybe 2 months.  3+ month is more what we're looking at for reading time just based on amount of time he spends reading.  If I'm lucky I can find the title in question from one of the few libraries that offers 2 renewals (or longer lending periods, as I have often found in Academic libraries).  I'm also keeping my eye out for certain titles as second-hand paperbacks.

It turns out that my current Science Fiction collection really doesn't have a whole lot that aligns with his scope of interest.  If I can get him into military science fiction or the more "what-if" speculative range of Science Fiction I may have more of interest (Elizabeth Moon, David Weber, etc), though it looks like Star Wars novels might work... except he wants to read the movie novels, and I actually don't have those among my Star Wars books.

In face of this shortage we're trying out Robopocalypse, which I have an ARC on my shelves from a few years back.  I have a few titles bouncing around in my head that I think he'd like, but they're not on my shelves at this time.  We might try Fight Club next, not SciFi, but on my shelves, a story he's familiar with, and one he'd consider reading.
I'm going forward looking for books based on concept as well as general feel.  What I find interesting is how often people hear Ender's Game & Ready Player One and come back with suggestions that are wildly divergent and often outside the expressed scope of interest (Graceling, for example).  I've also gotten some great suggestions (for him and for me) from the ALATT folks that's helped me expand my list.

Possible future suggestions:
Various awesome suggestions that might not work for him, but that I want to read:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

[Book Review] The Blondes

The Blondes / Emily Schultz (Powell's Books)

This is an interesting book for me to review.  Honestly, I think it's a fantastically written book with a great concept, but I just didn't care for it.  You will need some suspension of disbelief in regards to how science works  Other reviews describe it as a "hysterical dystopia," "satire," and "devastatingly moving."  It just didn't click with me.

Hazel Hayes takes us through the story of The Blondes, from the first out break to her "now," as a pregnant woman on her own talking to her yet to be born child.  Before the outbreak Hazel was a grad student, working on her thesis on how women look and how we think women look in the context of the the Blonde in Western culture.  Suddenly women with blonde hair begin coming down with some sort of illness, a "blonde rabies" starting with headaches and ending with mindless frenzy.  No one knows the cause, or why it effects only women, only blondes.  Why it effects any blondes, natural or from a bottle.

A literary work of contemporary fiction that touches on the ways in which we encapsulate women and how we deal with the unknown.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.