Sunday, February 22, 2015

[Book Review] Half the World

Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) / 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.

[Book Review] Vision in Silver

Vision in Silver / Anne Bishop (Powell's Books)

Relations between the Others and humans has never been completely peaceful, but the presence of Meg Corbyn, an escaped cassandra sangue, a woman who sees prophetic visions when her skin is cut, has both disrupted the lives of the Others who have taken her into their protection and done more to improve the human/Others relations than could have ever been imagined.  Humans First and Last is stirring up dissent, and girding itself for a war against the Others, using lies and misinformation to turn fear of the others into rebellion, and using the blood of cassandra sangue to create drugs that cause frenzy or mind-numbing bliss.

Meg's visions and the rescue of the cassandra sangue from captivity may be the only thing preventing a wide-spread reclaiming of human land.  But can her addiction to the euphoria experienced when she cuts for prophecy be overcome?  Can she pave the way for other cassandra sangue to live normal lives?  And can she, Simon Wolfguard, and the human allies in Lakeside prove that some humans are worth saving?

Visions in Silver is the third book in Anne Bishop's The Others series, and in this case I strongly recommend reading the preceding books before starting on this one.  You can't really compare this series to Anne Bishop's other work, at least not to her Black Jewels books.  The tone, pacing, complexity, setting and voice are completely different.  Rather like comparing Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series with her Agents of Hel series.

If you're not familiar with any of the books or works I've just mentioned I'm sorry.  Visions in Silver is a contemporary paranormal fantasy taking place on an alternative Earth where humans were never apex predators, instead living on sufferance of the Others who view the humans as little more than "intelligent meat."  The setting is approximately modern with a simple narrative voice and no more than a hint of romance.

I find the series interesting, though some of the language choices feel off to me.  Particularly the language of the Others often uses... cleaner(?) words for things, probably to showcase how they are not human and have their own forms of communication.  Some of the language choices just seem off for me in terms of what adults would use, and that takes me out of the story a little, but it is not too bad.  I really like that they flat out address cutting as an addiction in this book, though in the first two it's not treated quite as such - just that Meg gets these overwhelming physical cues that a prophesy is forthcoming and needs to tell it.

Vision in Silver feels like the end of this series, or at least this trilogy.  The story is taken to a good ending.  A good read for those who want a different type of paranormal fantasy.

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

Saturday, February 7, 2015

[Book Review] Want Me

Want Me / Cynthia Eden

Bad boys and naughty girls.  Sophie has a penchant for bad boys, men with a fuck-you attitude who she can ride for a night then continue with her life.  Lex makes a living protecting others, with his body if needed.  When Sophie's life is threatened in her own bedroom by an obsessed stalker, she needs help.  She goes Lex, and his company VJS for protection, but history and rumor haunt her and her friends, and some secrets are too dangerous to share.

A novella with lots of lust and a liberal sprinkling of explicit sex.  This book could easily be a paranormal romance with werewolves.  Lots of testosterone, hair-trigger violence responses, and growling.  No one struggling not to turn furry, but I kept expecting that to appear in the text.  If you like PNR and feel like straying into regular contemporary romance, this would be a good book to start with.

The resolution/revelation of the threat seemed a bit too pat for me, and involves what, a decade of obsessive stalking that includes murder of people close to Sophie?   

Want Me sets up the next book, Need Me well, and it seems to follow well on the heels of Watch Me, the first book in the series.

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

[Book Review] The Master

The Master / Kresley Cole (Powell's Books)

Ok, so unlike when I read The Professional, I am now aware of Cole's non-YA work, and had a good idea of what I was stepping into.  All of you who are familiar with her body of romance titles are probably  laughing at my original surprise.
A need colder than Siberian winter meets an attitude hotter than the Florida sun in #1 New York Times bestselling author Kresley Cole’s sultry new Game Maker novel.
Maksimilian Sevastyan is a man of rather singular tastes, ones that he prefers to take care of without entanglements.  Escorts know him as a man that pays well, knows his business, and never books the same woman twice.  Cat Marin had a blessed life, until she discovered the man she married was a monster, now she's in hiding with few friends, passing as an illegal immigrant providing house cleaning for the wealthy.  One of her sole friends is an escort who's home Cat cleans, and when a botox treatment goes wrong Ivanna convinces Cat to take her place last minute, regardless that Cat is nothing like what Maksimilian requested.

Expecting a tall, icy blond who specializes in serving as a submissive, Maksimilian gets a short, curvy, and very sassy brunette who doesn't play by the expected rules.  As for Cat, she's not so sure about Maksimilian's plans for the evening, they sound like an old script, but she does know the man is drop-dead gorgeous and she does know passion.  After the first night, neither can forget the other, but can they move beyond the roles they play, and can they escape their past?

The Master works well as a sequel (with a tiny bit of overlap) to The Professional, I'm guessing the next book will be around the youngest (and perhaps most troubled) brother.  Aleksei and Maksimilian are rather similar characters - haunted by their brutal childhood, living in a world where violence is a fact of life, eschewing close personal relationships, and possessing a desire to control every aspect of their lives.

We get to interact again with key characters from The Professional when Maksimilian and Cat attend Aleksei and Natalie's wedding.  I hope Jess gets her own book at some point, she's a very colorful character.  I like the camaraderie and friendship that builds between the women, steering clear of the romance novel trap of putting down all potential female "competition."

The characters have healthy (and overcharged) sexualities, and real life does actually come into consideration.  Maksimilian has actual work and meetings to do, and when he comes back unexpectedly early, or chooses to reschedule, that is addressed.  Their relationship is definitely dysfunctional right off the bat, but considering that their relationship started as a business transaction that involved false pretenses, and things went even more pear-shaped from there, dysfunctional makes sense.  The important thing is they work through it, there is push and pull, and there is character development.  There is also a whole lot of sex and shenanigans.

Knowing what I did from The Professional and the scene setting for Cat and Maksimilian's first encounter, I expected this book to be all about crazy kinky sex.  The kink is worked in very differently than from The ProfessionalWhile Aleksei was trying to prove that he was in essence 'no good' for Natalie (who in turn was trying to beat it through his thick head that she was totally into all this hanky-panky), Maksimilian and Cat's relationship forms from a different angle.  Cat dismisses his original scene as too rehearsed, lacking in passion, so instead they work their way up to the figurative and literal whips and chains.  This approach also leads them in a different direction in terms of application of kink, largely towards denied and forced orgasm.

I found it refreshing that Cole wrote Maksimilian as a man who hasn't "of course" done every sexual act under the sun.  That perhaps the rigid way in which he directs his sex life has limited his experiences until he explores a personal relationship with a partner.  Obviously, since this is a romance novel, everyone is fantastic at what they do the first time they do it.  But I appreciate that it's not just the woman who's experiencing new things in bed.  Maksimilian also is fantastically appreciative of Cat as a whole package, regardless if she's fresh out of the shower or sweaty from an hour long run.

The Master delivers both on plot and titillation.  Feel free to read it for the story or for the action.

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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

[Book Review] Heir to the Jedi

Heir to the Jedi (Star Wars) / Kevin Hearne (Powell's Books)

The Force and Mathematics!

We know that between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back that Luke Skywalker's skill with the force increases.  Heir to the Jedi tells how Luke begins to grow as a self-trained Jedi.  Heir gives us Luke's journey shortly after the battle of Yavin through a first-person narrative.  We get his thoughts, his confidence, his worries, and his growing connection with the Force.  The story is self-contained, giving us a little bit of romance, some math and science, and exploration of the force as a construct.

This book was also a very entertaining read.  The existence of a song known as "Vader's Many Prosthetic Parts" is a wonderful bit of flavor, and Luke's thoughts often made me smile.  "I hasn't read the histories of those 'seduced' by the dark side, but I doubted that any of them had been corrupted by a vegetable of questionable nutritional value." 

Luke is a young adult during A New Hope, he's a bit of a cocky kid who found life on the home farm boring and wanted more than anything to escape that life.  Heir to the Jedi fills in some of his growing up, his transition from reckless farm-boy to focused Jedi.

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

Link Smorgasbord, January 2015

The Politics of Comfort
About the inherent nature of politics in fiction, in the messages that books share, deliberate or incidental.  One of the things I most love about Speculative Fiction is the core concept of "what if?"  I love that these fantastical stories often ask me to think about issues.
There’s no such thing as pure entertainment, and I say that as someone who wrote a story about a muppet–eating werewolf. What “entertainment without politics” means is “entertainment that regurgitates the norm and doesn’t challenge my assumptions in any way.” - Jim C. Hines
What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2015?
Title is pretty self explanatory.

21 Books That Changed Science Fiction And Fantasy Forever
Regardless if you agree with the inclusion (or exclusion) of every book on this list, this is a pretty solid list of titles. 

Here’s What Happens When You Install the Top 10 Apps
Short version: it ain't pretty.

Obama wants Congress to increase prison sentences for hackers
Besides the fact that there are many people who are given ridiculous punishments for small infractions, the fact of the matter is that often the only way to find security flaws that need fixing is to go in and try to break the system.

The Public Domain Project (Pond5)
A collection of 80,000 royalty & copyright free film clips, audio files, and images.

Let’s Make It Easier to Expand the Public Domain
The way copyright law works right now makes it nearly impossible to make something part of the public domain until the copyright term expires (unless it is extended again).  We have the option of slapping a license on our creative works that allows them to mostly function as part of the public domain, but it's still just a modification within the existing legal strictures.

A little bit more on the subject: Why We Still Can't Really Put Anything In The Public Domain... And Why That Needs To Change

Why GitHub is Important for Book Publishing
On social dynamics, hierarchies, and how this applies to organization and distribution of information.

How To Tell If You Are In A High Fantasy Novel
An entertaining list of fantasy troupes.

Never trust a corporation to do a library's job

Fire rages through library in Moscow
While the bulk of the holdings are fine, still a huge loss of special collections materials.