Summer Roundup!

This summer has simply flown by, and I’m appalled we’re nearly halfway through August already. My writing has ebbed and flowed these past few weeks but I’ve been staying busy, even if it hasn’t always translated into words on the page. Behold:

June

To celebrate the release of The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth by Roc, including my story “Against the Wind,” I participated in the anthology’s book launch in Santa Fe (which I talked about last time). There was also another author event a bit closer to home in Albuquerque at Page1 Books. I joined editor S.M. Stirling and fellow contributors Jane Lindskold, Emily Mah, Victor Milán, and John Jos. Miller.

Milan, Miller, Lindskold, Me (answering a question), Stirling, & Mah

Milan, Miller, Lindskold, Me (in orange), Stirling, & Mah at Page 1 Books in ABQ.

I’m so happy to be a part of this anthology, and am still thrilled with the review of my story in Open Letters Monthly.

July

I spent most of July on the East Coast, three weeks plus recovery time. There I visited with friends and family but also used the trip as an opportunity to attend Readercon in Boston. I’ve heard tremendous things about the convention over the years and decided my travel dollars would be better spent attending Readercon instead of this year’s Worldcon, which has been mired in controversy after controversy.

I had a wonderful time at Readercon, particularly the part where I got to hang out with some of my SF/F writing friends and make new ones. I was also able to meet Bart R. Leib and Kay T. Holt of Crossed Genres Magazine and thank them for not only publishing me twice in one of their anthologies as well as their magazine, but also giving me my first pro sale. So that was a special moment as well.

While I was in Boston, I also met with my agent Lana Popovic where, over a delightful lunch, we plotted world domination—er, rather discussed my next project. She’s closed to queries at the moment, but I highly recommend her if you are looking for an agent with a strong editorial eye and market savvy.

When I returned to New Mexico, I learned my short story “Jump Cut” published in the Journal of Unlikely Cryptography earlier this year had been nominated in Lady Business’s Short Fiction survey from Jan to March 2015.

2015-Q1shortfiction

A heartfelt thanks to whoever nominated my story! I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know about this site, but I’ll be participating in the Lady Business’s quarterly recommendation periods to come, and I hope you will too!

Finally, the end of July saw the release of Vic Milán’s The Dinosaur Lords from Tor. I got a sneak peak of the book while it was being workshopped, and know you are in for a treat if you like Dinosaurs and epic medieval battles!

dinolords

August

This month has been thankfully quiet so far, allowing me to get back into my writing routine and get caught up on things. However, I’m looking forward to participating in my local convention Bubonicon at the end of the month.

Bubonicon47

The theme this year is “Women of Wonder” with co-guests of honor Tamora Pierce and Catherynne M. Valente, toastmistress Mary Robinette Kowal, and guest artist Ruth Sanderson. August 28-20th at the Albuquerque Marriott Uptown.
I also want to mention that The Future Fire magazine is celebrating ten (!) years of publication! They published my story “Digital Ligatures” last year, and I encourage you to check out their stories and support their crowdfunding campaign by preordering the celebration anthology.

TFFX

That’s it for me. Happy writing!

Review – Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

For my August selection for the 2011 Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by the review blog Floor to Ceiling Books, I read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, a military science fiction novel in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein.

Before I get into the book, I wanted to let you know that NPR recently released their reader’s poll for the 100 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Old Man’s War is ranked #74 (Heinlein’s works are at #17 Stranger in a Strange Land, #31 Starship Troopers, and #34 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). Sunshine, another book I’ve reviewed for this challenge made an appearance on the list too at #92.

Old Man’s War is set in a future where people who turn 75 have the option to enlist in the Colonial Defense Forces and extend their life as a super solider instead of dying of old age on Earth. John Perry decides to enlist in the CDF, a military organization wholly dedicated to ensuring humans stand a chance in a universe where other alien races are far more advanced than the people of Earth ever thought.

Perry becomes bigger, faster, stronger than he ever was thanks to genetic engineering. He is also issued a BrainPal, an implant that provides him with information, logistics support, and a means to communicate instantaneously with his fellow soldiers.

I must confess that this book was my first foray into military science fiction. Old Man’s War took a unique concept and managed to balance developing a main character while plunging him into an impossibly huge milieu.

There was a good bit of action and I appreciated the fact that each fight scene had a different character to it to keep things from getting repetitive: ambush, one-on-one, ground attacks. Despite all the gee-whiz technology, people still got hurt, still got killed.

And I kept turning the pages. The writing was tight and largely unadorned. But I’m still left feeling a bit underwhelmed. I don’t think this is the book’s fault – more my lack of connection with the subgenre.

But Old Man’s War is still worth reading for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in science fiction. There are two more books in the series The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony. For those of you who have read the trilogy, is worth reading on?

Be sure to check out other August reviews for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.

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YA Speculative Fiction Book Review – Omnibus Edition

So I’m behind in posting reviews for the 2011 Speculative Fiction Challenge – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading!

While I was on vacation, I read the Uglies, Pretties, and Specials by Scott Westerfield; Sunshine by Robin McKinley; and Delirium by Lauren Oliver – A one-word-title YA specfic blitz if I ever saw one!

Let’s get started:

The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield

Westerfield tackles genetic engineering in a future where people are transformed from “uglies” to “pretties” at age 16. And main character Tally can’t wait. But when her friend Shay escapes to Smoke, a settlement of outcasts where uglies don’t have to get the operation, she is questioned by the formidable Dr. Cable from Special Circumstances who is desperate to find Smoke and stomp it out of existence.

Dr. Cable coerces Tally into finding the location of Smoke. If she succeeds, she’ll get the operation and live happily ever after in New Pretty Town. If she doesn’t she’ll be an ugly forever. Which, for Tally, is not an option.

It’s a tough balance – humanizing Tally and making us care as she risks her life to find Smoke, even though the reader knows she’s going there to destroy what her friend has worked for. But Smoke is nothing like Tally expects, and she starts to question whether she actually wants to become a pretty.

Through permutations of the plot that I won’t go into here, Tally becomes Pretty in Pretties, and later she becomes a Special in — you guessed it — Specials. The action never wanes for long in any of the three books, and Westerfield gets credit for his inventive use of language, especially as it pertains to each stage of, well, existence: Ugly (tricky), Pretty (bubbly), Special (icy).

There are no easy answers with respect to the main conceit of “pretty-making” and whether Tally even knows what she wants anymore, being so damaged by the operations and the emotional trauma that comes with them. It’s also unclear at the end of the story to what extent she is capable of appreciating normal (ie, ugly) standards of existence, even as she goes off into the sunset with David, her ugly love interest in Uglies, and opponent in much of Pretties and Specials. (Full disclosure: I have not read Extras, so I do not know if these lingering issues are addressed there.) But nonetheless, I found the books to be an entertaining read.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I haven’t read a book by McKinley since The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword – both of which I read (and loved) in the 7th grade. So when I saw the trade paperback of Sunshine deeply discounted at Borders, I thought why not, since I had fond memories of her work.

But I have to say it took me a while to get into the story. It’s first person – so obvious and idiosyncratic – hey, this is a story! – that I kept fighting with it until finally, I just gave in and let the story be told in the manner it would be told in. That’s when I started enjoying it.

In a world that’s been to the brink and back from wars waged between humans and demons, vampires are the worst group a human like Sunshine wants to be caught up in. But when she is abducted by a crew of vamps and left as a snack for another vampire prisoner, she must either join forces with him to escape and live or, well, you know. An alliance between a human and a vampire is unheard of, and both Sunshine and the vampire Constantine suffer side effects from merging their powers as they work together to bring down Bo’s vampire crew once and for all. Add in magic, wards, Special Other Forces (ie, demon cops), and more than you ever wanted to know about baking.

Constantine and Sunshine have shared so much by the end of the book – trust, despite their opposite natures, and one scene of such delicious tension that I will never think of the word “bruise” the same again. McKinley leaves it wide open for further adventures. But I was sorely disappointed to learn there are no plans for more. I’d say I felt gypped, but once I learned to embrace the voice of the story, it was unputdownable.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I heard good buzz about this book on some of the YA sites I haunt and the premise of Delirium is intriguing: a future society where love is considered to be a disease, and people have an operation at 18 to ensure they do not catch it.

Main character Lena is only a few weeks away from her operation, and she is initially thrilled to get fixed. She is still plagued by the shame of her mother’s suicide when she was younger, since her mother had the disease. Now she lives with her strict aunt and cousins in a place that’s a bizarre cross between the movie Pleasantville and the book The Handmaid’s Tale, with segregation of sexes among the uncured, spouse assignments which dictate your place in society, and brutal raids to ensure compliance with all the rules.

But then she meets a boy, and not just any boy, but one who gives her the disease Delirium. She hides her symptoms while falling deeper into love with Alex, who shows her the dark side of the society she’s been raised into.

Oliver’s sentence-level writing is amazing, especially her descriptions of Lena’s emotional state as she falls in love. Each chapter starts with a brief excerpt from manuals, textbooks, and laws to aid in worldbuilding and show how this society has gotten to this point – a very effective device.

I found the ending to be a bit predictable given the prominent references to a certain Shakespeare play that I won’t mention here for those of you who haven’t read the book. I was also surprised to learn that there are two more books slated to follow Delirium. But given the quality of the writing, I’m interested to see where Oliver takes this story.

Be sure to check out other July reviews for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.


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CP Meet ‘n Greet

While I was traveling last month, I had the unique opportunity to meet one of my critique partners in person.

I was already planning to visit the city where my CP lives to see my friends from grad school between weddings. When I floated the idea of meeting to Anonymeet (after assuring her that I was not some crazy internet stalker, and no, she shouldn’t feel obligated to meet in person if she felt at all uncomfortable), she was happy to make it happen.

Anonymeet approached me way back in October 2010 as a potential critique partner. Since then, we’ve worked through each other’s novels – sharing marked-up drafts, writing tips, and reading recommendations. With the exception of one phone call, all of our communication has been through email and the occasional blog comment.

It’s been a successful partnership. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But I thought if I didn’t at least try to meet her in person, there might not be another chance right away, since I’m not often in that part of the country.

As the day approached, excitement and the will-she-like-me doubts swamped me in turns. We had a good back-and-forth rapport online. What if I ruined it all in person with a poorly thought-out comment or some other social blunder? I was overthinking it, I know. But that’s what we writers do, right?

I needn’t have worried. Anonymeet picked a wonderful gourmet café near her neighborhood for our meeting. As I swooned over handcrafted desserts and the artisan cheese selection, she told me how she escapes her family each weekend to write at that very café for a few hours. The coffee shops I usually haunt don’t hold a candle to that place. (And I am still jealous.)

As we snacked, we talked about how we got started writing and about our lives offline. It was a happy coincidence that we’re both roughly the same age with similar life experiences – we even started writing seriously later in life (ie, after school and working for a few years although we both had the bug well before then). We talked about our current projects and the upcoming ones that have us excited. I also got a number of good reading recommendations from her since she’s extremely well-read and current with all the latest YA releases. (Be sure you check out the reviews she posts on her blog.)

Intellectually, I know I’m not alone in the struggles we all face writing, but talking with Anonymeet in person made things feel less lonely. She’s a writer too, a peer, someone who has actually read my writing. I know she gets it. And as much as I have come to love and respect the online writing community, there are some things about interpersonal communication that the internet can’t replace. It’s one thing to write something and share it online. It’s another to look into someone’s eyes and say it out loud.

Two-and-a-half hours later, it was all over. Anonymeet had to go back to her family and I had more plans with my friends. But I know I’ll jump at the next chance to spend time with her in person, whenever that may be.

Have you had the opportunity to meet with one of your online writing buddies?
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Review – Air by Geoff Ryman

Air (or Have Not Have) by Geoff Ryman is my April selection for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge I signed up for through the book review blog Floor to Ceiling Books.

Chung Mae is the resident fashion expert in her poor farming village in Happy Province, Karzistan. Unable to read, Mae spends her time making graduation dresses for local girls and hosting shopping expeditions into the big city for her adult clients. But all that is threatened with the coming of Air, a new technology that will bring Happy Province, willingly or no, into the future.

When a test for Air goes horribly wrong, linking Mae’s consciousness with that of Mrs. Tung, an elderly neighbor who dies during the test, Mae is both feared and admired by the other villagers thanks to her ability to navigate Air and the prophetic wisdom she utters when Mrs. Tung takes over during emotional moments.

But just as Air takes away Mae’s fashion business – for she can no longer be the only fashion expert when anyone in the village can access Air and see what designs are the latest rage – Air also gives her a new purpose as she vows to prepare her fellow villagers for the flood of information that will soon be at their command.

Air is a meditative, beautiful, frustrating, imaginative read. If you are interested in stories featuring the impact of new technologies on culture (like me) then it is also a must-read (albeit with some reservations).

What is perhaps so striking to me is Ryman’s decision to show how Air, an advanced technology, impacts a small farming community where things like indoor plumbing, telephones, and bank accounts are far removed from daily life. The villagers literally go from having nothing to the possibility of having everything thanks to Air. Thus Air is a very different story from one where Air is just the next iteration of communication technology in a more modern community.

The intersection of a traditional, agrarian society with the new technology provides countless opportunities to show the effects Air has socially (Mae’s interactions with her neighbors and the larger community), gender-wise (Mae and the other village women are empowered by Air and subvert traditional gender roles), occupationally (Mae goes from fashion expert to teacher, resulting in friction with the local headmaster), as well as other cultural dimensions. Ryman explores each aspect exhaustively but weaves them together into almost seamless, satisfying conclusion.

What was also impressive is Rymans’s use of lyrical and figurative language to describe concepts – as if literally translating them from Karz or Chinese. Not only in Mae’s dialogue, but her inner thoughts as well. His portrayal of Mae is intimate and complex, offering writers a great character to study.

My only issue with the book is his handling of

SPOILER

Mae’s pregnancy, which I found offensive and the only misstep in an otherwise excellent work. Other reviewers have interpreted this part of the story as a symbolic event – and it does work as such – but the specific subversions of Mae’s pregnancy necessary for symbolism still rankled. I mention this not so much to deter readers, but to give them a heads-up, should they be surprised by it like I was. Otherwise, I fully recommend Air to any reader of speculative fiction.

Be sure to check out other April reviews for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.


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