#WyrdAndWonder Wrap Up Post

Feels like the last day #WyrdAndWonder is an appropriate time to post something about what I was able to accomplish during this month long Fantasy Blog Party.

Here’s what I wrote (and didn’t write):

May 3rd – #MapMonday: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps
May 5th – Should ‘Black Sun’ get a Hugo?
May 9th – Spine Poetry for Mother’s Day
May 10th – Mixed feelings: The Truth About Dinosaur Lords
May 12th – Review: Song of Achilles
May 17th – Can’t Wait to read! (twitter post) and Desert Island Reads (catching up from last Wednesday)
May 19th – Review: Silver in the Wood
May 24th – TBR: 11 Fantasy Books I should have read by now
May 26th – Review: Empire of Gold

My fav posts that #WyrdAndWonder people shared:

There were tons of great posts from all kinds of places during this event, but these are a couple and what I liked about them:

If I didn’t include your post here, that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I did! It’s just that I’m too lazy to hunt down more than five of these things, and “Top Five” kinda has a nice ring to it.

Farewell and Thank You:

Since it’s the end of the event, it also feels appropriate to say ‘farewell’. I’m not going anywhere, but I might not try to post as often (maybe back to twice a week, or even once since I don’t have a lot of fiction ready at the moment).

And of course, Thank you! to all the #WyrdAndWonder people who visited me, and inspired me to keep writing these posts. Thank you to Imyril, Lisa and Jorie for hosting this event. It’s badass.

And thanks to everyone who came by and interacted with my posts, it was great to hear from you!

That’s all for now folks. Hopefully I’ll still be doing this bloggo thing next year and can participate in a second year (5th! for the event! wow. Awesome).

Feel free to tell me your fav part of #WyrdAndWonder in the comments!

Newsletter Exclusive Fiction Preview Sent in to Writing Group for Critique!

Hey all, no book tags, book reviews, articles on random topics, or complete fiction to post on the blog today, but I did manage to finish the first draft of this quarter’s newsletter exclusive fiction. As the title suggests, I’ve sent it off to my writing group and will be getting feedback on Monday. Fingers crossed they enjoy it. You can look at a little preview in the image below:

Anywho, please let me know what you’re thinking so far in the comments. Also, this piece ties in with a larger narrative I’m working on for Kindle Vella. If your interested in that, you can check out my WIP tease: Beqsu takes a Leap.

Until next time . . .


Hey again! If somehow this tiny tease of my WIP, and general update as to my writing life happened capture your interest, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. I’ll do a post every quarter (expect the first one July 1st!) that fills you in completely on what I’ve been up to and send you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Or, check out my other fiction I’ve posted here on A&A. 

Thanks for stopping by, and see you next time!

Should A Deadly Education win the Lodestar Award?

Image of Naomi Novik's A Deadly Education cover
An awesome cover . . . not an awesome pic of my closet

This answer ended up being way harder than I expected it would be . . .

I really thought there was no chance this wouldn’t be my front runner for the Lodestar Award. On May 17th, it was even my ‘Can’t wait to read!’ pick for #WyrdAndWonder, and I was more or less bursting at the seams to tear it open and see what it had in store for me. As I discussed in my Hugo Finalist Reaction post, I had enjoyed Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but was excited that Novik was treading different territory here.

And while my initial reactions were extremely positive, I’m glad I looked around on the internet a bit, because there was a lot I had not yet considered.

Initial Reactions:

Pretty positive in the extreme. The main character, El (short for Galadriel), has an engaging voice, and is fun in her extreme antisocial outlook and behavior. There is plenty of snark, but somehow it never made me bristle like most snarky characters I’ve read.

Second, there’s a lot of pop culture references (like the MC’s name for instance) and winks at the reader. One of my favorite winks was a reference to spell writing as ‘creative writing’ and something about how anything she tried to write stream-of-consciousness turned into a super volcano. Any time I’ve tried to ‘pants’ something in my own writing (or even just write ANYTHING) has certainly felt this way.

I’ve seen the book marketed as “a darker Harry Potter”, and it would be willful ignorance to say that Rowling’s work did not influence A Deadly Education, and I think it’s no stretch to say that the Scholomance is an extreme and interesting (certainly terrifying) take on Hogwarts.

(Indeed, the Scholomance was perhaps this book’s most fascinating element for me, and I’d like to do a second post for Friday about how it reminded me of a kind of evil riff on the educational ideal of the Eudaimonia Machine. Hopefully I’ll have enough to warrant its own post.)

In the realm of theme, I felt the novel had clear and prescient messaging in terms of the dichotomy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and I really enjoyed the way this novel actually seemed to have a hopeful outlook on those divisions becoming at the very least, less significant if not disappearing entirely.

In essence, there was much to love in this book and many will find it a complete delight to read. After all, any book that uses the term ‘glom’ to describe how a stepfather attaches to one’s mother is hitting a lot of buttons in the ‘fun’ category.

So What Gives? (Some Other Considerations):

Much like when I was trying to review Gideon the Ninth, I found that this seemingly lovely book also had some controversy swirling around it since it’s publication.

Namely, claims of racist representation (which the author has since apologized for), and also themes of sexual assault which were handled improperly. For both topics, I’m going to provide links as other people have written about them much more eloquently then I every could:

Now, I can’t really say I have much more to offer, except I felt it important to boost these articles as their authors have done some hard work and critical thinking on our behalf. I definitely advise anyone reading this to give them a read and consider their arguments.

It’s been a good reminder for me to slow down and really consider what I’m reading. I hope I can be more aware of stuff like this on my own in the future.

So . . . Should it get the Award?

At this point, I’m going to say that even though there is a lot of things to love about A Deadly Education, the strikes made against it have still managed to lower my opinion of the work in general. I give Novik kudos for attempting to be more diverse with her characters, but I do not think enough work was put in to make that attempt a success.

If the other Lodestar candidates evoke similar positive feelings, but avoid the controversies pointed out by so many online, I will almost certainly raise them above A Deadly Education.

I’m still looking forward to the release of the sequel next month. If Novik can remediate any of the issues this first book had, and keep that same dazzle and fun that it also achieved, perhaps her own education will not have been so deadly after all.

Thanks for reading all this! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Jurassic Park Book Tag (#JurassicJune)

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park first released in theaters today, June 11th, twenty-eight years ago. In honor of its birthday, and to help celebrate #JurassicJune, I’ve decided to do another book tag because . . . well because they’re fun.

I believe it was Port Jericho who originally created the Jurassic Park / Jurassic World book tag. I took out the Jurassic World questions to keep it pure JP although I suppose it doesn’t much matter.

I discovered the tag on The Literary Phoenix‘s website. Here is their take on the tag.

Rules are simple:

  • Link the original post, and whoever tagged you – I did above and nobody tagged me 😦
  • Pick a book that fits each quote theme.
  • Have fun!
  • Tag 3 or more people.

I think that’s all the logistical stuff so, let’s get started. In the immortal words of Samuel L Jackson:

“Spared no Expense”

A series that seems to go on forever. / The most expensive book you’ve purchased.

For me. The Wheel of Time was this series. Clocking in at some 20 books, and 4,410,036 words, much like a male caster of Saidin, I burnt out hard somewhere around Crown of Swords (book 7). I thought the prequel, A New Spring, would get me back into the series, but I was wrong.

I think the most expensive book I’ve purchased (that wasn’t a textbook), was Jurassic London’s last book, The Extinction Event. It’s a gorgeous (in my mind) dino-skin leather bound which only ran me like $45. I got number 85 of 150.

“Life (uh) finds a way”

A book with amazingly intricate worldbuilding. / What crazy extremes have you gone to in order to get a book you wanted?

Since I just finished The Empire of Gold I’m gonna go with the Daevabad Trilogy for amazingly intricate worldbuilding. Emphasis on the ‘amazing’ part. I’m sure I’ve read books that were more complexly developed or intricate, but this series is perhaps the most spectacular world. Lots of time and energy went into developing this world and very little of it is mundane by any definition. Simply put, it’s great.

As for extreme lengths? I waited in a suuupperrr long line for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. It was a whole thing. People dressed up. We all waited around outside of Borders until midnight. Some of my friends and I continued to wait in the line after the midnight release for several more hours to get our copy. Somebody drove by and shouted the ending as we waited.

My friend left us and ran across the street to Safeway where there was no line and was already through several chapters by the time we go our books. I don’t regret a second of it.

“Hold on to your butts”

An extremely fast-paced book. / What’s the fastest you’ve read a book, and what book was it?

In terms of pacing, I’d have to go with Dean Koontz’s Velocity. It’s kind of right there in the title. It’s been years since I read it so I don’t really remember much of it other than I pretty much crushed through it. I haven’t read a Koontz book since so perhaps it literally wasn’t my speed.

I read The Great Gatsby in a day one summer because . . . well it was assigned summer reading and I only had one day left before my first class. Naturally we didn’t discuss it until the end of the semester. I held onto everything pretty well I feel like but I’m a bit bitter I rushed through it.

“Mr. Hammond, after careful consideration I’ve decided not to endorse your park.”

A book you refuse to read (or finish).

I was pretty much resolved to NEVER read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. 1966 winner of the Best All-Time Series Hugo Award. I understand Asimov is important to SFF (some might even argue [ahem] ‘foundational’), but this seemed like too much. I just can’t imagine any story being soooo gooood that there will never be anything better. Especially not something written in the 50’s.

But, we’ll see. I hear Apple is making a TV show of the series so . . . perhaps I’ll have to give it a shot eventually.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

A book that left you going ‘Why?’

Without a doubt, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. I read Starship Troopers in school, and remembered it being pretty good (and I loved the movie though they’re really not that similar I don’t think) so my expectations were high. It was pretty much embarrassing.

Essentially, some slugs (from space!) get loose in Iowa, and start mind controlling people by jumping on their backs and ordering them around to set up a new society. The government reacts but is completely ineffectual. For some reason I’m sure I can’t remember, the MC is tasked with stopping the whole deal with a secret agent lady who’s totally badass until she starts working with our MC.

I don’t really remember much else except he keeps asking her to marry him, and she keeps saying no for reasons that make no sense to the MC but are pretty much: “Ew get away”. By the end of the book I’m not even sure whether she says yes or not but I think it would be giving Heinlein too much credit to think it wouldn’t end in a yes. Oh, and to make sure you don’t have a slug on your back controlling you, everyone needs to go around shirtless . . . no exceptions.

I finished that book hoping it would turn, or get better, and when I got the end I was just like “Why? Why does this exist? And why did I do this to myself?”

Oh well.

Dada daa da da, Dada daa da da . . .

Welp, that’s it. The post is over. I realize after writing this whole thing, that it actually has very little to do with Jurassic park which it was meant to honor, but I think that’s ok.

I might try to do some more posts about it, as #jurassicjune continues (there’s a marathon of the first three movies on Saturday!) so keep a look out.

What are your answers to these questions? Any thoughts on the books I mentioned? Or on Jurassic Park? Just leave em in the comments. See you next time!

Oh! And I’m supposed to tag three people. I only managed two. I’m tagging:

Tar Vol on and The First Line Reader

Silver Medal for Empire of Gold

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a little while because it’s been hard to bring myself to say that The Empire of Gold is probably the weakest part of this trilogy. I thought The City of Brass was totes badass, and The Kingdom of Copper was brilliant!

But The Empire of Gold just didn’t surpass the bar set by its two amazing predecessors.

Perhaps the main draw (for me) of this series is the intricate and thoroughly magical world which Chakraborty has imagined. It feels new and astonishing, and is equal parts mysterious and delightful. That sense of wonder is only slightly dimmed by the fact that this is our third rodeo in Daevabad. After all, magical djinn, shedu, karkadann, and peri, are never going to fully lose their luster when compared to our real lives of (in the pandemic) Zoom calls and homemade lunches . . .

(I’m also getting slightly distracted by the World of Daevabad website which includes a definition of a creature called Ishtas, which I don’t remember from the book but is apparently “A small, scaled creature obsessed with organization and footwear.” Lolz! Ok back to the review . . .)

This complex and immersive experience has been delivered to us on two previous occasions and it is what we expect from a Daevabad book. I can’t say that the novel fails to deliver on this promise, because it doesn’t. The Empire of Gold is stuffed full of new and exciting bits of this world which are completely unexpected, or have been so thoroughly teased that we’re essentially frothing to find out what they actually are (for me this was the Marid and how this world related to that of Ancient Egypt).

Another key strength of the book, is that all of the cast we’ve come to know and love return, and they too are just as fun and delightful as they have been in previous books in the series. We finally get to see the resolutions of their arcs, and for me, everything came to a satisfying conclusion (which I won’t spoil for you here).

But only a silver medal?

Yep! Despite all of the praise I’ve showered on the book so far, I still felt it suffered from two fatal flaws (which are possibly the same flaw so maybe only one). Namely, this book was TOO LONG, and (in my opinion) failed to fully deliver on its promises (and maybe even over-delivered on a few that were less than relevant). There were many points during this book in which I felt we were making little to no progress towards the main goal of the novel.

I credit the length issue (784 pages and almost 29hrs in audio) to powers that were perhaps beyond the author’s control (although I’ve done no actual research to test my hypothesis). It is pretty standard practice in the Fantasy genre to write in trilogies (although there are plenty of series that go for way longer). I definitely had the sense reading this, that the author knew this was her last chance reveal all the many things she’d hinted at over the previous two books, and so I felt that our characters wandered the map tying up loose ends which in many cases I had forgotten about and did not seem to bring us any further down our main plot thread.

The second issue, that of failed promises, I’m not entirely sure how to quantify or explain. Simply, I was just disappointed in the way certain resolutions took place.

Slight spoilers ahead . . .

I had been waiting for connections to Ancient Egypt (Nahri is from Cairo and grew up in the shadow of pyramids, discovering clues on papyrus scrolls with Ali in the library, mentions of Sobek, an Ancient Egyptian crocodile god . . .) to be made clear and was curious how their vast and intricate culture would be pulled into the mythos of Daevabad, but when it was, I almost wished it had stayed separate. Like the pieces didn’t really fit together somehow.

And while I was so curious about the Marid after reading The Kingdom of Copper, I was disappointed with what we ended up getting. In the previous books, the Marid seemed to have a single nefarious and unknowable purpose, but after meeting no less than three marid ‘gods’, it was quite clear that they were not the grand conspiracy they appeared, and we still had issues in Daevabad which we needed to solve. Basically I grew impatient with our side quest in Ta Ntry (the name of which is suspiciously close to Ta Netjer, which in ancient Egyptian would have translated to “God’s Land”, also called Punt. It’s kinda neat that they are sorta in the same spot on the map, but ultimately, I’m unsure exactly what connection is to be made.)

TLDR and Hugo award considerations:

The Empire of Gold is still a great book, filled with magic and wonder; however, I felt it suffered slightly from its overwhelming scope and (in my opinion) a failure to deliver on it’s most interesting promises. It is somewhat sad that the final book was marred with these flaws, but in general, I’m happy with the ending, and feel this is a great series. I was surprised that this individual volume was not a Hugo Best Novel finalist at first, but after reading it, I can see now how it might not have earned enough votes.

The series is still my top contender for best series though, even with a bit of a flubbed landing. I think I’ll do a Best series post later on if I’m able to finish each of the series on that shortlist.

Thanks all for reading this! Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments!

Work In Progress Tease: Beqsu takes a Leap

I don’t have any new fiction ready for today. The next Max story is going to unfold over three parts (though hopefully each individual part will read as a complete story like I tried to do with Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers and Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer) and so I don’t want to post anything until all three are done.

But there’s been little adventuring happening in Max’s world recently as I’ve sort of put him aside for a bit to try and flesh out some more stories in the world of my main WIP. I have a short story already finished but I’m waiting for artwork, and a first draft of a novel which I’ve finally sent to my writing group for feedback. In the meantime, I’m trying to prepare something in an episode format, maybe for Kindle Vella.

Here’s a screenshot from my Scrivener document which hopefully is tease-y but doesn’t give away too much. Please let me know in the comments if you like this kind of thing and if I should do more teasers like this in the future. Here it is:


Hey again! If somehow this tiny tease of my WIP, and general update as to my writing life happened capture your interest, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. I’ll do a post every quarter (expect the first one July 1st!) that fills you in completely on what I’ve been up to and send you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Or, check out my other fiction I’ve posted here on A&A. 

Thanks for stopping by, and see you next time!

Celebrating #DinosaurDay with a Review of Why Dinosaurs Matter

Oooh

So apparently June 1st is #DinosaurDay. I’m not really sure how one celebrates this holiday . . . but I’m going to celebrate it by posting a book review because that’s pretty much what I do here on this blog.

Anyway, moving right into then, this book was interesting to me for several reasons, the first being it was a TED Talk. I haven’t actually watched Hunting For Dinosaurs Showed Me Our Place in the Universe yet, as I didn’t want to get the book and the video confused if there were subtle differences. I’ll probably watch it after this.

The second being its author, Kenneth Lacovara. His name sounded super familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure it out. Turns out he was part of the team that discovered Paralititan Stromeri which I’d done some research on for my WIP. The story of this awesome dino is written about in a book called The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt, which I started, but ultimately never finished and had to return. There’s apparently a documentary by the same title which is only two hours so . . . maybe I’ll watch that instead.

So was this book any good? Do Dinosaurs actually matter? The short answer to both is yes; the book was good, and dinosaurs matter, although I’m dubious that the book actually proves this.

What I enjoyed most about the book, was that it explained (in simple terms) some basic concepts that I’ve felt were necessary to understand when doing research about dinosaurs, such as what is considered a dino, and why (apparently it has something to do with their hip bones). He talks briefly about how the classification of dinosaurs works and which recognizable dinos go in each classification. Sauropods have long necks, while Therapods are the big Carnivores. Ornithischia has the duckbills, horned dinos, and armored dinos etc.

I also enjoyed the parts in which Lacovara actually discusses some of the adaptations dinosaurs had, and why they helped them survive in the environment they lived in. If you were ever curious as to why a T-Rex has such short and stubby arms, then go ahead and read this book.

Another fun part of the book was learning about how some of the first dinosaurs were thought to have looked. We’ve come a long way in our understanding of some of these creatures. Apparently, the way to go further is 3D printed Dinosaur robots! (I picked the wrong career . . .)

My only dislike, was how much time was spent talking about the history of paleontology and the importance of the “deep time” perspective. He discusses how ancient and medieval civilizations, essentially didn’t have the tool set to make the discoveries that where made later on, once Darwin had published On the Origin of Species (though it is interesting that the author seems to celebrate Charles Lyell, and James Hutton as being the true pioneers that set up the ‘headspace’ for Darwin’s theories). In general, I felt it painted ancient peoples in a bad light while trying desperately to do the opposite.

I wondered if a few things in the book were in need of updating (this is copyrighted 2017). He briefly mentions Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus, but our understanding of that weird looking fellow seems to be changing constantly. Another thing that stood out to me, was that he whole heartedly references Mary Anning being the inspiration for the ‘she sells sea shells’ tongue twister (he even cites a New Scientist article). While I’m glad he talks about perhaps the first woman paleontologist in his book, I think it’s pretty unlikely the tongue twister is a reference to her. There’s actually quite a bit of evidence it’s not. I’ve requested the article he cites from the library, so perhaps I’ll do a follow up.

Conclusion?

In general, I greatly enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, and though the author can get long winded about a few things, his writing style is generally engaging, and it’s clear he’s VERY experienced with his subject matter. Perhaps my favorite parts were the ones in which the author actually talks about dinosaurs. He’s correct to think they’re fascinating, and I think this book is strongest when he focuses on the wonder they invoke and the reason for that wonder. The title asks if dinosaurs matter, to which I would say ‘who cares?’ We don’t need a reason to enjoy them as much as we do . . .

That’s all I have for this, thanks for reading and please leave some comments below if you thought the review was useful or even if you just wanna talk about dinos . . . I’m always up for that. Happy #DinosaurDay!

11 Fantasy Books I Should Have Read By Now #WyrdAndWonder

For today’s #WyrdAndWonder prompt, in no particular order, a list of fantasy titles I really should have read by now:

Kindred by Octavia Butler:

Simply put, I’ve yet to read ANY Butler yet. I chose this one for the list because it’s reportedly “Fantasy” (in Butler’s own words: “a kind of grim fantasy”), but the reality is, I should have read something from her by now. I picked up Dawn and Imago at a used books sale and they have just been gathering dust ever since. I need to change that!

Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks:

The first book in the Shannara Chronicles. This is one of those books that I feel like I should read just to understand the history of one of my favorite genres. After The Lord of the Rings, Fantasy (with a capital F) was on the map and people were scrounging for similar kinds of stories. Apparently Sword of Shannara was what they found . . .

Problem is, I’ve heard it isn’t great for modern readers. I don’t know. The MTV show has been a guilty pleasure of mine, but I think it’s been updated substantially. I suppose I’ll get to it some day.

Gardens of the Moon by Stevin Erikson:

This is the first book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It seems to be one of those series that is just EPIC. In scope, complexity, anything. I’ve never read any of it, but it always shows up on fantasy page count lists. Apparently you can buy the complete thing at just over 10,000 pages.

Regardless of whether or not it’s any good, it seems to be something of a notch on the old fantasy reader belt. Not a right of passage necessarily, but definitely a show of commitment to the genre . . . One of which I apparently haven’t completed yet. Some day . . .

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin:

Apparently I even ate GoT inspired Oreos.

I don’t have a good excuse for not having read this yet. I LOVED the show, and would certainly consider myself a fan of all things GoT. I’ve reviewed a precursor to GoT on this blog, cooked a meat pie from the GoT cookbook, and even waited in a super long line to meet the author and get my copy of this book signed (which I embarrassingly picked up at Target on my way to the signing, and even more embarrassingly, blinked during my photo with GRRM).

But for some reason haven’t read the book . . . Ok. Actually I know the reason. When I first bought the paperback, I wanted to get abs and so I started planking. I could read about two pages in the amount of time I could hold a plank. There are A LOT of pages. Over time I think I’ve developed a bit of a pavlovian response. Whenever I even look at the book, my abs hurt.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman:

Simply put, Neverwhere kind ruined Gaiman for me. All the good things I enjoyed about Good Omens I’ve started just attributing to Terry Pratchett’s influence. This one gets rave reviews from everyone I talk to, and the show seems pretty popular. But alas I’m not very motivated on this one. I know I should be . . . but I’m not.

Dragon Flight by Anne McKaffery:

Dragon Riders of Pern just seems to be one of those series that has influenced nearly everyone under the sun. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much. Either way, I feel I should have read at least one of these simply because it’s SO pervasive. Time will tell.

Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind:

I feel like I might have been able to lump this one in with the Shannara stuff earlier in the post as this series seems to be one that most people found after reading Tolkien and just wanted more. I put it down here because I think people get the “Terry’s” in fantasy confused enough as it is.

I honestly have no idea what it’s even about, but it seems like one I should have read. Who knows?

Black Company by Glen Cook:

At some point, I feel like I read a short story in the Black Company universe and I remember liking it. It seems pretty popular among people who like Fantasy, and I’ve heard that it is sort of proto Grimdark which . . . could be interesting to read for that aspect alone. It’s on the ever growing TBR.

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny:

This is one that I keep getting told I need to read and a series that I think I might actually enjoy. I’ve read Creatures of Light and Darkness before so Zelazny is on my radar for that reason too. I’ll get there.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman:

I pretty much love everything about the show based off this book that used to be on SYFY channel, and was essentially crushed when it got cancelled (although I suppose it’s probably good that it ended because I personally don’t feel it ever got “bad” as a lot of shows do when they run too long). However, I haven’t approached the books yet. I’ve heard several negative reviews and my love for the show is just soooo much that I don’t want to taint it. But I probably will because I just have to know!

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber:

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and all their assorted adventures, just seem to be the inspiration for so many fantasy things (I think you could argue all of “low” fantasy, and Sword & Sorcery). I’ve read a few of their stories over the years and enjoy the pair immensely, but I’ve never read the original short story collection. One of these days.

End of post thoughts:

This list could have been SOO much longer, but eventually I got tired. Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of these books are older titles. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t think I should be reading newer things, because there is TONS of great new fantasy coming out all the time. The reason those titles are probably not on the list is because I’ve been trying really hard to keep up (although it’s impossible) and I think I’ve read at least some of the newer stuff. Older stuff is harder to will myself to go back to, because of all the great new stuff.

Anyway hope you enjoyed my listicle. Please let me know which titles you think should be on the list in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Dance of the Apdna

Hey all. I decided to take a break from Max (although I’m by no means giving him a rest) and try to see the world of Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo from a new perspective. Hope you enjoy!

For anyone counting (hah! only me), this piece came in at 2,249 out of 2,250. Pretty close!

Dance of the Apdna

Cara’s face blanched as she scrubbed the inside of the Apdna trough.

The amount of grime and muck which had built up over the course of the last year was enough to make her breakfast demand freedom from her stomach. She did not let it go. She wasn’t sure what kind of game she was playing, but somehow that felt like losing.

Why does it smell? she thought as she dipped her scrub brush back into a bucket of soap and water. It was starting to look about as green as the trough.

She’d managed to make one small tile shimmer in the afternoon sun, but most of the trough was still dull and disgusting. She still had a long way to go. Cara took in a deep breath, tried not to gag, and continued to scrub.

She’d nearly finished shining a second panel when she heard Max’s eager voice call from the other side of the enclosure.

“Cara? You gotta get this. Just look how cute these little nuggets are! This one’s hugging my leg. And look another is on my arm! They love me! If this doesn’t get us likes, I don’t know what will.”

Cara looked up from the trough and, as she expected, found Max standing among a small swarm of Apdnas. The little bears were about the size of a raccoon, with pointy ears, and a kind of yellowish fur. The one hugging Max’s leg looked almost green, and Cara could tell that it had already had a small adventure in the trough she was cleaning.

“You know that behavior is actually a kind of hunting method,” she said. “Enough of those pile up on you, and you won’t be able to move to save your life.”

“Ah. Looks like someone read the brochure,” he laughed. “I can’t imagine these little guys causing all that trouble. They’re too precious.”

Cara shrugged and went back to scrubbing the trough. “We’ll see how precious they are when they’ve got you pinned to the floor,” she said under her breath.

Max seemed not to hear, but that didn’t mean he was done with her. “Cara seriously. Come take the pic. Let someone else clean that muck.”

“But Mr. Quixotic said it needed to be done before the shift change. A donor is coming, and everything needs to at least look like it’s in working order, even if it isn’t.”

He gave her a flat stare. Another of the bears was attempting to wrap itself around his head, and tuffs of Max’s black hair were sticking out between its limbs.

“And one of the new kids will be by soon to clean the trough, but you were hired to run our social media accounts. Don’t you think you should be doing that? The post about Apdnas on the account last week was great! Everyone loved it.”

“Which means I should snap some photos of the Sand Seal this week. Showcase something different.”

“Cara think! That post nearly doubled our follower count. That’s the kind of results Jerry’s expecting. You need to take this seriously.”

“If I post about the Apdnas again so soon, people will get bored of them. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Another post will saturate the market. Is that serious enough for you?” 

“Look, Cara, I’m just trying to help. It isn’t fair to your brother to be responsible for paying the bills for your mom’s medicine on his own. I just thought –”

He was interrupted by the loud clang of Cara’s brush hitting the metal of the trough where she’d thrown it.

How dare he!

Before she really knew what she was doing, Cara was on her feet, trembling. “You know what Max, I think your right. I shouldn’t be cleaning this trough after all. I’m taking my fifteen.”

The new kid Max had referenced earlier, Peter, nearly dropped the expensive looking speaker he was carrying as he scrambled to move out of Cara’s way. As she stormed out of the Apdna enclosure she felt like an animal herself, stalking the asphalt pathways leading around the other enclosures.

She wanted to kill Max for hurting her – for implying that she wasn’t doing her part to help her brother. She decided to kill an order of fries instead.

Her outrage only seemed to increase as she waited in line for the meal. It was because of her mother that she was cleaning this trough to begin with, so she could show Jerry that she was capable of doing more than taking photos and writing witty captions.

Perhaps if he saw her doing work that the other employees did, he would allow her to work a couple regular shifts. He didn’t have much extra money for ‘advertising’ and was only able to pay for a few hours a week for her to work on the social media accounts.

But of course, Max didn’t understand this. His assimilation into the team at Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo had been nearly painless. A reference from Ms. Pine had got him in the door, and then a fluke accident in the Sand Seal hut had put him in everyone’s good graces right away. Sure he’d endured some minor hazing by the other employees with the Savage Penguins, but they’d all had his back at the end of the day.

Cara’s acceptance into the ‘herd’, as Jerry would say, had been less smooth. Working so few hours had meant that she hardly got to spend any time with the other employees, and the nature of her position meant that whenever she did see them, she was prying into their lives for a ‘Staff of the Week’ post or trying to get them not to pose during a supposedly candid photo.

It sucked.

She pulled out her phone and began swiping through a random app, trying to distract herself. But it wasn’t the same. Image after image swiped by, and nothing seemed to lift her spirits. Eventually, she’d gone through all the new content and found herself looking at the most recent post from Port Monster. It showed one of the other employees holding a bottle up to a baby Apdna’s mouth.

She sighed.

Maybe Max was right and she should have just used another Apdna photo for today’s post. She had enough of them saved up on her phone.  The little bears were incredibly cute and so she’d spent quite a few of her first shifts in their enclosure trying to get just the right shot.

As coworkers went, they were quite accommodating. She’d found them easy to pose as part of their natural instinct was to try to mimic what they saw. She’d read online that because the creatures needed to be so close to their prey in order to overpower them, they thought mimicking the prey’s movements would allow them to pass as part of the prey animal’s herd.

It was really wild. She’d managed to get the little bears to do all sorts of poses and even some small movements like waving.

But she wasn’t taking care of the animals. Not like the girl in the picture she’d captured. It was just as Max had said. She was hired to run the accounts.

But she wanted more

At last, Cara’s small box of fries was empty. She still had a few minutes left before she needed to return from her break, so she put her arm out and lined up a selfie. After a few unsatisfactory attempts – her curly black hair looked too frizzy in that one; the light wasn’t good for her dark skin in this other one – she dropped her phone on the table in disgust.

Normally she loved posting pictures of her day, even if it was just her lunch. But now that she’d started doing it for work, it had lost all its luster. She wondered briefly if that was the real reason she had wanted to take up the tasks she saw the other employees carrying out. She wanted a distraction.

Cara’s phone lit up and buzzed slightly, showing the alarm she’d set earlier had counted down to zero. Her break was over.

Her walk back to the Apdna enclosure was a slow trudge. She couldn’t help but feel like she should apologize to Max, but she still felt he owed her an apology as well. She knew from fighting with her half-brother Trevor, that this was never a good way to finish an argument, but she couldn’t see any other option.

Cara entered the enclosure with her phone out, ready to snap a photo of Max and the Apdnas if he was still willing. She looked cautiously around the enclosure for him, trying to anticipate the mocking sigh of relief or the cool reprimand he’d no doubt have waiting. But she didn’t see him at all.

She did catch sight of Peter who came rushing over from the other end of the enclosure.

“What do we do?” Peter asked.

“What do you m—”

But then she saw it. Max lay in the trough on his back, covered it Apdnas. He appeared to be trying to say something, but one of the yellow bears had completely covered his mouth with its little body.

Cara did not waste any time thinking of what to do. She stuffed her phone into the new kid’s chest and raced into the enclosure.

The first thing she would need to do was get the Apdna’s attention. If she could get them to focus on her, she might be able coax them away from Max.

She clapped loudly several times and yelled “Hey!”, as she had done a few times when taking pictures of the bears on earlier shifts, but as it had been then, the move was of little use. Only a single bear looked her way, giving her a little wave of its paw, miming Cara’s own frantic movements.

Ughhh! I need to get all of their attention!

She looked around frantically for something – anything! – that might make more noise and noticed the new kid’s speaker lying close to the trough, crooning k-pop softly. She rushed over to it, jabbing and then holding her finger on the little plus sign that controlled the volume. Suddenly, the room got loud.

All of the Apdnas turned to look towards the unexpected sound.

I have their attention now. But what do I do with it?

Without a clue as to why, Cara started dancing. She moved to her left in a kind of galloping motion, then back towards her right. Reflexively, some of the bears which were not already attached to Max began to mimic her. A few others even let go of him to copy her.

She kept going, adding a kind of lasso-type motion with her hands, and then cantering her legs before turning and starting the whole thing again. She kept the dance up, allowing another three rotations to pass before she was rightly facing Max again. About a dozen bears had released him from their grip . . .

It was enough that he could move again, and he began pulling them off of himself. Before long, each Apdna in the enclosure was focused on her. Before starting a second rotation, Cara saw Max flee from the trough and begin picking his way toward the exit.

Cara did not wait to finish the dance completely, but instead began sprinting towards the exit, hoping the bear’s reflexes were slow enough that she could reach it before they gave chase. Max saw her bolt and did the same, both of them reaching the gate of the enclosure at the same time.

Cara slammed the gate shut. The clang echoed, startling a few nearby patrons. She looked at Max.

“Cara. I’m – “ Max ran his hand through the back of his hair, and looked away. “Listen I – Thank you.”

That’s it?

She didn’t know what she had expected him to say, but this seemed too simple. Too small, after what she’d just done for him. 

She should call him a fool. A pompous idiot, who would have deserved to be smothered under the bear’s cuddly bodies. She was about to do so when she caught herself.

What good would it serve? His apology seemed genuine enough if crudely formed. Peter saved her from having to say anything by rushing up and blurting “Look! You’ve got to see this.”

He had Cara’s phone in his hand and basically shoved it at her and Max. The two leaned together so they could both see the screen. It showed her doing her weird dance, and seeing the Apdnas dancing alongside her was about the cutest thing she’d ever seen. Max crept comically back towards the exit and Peter’s hand waved him on.

The whole thing was hilarious.

But more importantly, people were loving it. Likes were flooding in and reposts too. The video could not have been posted for more than a few minutes, and their follower count had nearly doubled, many leaving comments wondering what caused the bears to behave like that, or where had Cara learned to dance like that. Someone from Channel 8, the town’s biggest news station, had messaged them about a feature on the Apdnas and asked if Cara would interview.

She looked up at Max. “Do you think Jerry will let me?”

He grinned like a fool. “After this, he’ll let you do whatever you want . . .”

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Dance of the Apdna. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Should ‘Silver In the Wood’ win Emily Tesh an Astounding Award? (aka best debut) #WyrdAndWonder

A hard question to answer. Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is a great novella for many reasons.

The first reason, is its up close-and-personal interpretation of the ‘Green man’ myth. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the folklore surrounding this figure, so I can’t really comment on Tesh’s interpretation.

The impression I have though, using really only this story as a reference point, is that The Green Man is a kind of tree spirit, similar to a Dryad from classical mythology (indeed there is a dryad that follows our main character around and is very protective of him), which protects the forest and keeps out all the bad stuff that wants to come in. However, a few things set our main character apart:

  • he is male and most dryads are female in the book
  • he lives near a big oak tree which might make him something like a Hamadryad but I’m not sure

This sort of mythic existence puts him in a sort of tenuous relationship with the rest of the wood’s inhabitants. At first, humans see him as wild and scary, but ultimately get over it as the story progresses.

Whatever the folklore textbooks have to say, the interpretation written here feels simultaneously personal, and mythic in a way which is really engaging and is probably the first thing I noticed about the book.

I feel this mythic quality is accomplished by the second awesome part about this novella: Tesh’s prose. They’re lovely, and seem to rely on some seemingly impossible phrases (how exactly does time pass “slow and green”) which don’t hang up the reader, but give us our own freedom to imagine their implications. Throughout the entire work, we’re in a place where things don’t quite make sense but are nevertheless mystical and fantastic.

This novella’s final and perhaps most endearing quality is its romance arc. It seems to try and hide itself behind the thickets of legend and worldbuilding, but the reality is that this story does not start until Tobias meets Harry Silver, and can’t end until . . . well I won’t spoil it. Needless to say, it is the thread that pulls us through.

My only gripe, is that I felt like I was left wondering in a few too many places. The story seems to have complex character relationships based on a complex and long history, but I felt like we never got enough of that history to understand why the action we were taking would bring about the end we desired. Even in a scant 100 pages, there was at least two moments in which I wondered why we where seeing something and ultimately felt the scene could have been pruned away.

Astounding Award?

I suppose the answer to this question will ultimately come down to how it stacks up against the competition.

This title is a great read, and there is much to love within this bite-sized package. There is a clever mythology at play here, a genuinely enjoyable romance, and beautiful prose, but I also felt that some key information was missing, while other sections seemed to provide things which weren’t relevant.

Looking back at my review of The Vanished Birds, I seemed to have similar complaints, although I feel it’s longer page count might give it some more leniency than Silver in the Wood. Short works don’t have as much time for extra material. Every word counts.

Micaiah Johnson’s debut is probably still the story I’ve enjoyed most in my Hugo Contender read-through (though I’m not going to look back through all the posts to make sure I didn’t contradict myself). My review of The Space Between Worlds cites strong characters, and a well-developed setting as it’s strong points, and I believe that in these categories, it simply out-performs Silver in the Wood.

No Astounding Award for Tesh this year (in my rankings at least), though I’m sure she’ll contend for other awards in the future. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’m hoping you’ll still go read Silver in the Wood as it is a great book!

If you have questions comments or gripes, leave em in the comments. Thanks all!