#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!

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!

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!

Song of Achilles: Still a Song Worth Singing #WyrdAndWonder

My Preconceived Notions

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t have some conception of Achilles’ legend. It’s the kind of story that you feel you’ve always known, even though you can hardly remember the first time you’ve heard it. Certainly it has influenced tons of media (a personal favorite of mine being Led Zeppelin’s Achilles’ Last Stand which apparently is more about tax evasion than Greek warriors), and will continue to do so for eternities to come.

But for me, I think my first look at the Iliad was probably in the sixth grade although I’m not certain how much of it we actually read, or whether or not it was just summary. At some point I had a paperback of it on my shelf, but which edition or when I actually read it, is as shrouded in my mind as the facts surrounding the ancient city of Troy itself.

In college, I read more pieces of it for a Western Literature class. The thing I remember most is that according to whichever translation we were reading, the very first line of the poem is simply the exclamation to rage! I was newly accepted into a fraternity that semester, and it seemed a very “Greek” thing to yell. Especially when listening to the speaker busting dial-up modem that is (was?) Dub-Step.

It was probably during that course that I was starting to put together my first inklings that Patroclus and Achilles may have had something more going on than friendship, but I can’t say that I really gave it much thought.

But even with all of that floating around in my mind, the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom — and I feel like I should hate to admit this, because in general everyone hates the movie Troy (especially Roger Ebert), but I absolutely love it — is probably the strongest image thus far in my mind, of who Achilles was and how his story went.

My only other entry into this comparison is Jesse Beeson-Tate’s Achilles vs Mecha-Hector which I will continue to talk about fondly on this blog, but will probably never re-read to do an actual post about. That it exists at all is half of what makes it so wonderful . . . I digress.

All of this to say, by 2021, I did not think there would be much I could glean from another retelling of the Trojan Myth. Surely I’ve heard every telling conceivable, or if not, the nuance between the next retelling and what I already knew would be so similar as to be nearly imperceptible. In fact, I need no longer waste my time with tired old Achilles and his stupid pride. I had wrung every last drop from that myth, and could better use the time elsewhere, with newer, more modern stories.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Enter Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles . . .

Told from the perspective of Achilles’ best friend and lover, Patroclus, Miller sings a song that sounds familiar, but feels completely new. It’s as if I know the notes, but not in which order they will come, or how fast they will go.

Each moment I was reading this book, I could feel myself checking the scenes before me against the story as I believed it should go, but instead of Patroclus’ beautiful catchphrase when describing Achilles – This and this and this – I found myself asking: What’s this? And what’s this and this and this?

Somehow, this book manages to buck so many assumptions at once, that there is a temptation while reading to become hung up, to want to stop and check whether or not the legend of Hercules really included him going mad, and killing his wife and children (because the Disney version did not; and now I’m also wondering if this core element of our beloved Greek God slayer Kratos, was ripped from Hercules’ myth who in-game is supposed to be his brother but again I digress. Yeesh!)

Resist this temptation! And also resist the urge to try and figure out how and when the parts that you know are gonna happen, will happen, and how. Because it’s a Greek Tragedy, those parts will come. They will get that same effect from you they always have, but you’ll be so busy worrying about it, that you will not enjoy the parts you weren’t expecting.

Like Achilles playing the lute, and Patroclus being awkward, bony, and terrible at fighting (although he does pretty well for himself a few times). Or the two of them being happy together and not caring what others thought about them, for these things truly are what make the book so enjoyable to read.

Final thoughts

To put it shortly, this book is a beautiful, if somewhat (expectedly) sad love story. It is well told and engaging through and through. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially those whose conception of the Achilles, Troy, and the Trojan War matched anything I talked about at the beginning of my post.

Anyway, thanks for reading this, and give Song of Achilles a shot!

Should ‘Black Sun’ Get A Hugo? #WyrdAndWonder

For new viewers from the #WyrdAndWonder crowd (also check out my previous Wyrd And Wonder Posts), I’ve been working my way through a really long list of Hugo contenders and asking the question: “Should [book title] get a Hugo?”

Obviously, my priorities changed slightly once the Hugo Finalists were announced, but I’m still going to be blogging as many of the original list as I can until the award is given sometime in December.

Luckily for me, this book fits squarely into the Fantasy genre, and I’m not going to have any qualms reviewing it as part of Wyrd And Wonder.

Now, this is only the second book on the finalist list that I’ve finished, and for me, it is the front runner for the award right now. I reviewed Network Effect by Martha Wells, a while back, and concluded that while it was a great book (and I love me some Murderbot!), it was not the right choice for the Hugo this year, as I decided it wasn’t ‘new’ enough to really reflect the genre at this moment.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is the first entry in (what I assume) will be a trilogy (or maybe a series), and there is very little here that I would not consider ‘new’, at least to me.

The first thing I noticed about the book (other than its harrowing first chapter), was the depth of the world in which the story takes place. In an interview with Roanhorse on NPR, the author says she’d been:

“. . . reading about Pre-Columbian cultures for decades. But for this book I really dug into everything from Polynesian sailing methods to what we know of the Maritime Maya to the habits of corvids. I also read a lot about crows.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/17/924734316/i-longed-to-see-something-different-so-i-wrote-it-questions-for-rebecca-roanhors

All of that is used to awe inspiring effect in Black Sun, whether it be out in the sea, sailing the mother waters under a Teek captain, or crossing the Holy City of Tova’s suspension bridges to be closer to the sky. And after 464 pages (well almost 13 hrs for me on audio), there is still so much more of this world I would like to see.

I also really enjoyed the role that crows played in this story. Our black feathery friends (or maybe enemies) are never skimped upon when it comes to depictions in literature – renown as tricksters, harbingers (of fate or death), and companions to the gods of many cultures – the crows in Black Sun felt fresh and different, and I’m anxiously awaiting more stories like it.

Also important, I learned a new (to me) pronoun. Shey/shem/sheir/shemselves. It’s no secret that people learn from the books we read, it is perhaps one of the most important reasons to read in the first place, to expand our horizons. I’m thankful to Rebecca Roanhorse for including this detail in her work.

Finally, the book felt like it had a story to tell that was more than just the events that happened in the plot (I suppose in English classes they call that theme). In particular, the book deals with prejudice in many varieties, but I felt that despite the darkness of the events that were taking place, I still held hope that perhaps those prejudices could be overcome.

So Hugo?

Yup! This one is the one for me so far (and actually a bit of a surprise since I did not much enjoy Roanhoarse’s other Hugo contender Trail of Lightning). I think what sold it for me (say over Network Effect I mentioned earlier), was the themes which seem so prescient, and of this moment, as to be a worthy representation of what the genre is considering during 2021 (well 2020 I guess but these lines are fuzzy).

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about Black Sun. Please let me know what you thought of the book in the comments! Thanks for reading!

#WyrdAndWonder Kickoff post!

IMAGE CREDIT: pegasus images by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

Hey all, so there’s this thing that happens in May called Wyrd & Wonder, in which fans of Fantasy Lit from across the internet get together and celebrate this awesome genre. I’ve watched from the sidelines in years past, enjoying all of these wonderful blog posts and twitter threads, but this year, since I’m blogging again, I thought it might be cool to participate.

I typically post reviews on Wednesdays, so I’ll continue to do that, but I’ll try to keep them as Fantasy genre related as possible. For anybody following my long list of Hugo contenders, you’ll notice that most of them are on that list too (double duty!) and some are even Hugo Finalists (triple duty!).

I will also try to post a response to one of their challenge posts. Mostly this will be on Mondays, but there will be a couple other random days as well, if I have time, or because I thought the challenge prompt was cool.

Finally, if for whatever reason, you actually come to this blog to read my fiction, I’ll continue to post new fiction on Fridays. I cannot promise that these stories are considered ‘fantasy’, but most of them so far have involved made-up animals so . . . that seems pretty fantastical to me.

Below is my plan as it currently stands. I’ll revise the titles and provide links here as I do the writing for this. We’ll see how this goes . . . Very excited to be a part of it all. Thank you @deargeekplace, @imyril & @joriestory for putting this together! Can’t wait to see how this goes . . .

Here’s the list:
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*Failed this one as alas, I spent the entire weekend at the beach with mom. Plus my book shelf is not suited for this challenge AT ALL. Gotta work on buying some Titles that aren’t so ‘in world’. Oh well.
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 – deadlines are the worst. I spent the time I could have been working on this trying to finish up editing for my WIP to submit to critiques. I got it done (sorta) and sent it off . . . fingers are crossed it’s goes well. I’ll still review Empire of Gold at some point but just not for #WyrdAndWonder
May 31st – Wyrd and Wonder Wrap up Post!

Enjoy! and feel free to leave comments on what you’re most looking forward to this May for Wyrd and Wonder.