Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: Dreamrush by Garrett Calcaterra

Dreamrush is a collection of short stories, so I'll review them each individually.

The Knight's Dog

The description says this is often compared to Game of Thrones, and it's easy to see why. As soon as you're juxtaposing a knight bleeding out with a mastiff's pendulous scrotum, you know your fantasy has gone beyond pretty elves and manichean battles between good and evil. But don't think that, just because you've read G.R.R. Martin, this story won't hold any twists and surprises for you. The Knights Dog is a solid, grounded, gritty piece of short fiction, and a great opener for this collection.

Page Fault

My favorite of the collection. "Page Fault" is the dual narrative of a far-flung apocalyptic future where a tiny nucleus of survivors ekes out a pitiful existence, defending banks of ancient computers which store the digitized personalities of the bulk of humanity, allowing them to live on in simulated realities. But the glorious digital immortality promised to the digitized survivors comes with unsurprising caveats and conditions. For one, the primary simulated world was designed to run on the same rules as ours, including a stratified society of haves and have-nots. Worse, it seems that some of the haves have figured out how to rewrite the rules for their own benefit. Worse still, in the outside world, the barbarians are at the gate, and the lives of millions are on the line. If this sounds like I'm gushing, it's because I am. This is such an inventive, well-written, and fun story. Crossing genres in new and interesting ways, it combines Mad Max with Snow Crash, then throws in a dash of Al Capone and World of Warcraft. I love it!

Deus ex Aurum

Grounded in the actual history of the California gold rush, "Deus ex Aurum" tells an alt-history story of James Marshall. In reality, Marshall was among the party who first discovered gold, but was bum-rushed by prospectors and never reaped the rewards of his discovery. In this story, we see what might have happened if Marshall sought compensation by way of the supernatural. I liked this story overall, but I think it failed in one important aspect: the attempt to explore the forgotten cultures of the gold rush. While the portrayals of Chinese-American and Nisenan characters were mostly informed and respectful, I was disappointed right off the bat by a wizened-magical-Chinese-man stereotype. Things got a lot better from there, but the story is still fundamentally focused on a white guy. There's a parallel narrative from the perspective of Marshall's Nisenan friend, Meesham, but even his narrative is still centered on Marshall. This is still a good story, but it would have been a great story if it ditched the stereotype character, and if it had more and stronger parallel narratives that really belonged to Nisenan, Chinese-American, and Mexican-American characters.

Gold Comes Out

This is a fun one! Set in the same alternate, gaslamp reality as "Deus Ex Aurum", "Gold Comes Out" follows pirate captain Jardine, who's still plying the waters and seeking his fortunes long after the age of piracy has come to an end. Without spoiling things too much, by the mid-19th century, being a pirate is neither safe nor easy. When Jardine enters the world of the gold rush, he begins plotting the greatest individual act of piracy ever imagined. You just can't go wrong with an enjoyable adventure/heist story set against an interesting, well-imagined backdrop.

Wulfram

I haven't read the Dreamwielder books, which this is a prequel to, but I plan to now. A tale of loyalty and betrayal, "Wulfram" follows the eponymous character as he seeks out the last heir of a kingdom in upheaval. Wulfram is a fascinating character. He was magically twisted into a living weapon during some previous war, and is now striving to rediscover the nurturing side he lost, as he tries to protect this child king. I believe he's one of the villains of the Dreamwielder series, but he appears here as a tortured soul, caught between worlds. This is a great short, and I can't wait to read the books.

Overall

Wonderful short fiction. Grab this collection if you like gaslamp fantasy, genre bending, gritty fantasy, or if you just want some bite-sized stories that you can read start-to-finish before bed. As of this writing, the collection is priced at $8 for a paperback or $4 digital, which for 124 pages of solid fiction is quite reasonable. Highly recommended!

Bloggity and Authory Updates

Hello, loyal readers! I just wanted to give you a quick update on my impending fame and fortune (fame and fortune not available in all states.)

  • The Guns Above is still looking at a summer 2017 release. I am excited and terrified.
  • I'll have a new website going live in a couple of months, but this blog will be staying right where it is. You'll start noticing some changes to the appearance, to better match the theme of the website, but you won't have to change your bookmarks.
  • Instead of my previous schedule of small weekly articles, and my more recent habit of big long stretches of nothing, I'll be doing one highly researched, long-form article per month. Those will post on the first of the month, starting next month. For September's article, I'm thinking of doing something on the early history of the airship.
  • I'll also try to post something lighter once a week, on the old Wednesday schedule, but consider that a very soft promise (like my parents' wedding vows.) If my life decomplexificates itself anytime soon, we'll go to a firmer or more frequent schedule.
  • On a more personal note, I'm going to try my hand at writing a short story for the first time in seven years. Since it's been so long, I'm easing back into it with one of my most milquetoast and unimaginative ideas, about a Texas cowboy having adventures with an alien sidekick that communicates only through body odor. So, definitely keep an eye out for that one. It has Nebula Award written all over it.
And now, a review!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee


Ninefox Gambit is amazing. I love the characters, in all their scheming glory. I love the immersive world building, the no-hand-holding style of dropping the reader into a truly alien setting where the very rules of reality are altered by changes to the calendar. I love the smooth prose, the little moments that give characters life, the awkward exchanges, the unusual hobbies, the triumphs and the sudden plunge into cold water of reversed fortunes. I love the density of themes: shared belief, loyalty, games, hobbies, mathematics. Yes, I loved the math. And I say this as someone who has always hated math.

Most of all, I love that nothing is a mere gimmick. The techno-magic system is original, fleshed out, and interesting. You rarely see that. There's a lot of pulp out there that manages one of the three, and good stuff that manages two, but nailing all three is rare. And this approach to deep, fresh ideas flows through every aspect of the book. Every little detail is weird and wonderful, and the implications of every detail are thoroughly explored. Nothing is window dressing here. Nothing is a gimmick.

This is essential reading for anyone who likes military sf. And I mean essential. It's an entirely new take on the genre, and you simply can't say you understand that genre if you haven't read it. In fact, if you haven't read it, I don't even want to be around you. Apart from how one-sided our conversation will be, as I gush on and on about this book while you stand mute, I'm a little worried that your unenlightened presence might destabilize the space around you. So read it.

Yours in Calendrical Heresy,
Robyn

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book & Blog News

Whoa. Wrong book.

As good-hearted people who read the comments section may already know, I finally managed to trick someone into publishing one of my novels. All that time spent training with Tibetan masters in the shadow arts that cloud men's minds has really paid off. And people say FSU is just a party school.

The novel is titled The Guns Above, and it'll be available from Tor Books sometime next year. And yes, it's that Tor Books. I know, right?

I'll give you more details and excerpts and suchlike in the months to come. For now, let's call it an action-adventure gunpowder fantasy, and tease you with this pitch:

For years, Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre has served loyally in His Majesty's Royal Aerial Signal Corps, whose fragile airships are the army's eyes on the battlefield. When, by royal decree, she becomes the first woman to command an airship, Josette finds herself caught in a tempest of politics and prejudice. Her crew is skeptical of her abilities, her commander has taken a personal interest in destroying her career, her new airship is an untested deathtrap, and the army has sent an observer to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. At this point, she only hopes she can survive long enough to be killed by the enemy.

So it's kind of like Aubrey-Maturin on an airship, which is a book I'd buy in a heartbeat. So, insofar as I'm highly representative of the average American... Shit. Well, Tor has a great marketing department, anyway.

They also have the world's best editor, Diana Pho. This is not me sucking up, by the way. It's an objective fact. I did the math. She also moonlights as the founder of Beyond Victoriana, an award-winning multicultural steampunk blog that challenges the community to recognize a world which extends beyond the suburbs of London.

And of course I have to thank Paul Lucas of Janklow and Nesbit, who would be the world's best agent, except that Justin Beiber's agent must surely have signed a deal with Lucifer or something. Paul's definitely the world's best literary agent, though, and the most patient agent of any sort. Because really, he would have to be, wouldn't he?

That's the book side of things. But you ask, hat and/or heart in hand, (and in the latter case, ew,) what does this mean for the blog?

The blog will still exist, but it may not stay here. My tentative plan is to integrate it into a dedicated website geared towards publicity sometime in the next few months. The current blog just isn't well tuned for tricking you into buying my books. I mean, I'm looking over it now, and I can't even tell what my own name is. (Seriously, though, what the hell is my name? If you know, please send me an e-mail at... umm... Does anyone know my e-mail address?)

In the meantime, I'll be trimming the fat around here. That means, starting within the next few weeks, articles will begin to disappear due to issues of popularity, incongruous theme, relevance, or too-much-cursing-even-for-me-which-is-really-saying-something-let-me-tell-you. So, if your taste is bad enough to want to read a particular article of mine, but not quite so bad that you already have, you might want to go ahead and get that done, because it may disappear at any time.

Sometime in the summer to fall timeframe, I'll start doing regular articles again. They probably won't be weekly, as they were before, because a combination of book stuff, day jobs, and criminal activity doesn't leave me as much spare time as I once had. So we'll aim for monthly at first, with smaller updates in between, and see how that goes.

And finally, let me apologize for the paucity of substantial articles over the past few... [checks archives] holy shit, it's been, like, over a year. Why the hell is anyone still reading this? That's just an irrational level of dedication, right there. In other words: the best level of dedication. So leave a note in the comments, and on the day I finally rule this world, you will be rewarded with land and power.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Themes

Just went to see Birdman with my relatives. It's based on Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, a short story about trying to make your relatives understand the themes of the movie Birdman on the drive home from the theater.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Box Seats at the Security Theater

I'm at the airport and I accidentally walked through the pre-screened security line. The guy checking boarding passes just sent me through without even mentioning my mistake, much less stopping me. Either he truly doesn't give a shit or pre-screening is now on the honor system. I didn't even realize I was in the wrong line until I noticed there was no body scanner in my line.

This is scary. I mean, what if I'd been carrying four ounces of water with malicious intent?