Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
It’s really hard to pick favourites in this collection. Although I didn’t love the stories equally, there weren’t any duds. (The one I talk about disliking below was because of a theme I’m sick of, not because there was anything wrong with the story per se.) Really, I liked all of them. However, some that stood out to me more than the others were: “Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts, which was just awesome and needs a novel set in its universe; “Signature” by Faith Mudge, which was clever, amusing and ultimately happy-making; “Careful Magic” by Karen Healey about a magical school and a girl dealing with being an outsider for her eccentricities; and “Double Time” by John Chu, which was about ice-skating and having a pushy parent.
Most of the stories, I found, were reasonably upbeat but the anthology was punctuated with a few sadder stories. For example “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams and “Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar both have ambiguous and not entirely happy endings.
It’s hard not to comment on all the stories now, but I’ve already done that below as I usually do with anthologies and collections. Kaleidoscope is an excellent anthology and I strongly recommend it to everyone. If you haven’t already picked up a copy, do so!
5 / 5 stars
First published: August 2014, Twelfth Planet Press (official Australian launch is October, though, for technical reasons)
Format read: Bit of paper, mostly ebook
Source: Kickstarter rewards
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Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.Robin Hobb remains an excellent writer but there are several caveats that I feel need to be issued to potential readers. First of all, this is not the book/series from which to pick up the story for the first time. Readers who haven’t read the first two series will a) be spoiled for many key events and b) will not have the same investment in the characters. On the other hand, I read the Tawny Man trilogy when it first came out in 2001–2003, more than a decade ago, and, although my memory of some events was hazy coming into Fool’s Assassin, I had no trouble picking the story up again. (Although I did spend a large portion of the start thinking “Fitz was how young then?!” in mild alarm. I haven’t seen it with YA-ified marketing, though. I wonder why?)
But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…
On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.
Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?
Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.
Fool’s Assassin begins similarly to Assassin’s Apprentice in that events are conveyed chronologically and it is some time before we reach the “present” of the main story. Alternatively, you could just think of it as a story told with several jumps forward in time in the first third. It does mean that while the story is eventually told in alternating (first person) points of view, it takes a while for the second character to join Fitz in the narration.
It is very difficult for me to talk abou the plot at all without spoilers. The blurb above, for example, entirely fails to convey the actual thrust of the story and merely summarises the first chapter, which takes places something like fifteen years before the end of the book. There is a very crucial event that happens in the first third of the book which changes everything, including what the book is actually about. However, I think that talking about it in any detail is a spoiler so I will put my discussion under a spoiler tag (hover to read). Not talking about it at all would mean ignoring the main thrust of the story and also precluding a rant I really want to get out. But please don’t read it if you want to enjoy the story as it was intended. Knowing a particular outcome would greatly reduce some of the tension surrounding it (more so than usual, I think).
<caution, here there be spoilers>
Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer
This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.I’ve read a lot of writing advice in my time, mainly online, I have to admit, and the lack of an SFF perspective has often bothered me. Generic writing advice is great up to a point, but eventually I felt like I’d read most of it before, in one form or another; I had already gotten what I could out of it. And it rarely addressed some of the issues that can come up in writing science fiction (I don’t really write fantasy, I should mention up front).
What’s really great about Vandermeer’s book is that it starts with the assumption that you’re writing some form of speculative fiction. It covers some generic writing advice as well, but puts everything in the context of spec fic, even while using examples from more realist fiction. The chapters cover key elements of fiction writing: “Inspiration and the Creative Life”, “The Ecosystem of Story” (including narrative elements and so forth), “Beginnings and Endings”, “Narrative Design”, “Characterisation”, “Worldbuilding” (which, obviously, is much more central in spec fic than real-world fiction), “Revision”, and some extra stuff and writing exercises in the appendices.
Other than the focus on fantasy, what really stands out about Wonderbook are all the gorgeous illustrations. The book’s accompanying website (which I have not explored in detail) gives a good idea of the aesthetic. The whole thing is trade paperback sized (I don’t think there’s a hardcover version) and filled with glossy pages. To give you a clearer idea of the illustrations, I’ve taken a few crappy photos with my four-year-old phone. At night. With a paper Ikea lampshade doing most of the lighting. We have the endpaper + inside cover, an illustration of story structure (more or less), and the journey of a writer. Click to embiggen (but not really to enhance much).
The only thing I didn’t love about Wonderbook was that it did focus more on fantastical fiction (rather than science fiction). This mostly came across in specific examples, so it wasn’t a huge problem and there were some SF examples. But I felt there was a bit of an emphasis on degrees of surreal fiction — reflective, I think, of what Vandermeer writes. People looking for specific subgenre advice (other than what I’ve mentioned) won’t quite find that here. But that did not, for me, diminish the value of the book. I will definitely come back to it as a reference down the line.
If nothing else, I would come back for some of the writing exercises, of which there are several (and of which I only attempted a few). I should also note that I found the process of reading Wonderbook inspiring in itself. It inspired one short story semi-directly and helped me finish another that I was part-way through. The main text is also broken up with short essays from other writers on specific topics, which I can also see being useful references to come back to.
I highly recommend Wonderbook to writers of speculative fiction looking for an extra push. Or to beginning writers wanting to learns skills through something other than trial and error. As you might guess, it’s not the kind of book you read straight through without stopping but it is a book worth reading all of. Including the appendices, which contained a very interesting interview with George RR Martin. Or, really, you could just buy it for the pictures.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2013, Abrams Image
Format read: Paper! Illustrated! Pretty!
Source: Purchased from a real-life bookshop, and also a present
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Tsana’s August Status (Snapshot, Worldcon and, of course, books)
It’s been a super busy month on the blog, mostly thanks to the Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. There have been a bajillion interviews posted over the two weeks. I would love to link you to the link round-up on SF Signal, but as I write this (in advance) it’s not up yet. Instead, I’ll just point you in the direction of all the interviews on the blogs of: Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, Sean Wright and here. If you want a more structured list of the interviews I’ve run, here it is:
- KA Bedford
- Trudi Canavan
- Nina D’Aleo
- Jennifer Fallon
- Donna Maree Hanson
- Richard Harland
- Edwina Harvey
- Simon Haynes
- Jay Kristoff
- Justine Larbalestier
- Jason Nahrung
- Simon Petrie
- Amanda Pillar
- MC Planck
- Jo Spurrier
- KJ Taylor
LonCon 3, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention. While there, I’m going to be on two panels and, of course, I’m planning to attend a bunch of other panels, parties and get myself a small book pile from the Dealer’s Room. If you’re going to be there and would like to watch me talk about stuff, these are my panels:
The World at Worldcon: SF/F in Australia and New Zealand
Capital Suite 3 (Level 3), 4:30pm - 6pm, Sunday, August 17
Amanda Bridgeman, Tsana Dolichva, Ian Nichols, Ben Peek, Janice Gelb
From afar, Australian SF publishing seems to be in good health, with books such as Nike Sulway’s Rupetta (winner of this year’s Tiptree Award) and publishers such as Twelfth Planet Press attracting international attention, and writers such as Ben Peek and Rjurik Davidson scoring international publishing deals — not to mention already high-profile exports such as Greg Egan, Margo Lanagan, and Shaun Tan. To what can the current depth and breadth of the Australian scene be attributed? Which other writers should we be looking out for?
SF and Space Travel: Pragmatism or Pessimism?
Capital Suite 11 (Level 3), 12pm - 1:30pm, Monday, August 18
Guy Consolmagno SJ, Rohan Shah, Ben Bova, Tsana Dolichva, Mary Turzillo
Charlie Stross has said the idea of space travel happening any time soon is complete nonsense. Not everyone has agreed with him, but does the discussion he started highlight something about the proliferation of near term science fiction? Does the dearth of spaceships on TV, and the glut of climate-change thrillers on paper, indicate that we have lost faith in the idea that humans will travel among the stars? Or should we be engaging with issues much closer to home anyway?
After LonCon, I’ll be holidaying for a couple of weeks so the blog will be a bit quiet. I’ll probably have some reviews queued up while I’m away, but expect the blog to be very quiet. Possibly twitter as well, once the Con is over, although who knows.
Aaaaand that’s most of my news. On a completely different note, you can read my link round-up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
What Have I Read?
- Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan — short story collection of horror, mostly
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie — A really awesome book that all SF fans should read.
- The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who by Paul Cornell — A meh graphic novel/comic published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who
- Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead — The pretty great latest/penultimate instalment in the Bloodlines series
- The Guild of Assassins by Anna Kashina — sequel to Blades of the Old Empire and not as good as the first book
- The Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell — the first book in a new fantasy series
…which is not very many books, but that’s because of Snapshot.
What Am I Currently Reading?
Also on the short story front, my copy of Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, arrived in the mail (and in my email for the ebook), so I had to start reading that. I’m not very far in, but it is awesome as expected.
I’ve just about finished reading Wonderbook, a writing advice book by Jeff Vandermeer, which was really awesome. I’ve just got some appendices to go and then I’ll post my review. It will probably be the next post after this one.
The novel I’m reading — or really, have only just started — is Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. So far I’ve only been reading it at night in bed until I pass out, which has not gotten me very far. Nothing much except the initial inciting incident has happened so far, and we still don’t know what the ramifications of that are. I’ve actually spent most of the book trying to remember what happened in the earlier two series an, crucially, how old they all were. Fitz was really young in the Farseer trilogy, even by the end.
Not a huge haul this month, with only three review books and two crowdfunding rewards, but I’m sure WorldCon will help me buy too many books for next month’s update.
- Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead — already reviewed
- The Godless by Ben Peek — new fantasy series by an Australian author
- Aurora in Four Voice by Catherine Asaro — audiobook of a collection I supported on Kickstarter
- Zac & Mia by AJ Betts — Aussie book about cancer and teenagers (I will admit that “Aussie Fault in Our Stars” is the first thing to pop into my head)
- Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios — anthology of diverse YA (contemporary) fantasy
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The Guild of Assassins by Anna KashinaBlades of the Old Empire, earlier this year. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed book one, book two didn’t really do it for me. Note that this review contains spoilers for the ending of book one.
Kara has achieved something that no Majat has ever managed – freedom from the Guild!The story follows the same group of characters from book one, although with some emphases shifted. Ellah and Alder were point of view characters in the first book but in The Guild of Assassins they are merely background characters. The point of view focuses strongly on Prince Kyth, Kara the highly trained assassin and, somewhat unexpectedly, Magister Egey Bashi. Lady Celana, who was a minor character in book one, plays a more visible role in book two.
But the Black Diamond assassin Mai has been called back to face his punishment for sparing her life. Determined to join his fight or share his punishment, Kara finds herself falling for Mai.
But is their relationship – and the force that makes their union all-powerful – a tool to defeat the overpowering forces of the Kaddim armies, or a distraction sure to cause the downfall of the Majat?
Egey Bashi gets a surprising amount of point of view time for someone who’s less directly involved in the action than some of the other characters. I suspect that might be because he’s the only sensible adult around (well, Mai, a central character who doesn’t really get point of view sections, is in his early twenties, but…) and is a useful tool to explain why other characters are doing silly things, or why those things are silly, and to fix some of the problems they cause. Unfortunately, that didn’t make him a terribly exciting character. I didn’t have strong feelings about him in book one and I still don’t. Unfortunately, he plays such a large role in book two that I probably should have had a stronger reaction to him.
The first thing that bothered me was actually a holdover from Blades of the Old Empire. Towards the end of that one it’s revealed that Mai is in love with Kara and that storyline is explored extensively in The Guild of Assassins. It wasn’t a storyline that I found worked for me very well and I didn’t find it very interesting. It also meant that the relationship aspect of the story turned into a love triangle which I felt, again, pretty ambivalent about. But at least it wasn’t like a cliched YA love triangle.
What really bogged down the story for me was the copious introspection of all the characters. I think this existed in the first book but, for whatever reason — more interesting personal problems? A broader range of characters? — didn’t bother me then. Here it often felt repetitive and I found myself skimming over a lot of inner monologue. Most of it was either about the love triangle from Kyth and Kara or about other characters’ actions/motivations/mistakes from Egey Bashi.
On the bright side, that made it feel like a quicker read than it otherwise might have. And I should add I wasn’t bored or annoyed enough to stop reading the book (I considered it, but ultimately decided it wasn’t that bad). I am not sure if there is a sequel (my guess would be yes) and, if there is, I don’t know that I’ll be reading it. The plot of The Guild of Assassins very much centred around defeating the evil brotherhood that had taken over a monastery (and was trying to take over the world) without very many side plots (other than the relationship one). By contrast, there was more mystery in Blades of the Old Empire, since we didn’t know anything about the evil brotherhood, which kept things interesting. Given a sufficiently interesting plot, I might be tempted to have a go at a book three.
If you enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire, then give The Guild of Assassins a go, particularly if you thought Mai and Kara together would be an interesting story. If you felt more meh about the first book, probably give this one a miss.
3 / 5 stars
First published: August 2014, Angry Robot
Series: Book two of the Majat Code
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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