Beth Bernobich

Vacation Reading: Huang and Bernobich

One of the nice things about vacation was getting the chance to catch up on a little reading.

The Time Roads - CoverI started with Beth Bernobich’s novel The Time Roads [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], a collection of four novellas (or novelettes?) telling the story of an alternate Ireland at the start of the twentieth century. Part one, “The Golden Octopus,” introduces us to Queen Áine, the young ruler of the empire of Éire, and the scientist Dr. Breandan Ó Cuilinn, a pioneer in the science of time fractures. As a result of said time fractures, each novella reflects a slightly changed reality, with characters struggling to reconcile conflicting memories and events.

One of the four stories, “A Flight of Numbers Fantastique Strange,” made the preliminary Nebula Award ballot after being published as a standalone in Asimov’s. I remember reading it then and very much enjoying it, and it was wonderful to get the broader context of the surrounding stories.

It was particularly nice to see things start to come together in the final part of the book, which returns to Áine’s perspective as she struggles to deal with enemies who’ve learned to weaponize the time fractures. It raised the stakes and the pacing, and worked well to bring everything home.

It’s not a traditionally structured novel, which may throw some folks off. But the steampunk/fantasy/time travel/alternate history mix made for an enjoyable read.

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Half Life coverNext up was S.L. Huang’s Half Life, [Amazon | B&N], the sequel to Zero Sum Game, which I enjoyed and reviewed a while back. Mathematical genius and morally grey action hero Cas Russell is back, and this time she’s trying to track down a man’s missing daughter (who may or may not exist), fight off the mob, and track down some plutonium in her free time.

If you liked the first book, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well. It has a lot of the same fast-paced action and non-stop plot. We get more of Chester and Arthur, who balance Cas out in good ways. It’s just plain fun reading.

What we don’t get is much more about Cas’ background and origin story, though I imagine more of that mystery will be revealed in future books.

I had some of the same nitpicks about using math to calculate things human bodies and reflexes simply aren’t fast enough for, but it was easier this time to let that go as part of our protagonist’s mysterious enhancements and backstory. I also thought the ending went a little over-the-top.

I particularly enjoyed how Huang wrote about lifelike robots, and the way different characters responded to them. It explored a number of angles and ideas, and brought up some great ethical conflicts, not to mention tripping Cas up with logic vs. emotional instinct.

It was a fun read, one I zipped through it in about two days, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for book three!

Books on my TBR List

I am, as usual, shamefully behind on my reading. Trying to read and review all of the Hugo-nominated work has only exacerbated the problem. The following are some of the books waiting impatiently on the shelves for me to get to…

Wild Things [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Charles Coleman Finlay. Charlie is an amazing writer, and broke in years ago by essentially turning the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction into the Magazine of Charlie Finlay and Maybe a Few Other People. He was kind enough to send me his collection as a Christmas gift. I’ve read and enjoyed several of the stories so far, but haven’t yet finished the book, on account of I suck. Or maybe I just get cranky because he writes better short fiction than me. Jerk.

A Natural History of Dragons [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Marie Brennan. Come on. Look at that cover and tell me you don’t want to check this book out. It won’t be on sale until February of next year, but I have a copy of the bound manuscript right here, because my life is just that awesome! I’ve read and reviewed Brennan’s work before, and I love the historical detail she captures in her books. This one is described as “the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.”

The Kingdom of Gods [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by N. K. Jemisin. The final book of Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. I talked about the first two books here, and now I have an autographed copy of number three whispering in my era, telling me to set aside those silly Hugo stories and come play. I’ve skimmed the first chapter, which is told from the point of view of the child-god Sieh. Sieh was one of my favorite gods from the first book and makes me want to read it that much more right now!

Pirates of Mars [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Chris Gerrib. I’m told that Gerrib named a ship after me. I have not been told whether it’s a Millennium Falcon type ship that runs circle around the imperials, or more of a “Did a piece just break off of my gorram ship?” kind of deal. Gerrib blogs a fair amount about piracy in the real world, and I’m curious to see how he’s applied that knowledge and research to Mars in what I believe is his first published novel.

Unless he blows up my ship, of course. Then all bets are off, and I’ll write him into one of my stories so the goblins can eat him.

Queen’s Hunt [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Beth Bernobich. This one comes out in mid-July, and is the sequel to Bernobich’s book Passion Play, which I talked about with Sherwood Smith over at Book View Cafe, discussing her portrayal of rape and its effects, her characterization, the Cool Stuff theory of fiction, and more. I also reviewed and enjoyed Bernobich’s YA book Fox & Pheonix here. I’m looking forward to seeing where she went with the story in book two.

2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Alma Alexander. I reviewed Alexander’s bestselling novel The Secrets of Jin-Shei back in 2007, describing it as a magical, masterful novel. (For some reason, I couldn’t find the review on my blog, but that link will take you to my Amazon review.) Her latest book is set “on the eve of the end of the world … in Spanish Gardens,” where five friends come to reminisce, to reveal secrets, and to make a choice presented by a bartender named Ariel, “the choice to live a different life, or return to this one…” I’m very curious to see what Alexander has done with this premise.

Net Impact [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Donald J. Bingle. I met Don years ago, and have shared a ToC with him in a number of anthologies. He warned me that there are no goblins in this one, but I said I’d be willing to read it anyway. This is not SF/F, but a spy novel about Dick Thornby, described as knowing “a few tricks to help him get out of a tight spot, even if his boss accuses him of over-reliance on an abundance of explosives.” Which sounds vaguely goblinesque to me…

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Those are just some of the books looming over me from the bedside table, threatening to tumble and crush me in my sleep. Thankfully, I’ve got a vacation coming up very soon! If you need me, I’ll be on the deck up north, watching the lake and trying to catch up on my reading.

Your turn. What’s sitting in your To-Be-Read pile that you’re looking forward to? What releases have you impatiently counting down the days?

Fox & Phoenix, by Beth Bernobich

Fox & Phoenix [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is a change from Beth Bernobich‘s first novel, Passion Play (which Sherwood Smith and I discussed here).

Fox & Phoenix is Bernobich’s first YA title. From her site:

The king of Lóng City is dying. For Kai Zōu, the news means more than it does for most former street rats in the small mountain stronghold, because he and the king’s daughter are close friends. Then the majestic ruler of the ghost dragons orders Kai to travel across the country to the Phoenix Empire, where the princess is learning statecraft. In a court filled with intrigue, Kai and his best friend Yún must work together to help the princess escape and return to Lóng City.

There’s a lot I liked about this book, starting with the fact that it was set in the aftermath of a fairy tale adventure. If you’ve read my stuff, you know this is an approach I like, and from the very first page Kai points out some of the problem with fairy tales:

“All those stories stop right there. They never mention what comes later. How your gang changes. How your best friend doesn’t end up as your one true love.”

I enjoyed the world-building, which creates a pseudo-China both modern and medieval, with magic filling the role of electricity and technology. I liked the ghost dragons and  the spirit companions (particularly Kai’s companion Chen the pig) and especially the (not-)dead griffin. I liked the awkwardness of post-adventure relationships between Kai and his friends, all of whom were changed by that adventure.

I wish we had gotten more details about what came previously, though. In some ways, this reads like the second book of a series … it stands on its own, but there was the nagging feeling that I was missing something. (Note: Bernobich has e-published the prequel short story, “Pig, Crane, Fox,” which should fill in those gaps.)

My other complaint would be Kai himself, who made me a little grumpy in the first part of the book. This may be my own personal peeve, as I find myself with no patience for traditional teenage angst these days. (I lived it; I don’t want to relive it.) As the book progresses, Kai does move beyond that angst, and it feels like he finds himself and his role again.

The book does a nice job of exploring some of the implications of the commodification of magic, and how politics and magic intertwine. But I think the characters are the strongest part of the book, particularly in the ways they’ve changed, and the way they find new ways to come together at the end.

Also, Kai’s mom rocks.

Fox & Phoenix comes out on October 13. You can read an excerpt on Bernobich’s website.

Sunday Stuff

1. Alma Alexander has been chronicling the Rebirth of a Novel, publicly rewriting an old manuscript.  She’s interspersing this with guest posts by various authors, including yours truly.  I talk about how I got started writing, and even share two paragraphs of my very first (very bad) unpublished novel.

2. Beth Bernobich’s debut novel Passion Play [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] comes out this Tuesday.  Sherwood Smith and I talk about the book over on the Book View Cafe blog.  Some of the early buzz for this book has focused on Bernobich’s portrayal of rape.  We discuss that, the characterization, the Cool Stuff theory of fiction, and more.  (It’s a fairly long chat.)

3. A question for anyone in Denver, Seattle, or Portland.  My agent noticed that sales of the goblin books had spiked in these three regions, mostly in “nontraditional” venues.  I’m told this usually indicates a few supermarket chains, and stores like Toys R Us and Starbucks.  Has anyone out there seen Jig & crew popping up in Kroger or Fred Meyer or anything like that?  We’re curious where those extra sales are coming from.

4. More on e-book pricing.  One of the complaints that came up a lot in response to my e-book post was the ridiculousness of e-books costing more than hardcovers.  Writer Beware explains why this happens.  (Short version: it’s the effect of two competing sales models.)

My Job Rocks, Part XVIII

For anyone in mid-Michigan, I’ve got a booksigning at pizza party tonight from 6:00 – 8:00 at Schuler Books in Okemos.  (Former Lansing signings have been at the Eastwood location.  If you go to the Eastwood store tonight, I won’t be there, and neither will all of that hot, yummy pizza.)

Any suggestions or requests for what you’d like me to read?

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I also wanted thank everyone who’s posted reviews or comments about Red Hood’s Revenge on Amazon, Twitter, blogs, or wherever.  It’s very much appreciated, and I’m glad most of you have been enjoying it.

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Not writing-related: my daughter Clara returned last night after a week up north with a friend.  She brought a monarch butterfly chrysalis and a caterpillar who’s about to form another chrysalis.  (She’s always been interested in the bugs.)

I’d never seen a monarch chrysalis before, and I couldn’t photograph the thing, but they’re beautiful.  Light green with metallic gold highlights.  It looks exactly like someone painted gold leaf over the raised ridge and bumps near the top.  Very cool.

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Anyway, back to the rocking job.  In the past week, I’ve received books by Stacia Kane (autographed!), Sherwood Smith, and Beth Bernobich, and I should be receiving a copy of Erin Hoffman‘s forthcoming novel Sword of Fire and Sea soon as well.  Three of these four books won’t be out for a little while yet, but I get to read them all.  Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!  I love my job!

  

Jim C. Hines