Read: The Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach

Paradox TrilogyI love Orbit Books. I’m actually sort of shocked that I’ve apparently never written about my love for Orbit Books on this blog before, because if it was possible to have a crush on a publishing company, man, I am so there. They publish awesome spec fic, (including some of my absolute recent favorites, such as everything written by Mira Grant ever) but more than that, I just like their business model, particularly in the ebook market. I first “discovered” Orbit Books several years ago, when they first started experimenting with what has now become their Orbital Drop model of ebook sales.

Essentially, the Orbital Drop is a monthly supersale on a particular ebook from their catalog. That’s basically it, the entire premise. One whole month, that ebook is on sale (usually for $1.99), in every single ebook market. I’m signed up for the newsletter, so that I’m notified every month what the new book is, but you don’t need to sign up for anything in order to get the sale.

The reason it’s brilliant is because, for example, this month I purchased the Orbital Drop book, Fortune’s Pawn, by an author I’d never heard of before, Rachel Bach, and within a few days of finishing that first book, I’d dropped another $20 to round out the trilogy (with Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen) because it was just that good.

Which brings me to the Paradox trilogy. It’s a genre I’d never heard of before, space romance, which looked to me like far-future SF/space opera with a significant romantic storyline. The main character, Deviana Morris, is a mercenary with grand ambitions, which leads her to take a job that she probably shouldn’t have on a ship with a reputation for getting its mercs killed much faster than normal.

It’s a fun read. I loved Devi Morris’s character. She’s extremely driven, which leads to making some very bad choices (mainly, staying put every time her gut yells at her to leave anywhere in the first book and a half). But she also has a clearly defined sense of honor that is particular to who she is. For example, she may not balk at killing dozens of people who have come to attack her and her ship, but she is disgusted by the person who sent those attackers–knowing they would never stand a chance against her–to die needlessly.

The books are nicely rounded out by a cast of memorable characters, fun technology (Devi loves her suit of powered armor, the custom-built Lady Gray), and interesting alien species, which ultimately drives the story and conflict. After having read all three books in the trilogy, I think that the first one was probably the weakest of the three, story-wise, mostly because Devi spends the entire book trying to figure out what is going on (and never quite gets all the way there), but it is an enjoyable start to the story as the reader tries to figure out what’s happening alongside Devi.

None of the three books of the trilogy really stand well on their own–it’s one single story, told across three books–but the three together make for a very satisfying read, and I highly recommend them to anyone who likes kickass female characters, stories about the interactions and misunderstandings between aliens species, and/or great action stories set in space.

And, thanks to the Orbital Drop, you still have 9 days to purchase the first book in the series for just $1.99.

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

I love podcasts, and have since I first started listening to them in 2005. Since then, they’ve always been a part of my life: company on long car rides, while walking the dogs, or just sitting at home knitting. Some podcasts, I can even remember exactly when and where I was when I listened to a specific episode. This is a multi-part series on podcasts I love, past and present.

Circa 2005-2006
I first discovered podcasts as a college student, when my mom sent me a magazine (Real Simple, maybe?) that happened to have a tiny 1/2 page feature about podcasts. I was intrigued, and started exploring. It took a bit of trial and error to find podcasts I really enjoyed, but back then, there were few enough podcasts that it was (almost) possible to listen to them all.

In 2005, you had to download a separate podcast aggregator, and then manually load them into iTunes (it was huge when iTunes opened up it’s podcast directory!), and from there, onto your iPod (at that time, I had one of the bulky early gen iPods with a click wheel). I was always running out of hard drive space in those days, and had to be careful to delete the files twice: once, after I copied them from the aggregator to iTunes, and then again after I listened to them.

The Dragon Page: Cover to Cover
News and interviews with sci-fi and fantasy authors–in 2005 when I discovered Cover to Cover, it was hosted by Michael R Mennenga and Evo Terra (who went on to create podiobooks.com). The Dragon Page spawned Farpoint Media, which of course is still known for the Parsec Awards. Several huge authors came to my attention because of Cover to Cover–in particular, I remember walking our family dog Rosie one night on a visit home from college and listening to an interview with an author who had just released his first book: Elantris. Of course, Cover to Cover also brought me to several Big Name Authors in the podcast fiction community such as Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler, and JC Hutchins. In later years, Mike Mennenga was joined by Michael A Stackpole, and focus shifted to publishing trends and news, ebooks, and general writing advice.

I was going to put this one in the “sadly podfaded” category, (though there are over 400 archived episodes available) but actually, I just went to the Dragon Page site to see when the last episode was, and there are several new episodes in 2014. Re-added!

Cast On
One of the Big Momma podcasts of the now-expansive knitting podcast community. Cast On was one of the very first knitting podcasts, and I suspect a large reason why there is such a great community of knitting podcasts today. Hosted by Brenda Dayne, an expat American living in Wales, Cast On has great production values and really high quality content and essays. One great thing about Cast On is that early on, Brenda decided to structure Cast On into “series” (British use of the word) with a handful of episodes–often thematically linked–followed by a brief (or not) hiatus. Although she’s stepped away from podcasting several times, she never truly podfaded, and has picked up the mic again in 2014.

Of course, we all love the “Today’s Sweater” segment, which is a essentially the story of a single handknit sweater: the yarn, the pattern, the changes in plans and modifications that were made during the knitting of it, and the repairs made after. But one of my personal favorite episodes is one of the earliest: Pulling a Geographic. I remember listening to the episode on a cold, rainy Northampton day during my last semester of college, knowing that I was about to have to leave my beloved school and go into the real world. That feeling of pulling up your life and moving elsewhere, into the unknown, was terrifying and exciting all at once, and the timing of the episode was perfect.

Connect Learning
I found Connect Learning early on in my podcast explorations, (possibly even earlier than Cover to Cover or Cast On–I remember listening to it on one bus trip to New York during spring semester 2005) at a time that I was really falling in love with museum education. There weren’t really any museum ed podcasts at the time (though there were some museum-based podcasts, primarily ones that served as either formal or informal audio tours), but I found my way to several interesting education podcasts. Of those, Connect Learning is the one I remember as having the biggest influence on me, and in fact, remains a major influence in how I think about technology and learning in a 21st century world. It is very much podfaded, but several episodes remain archived by the Internet Archive.

Scott Sigler’s podcast novels: Earthcore, Ancestor, and Infected
Scott Sigler was probably the very first author to see potential in podcasting a full length work of fiction, and he did it brilliantly, starting with Earthcore in 2005. As mentioned above, I found out about him via Cover to Cover, and listened to these first three novels as he released them in real time. They’re all great horror novels, and I highly recommend them, but I think in some ways, his real legacy is the entire mini-genre of podcast novels (including several others which will make it onto this list of mine.)

In two weeks: I pull a geographic of my own, move three times, and go through almost as many iPods.

The Emily Books

Well, rather than editing, I finished Emily’s Quest, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, tonight. 

I, like so many other women, grew up with the Anne of Green Gables series of books. Or rather, they grew up with me. I’ve read them all, most of them multiple times. As I grew up, different books spoke to me, as I empathized with different times in Anne’s life.

The only other book I’d ever read by Montgomery was Emily Climbs. Again, I’m not sure how that particular book made it into my own personal library, but I loved it–possibly more so than the Anne books–and read it over and over. 

It’s the middle book of three: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest. You can tell, when you read it. Many of the characters and relationships are not explained fully, and there are countless references to events in Emily of New Moon. It ends on a questioning note… the stories are not tied up completely, though there is a sense of where they are going. 

But mostly, it’s the story of a young writer. In the very first chapter of Emily Climbs, Emily sits in her room, “writing herself out” in her diary. In Emily of New Moon, the story is about Emily adjusting to her mother’s side of the family, whom she must go live with after her father passes away. The first chapter starts with a description of the home she shared with her father. 

But in Emily Climbs, the central conflict of the story is in Emily learning to be a writer. The phrase, “Emily Climbs” is a reference to a poem that Emily (As well as Montgomery herself) finds inspiration in… it tells of climbing an “Alpine path” to fame. The quoted lines:

Then whisper, blossom, in thy sleep
  How I may upward climb
The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
  That leads to heights sublime;
How I may reach that far-off goal
  Of true and honoured fame,
And write upon its shining scroll
  A woman’s humble name.”

Emily is sent to Shrewsbury to attend High School with her friends… but in exchange must promise not to write “anything untrue” while she is there. She thinks it will be a very difficult thing, though her teacher and mentor thinks it will be very good for her writing. She is still able to write poetry, and character sketches, and essays, and almost everything that happens to her in the novel turns into fodder for her writing somehow. (Or it is not, which has its own significance.) She starts to gain some success as a writer, though it is not an easy path for her. 

I devoured Emily Climbs (which I greeted like the old friend it is) and Emily’s Quest, the third book in the series tonight. I have to admit that I don’t much like Emily’s Quest–it focuses far more on her romances, than on her experience as a writer. But there was a moment I did like, quite a bit. Montgomery clearly did quite a bit of planning for Emily’s Quest, because it follows through several throwaway references from Emily Climbs (at least, I’d thought they were throwaways). One of which was a letter from herself at 14 to herself at 24. In Emily Climbs, the contents of that letter are never revealed… she just mentions writing it in her diary. But in Emily’s Quest, when she turns 24, she reads it. It’s full of hope and dreams for her future self, a vision of herself married and a famous author, with everything she wanted at her feet. Emily at twenty-four, is none of those things, and had a rather bad year beside, and reads it, feeling very cynical about the letter, and her naive self who wrote it. And then something wonderful happens.

I’m 24 now, and at 14 I might have written exactly that sort of letter to myself. That moment in the story rang very true to me. 

Montgomery apparently saw much more of herself in Emily than in Anne, and in fact, apparently many of Emily’s experiences were taken from her own life. There’s sort of an interesting quality to the books, in that often the narrator addresses us as if we were reading the biography of, say, an author, and many of the stories are told as excerpts from Emily’s diaries.

A couple of links to finish us off… First, the text of Montgomery’s The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, which I haven’t had a chance yet to read fully, but want to at some point. Second, though Emily Climbs was first published in 1925, meaning it’s not in the public domain yet in the U.S., it is in the public domain in places like Australia, meaning you can find the text online at Project Gutenberg Australia. (Most of the Anne books, by the way, can be found at the U.S.-based Project Gutenberg, if you’ve never stopped by.) Of course, if you’re not in Australia, or if you’d rather read the books on paper, you can probably find them just as easily at your local library, like I did.

Creating stories out of characters (AKA, when I grow up, I want to be Maeve Binchy)

(I totally stole the alternate title of this post from one of my commenters…)

I love Maeve Binchy, and have for many years now. Probably since I was about 15 or 16. I’ve read Scarlet Feather more times than I can count, and Tara Road almost as frequently. She creates these wonderful communities filled with interesting and sympathetic characters. Huge casts of characters. I really admire that, but I also just simply enjoy it. I’ve read Scarlet Feather so many times because I love Tom and Cathy, love Cathy’s parents, love the twins, love Shawna and James Byrne, (and the list just goes on). Picking it up is like visiting old friends, and despite the overwrought plot (the end seems a bit too… not quite Deus Ex Machina, but too fairy-tale perfect.) I just simply love it. It wasn’t one of the three or four Maeve Binchy books I read recently, but talking about it makes me want to pick it up again and read it for the umpteenth time. 

But my favorite of all her books is The Lilac Bus, and it was reading that as a young adult that I became a lifelong admirer of her work. I’m not sure how it was that I came to own my hardcover copy of it–probably someone picked it up at a garage sale, which is how I came to own a great many of my favorite books as a kid–but when I first read it, it was like… I don’t even know how to describe it. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever read. 

“The Lilac Bus” only takes up not quite 2/3 of the pages in the book in my copy, and–it’s more of a long novella than a full-length novel. The premise is simple. Every Friday evening, 8 people travel from Dublin to the far-ish village (Rathdoon) where they all come from, spend the weekend there, and then return to Dublin for the week. That’s it. It’s called the Lilac Bus, because that’s how they get from Dublin to Rathdoon, on a lilac-colored bus driven by an enigmatic man named Tom. It details one weekend in all their lives, from the Friday bus ride on.

But rather than structuring it like a normal novel, hopping from one point of view to another and going through time chronologically, it’s written as a series of short stories, each one written from a single character’s point of view. So as you read through the stories, you understand each of the character’s motivation, and because Rathdoon is such a small village, all of the characters bump into each other at different times over the course of the weekend. A throw away line about one of the characters in one chapter, is suddenly explained when you read the chapter from that character’s point of view, and conversely, as you read through the chapters, the references to the other characters on the bus take on a new meaning to you, the reader, even though the viewpoint character is oblivious to what’s happening in this other person’s life (or sometimes not.) 

It’s brilliant, because each of the stories is small, but engaging. Each person is the hero of his or her own story, even though they may come off badly in the other chapters. It’s just so true to life.

When I read a book that I really like, I like to think about what I learn about writing from it. I’ve always wanted to be able to write a book like Lilac Bus… a book just about people, going about their daily lives, each person unaware of the struggles and triumphs in lives of the people around them.

A day off…

Yesterday was a long, long day. And it came after a string of long days. Meh. This morning, therefore, I spent my time doing absolutely nothing on my “to do” list, and instead, sat and read and snuggled with Skittles.

Am feeling somewhat more refreshed now, but I still seem to not want to do anything. My mind is all jumbled. Hence, a post full of digressions and asides:

So, anyway, I went to the library, because I had a couple of books on hold waiting for me… Continue reading

Ending-ish

Thinking about endings today. Particularly, my ending.

I did, by the way, write almost exactly 2,000 words yesterday. And in the process, crossed 45,000!

And then came home, and felt miserable, and spent the rest of the day and evening reading Maeve Binchy. (Who is one of my favorite authors, actually, and I plan on writing a proper post about her at some point.)

Anyway, I’m feeling better today, for the most part, so will hopefully manage to get two thousand words again. That’s my goal for the day. 2000 words. And same thing tomorrow, and so on, until I finish the novel, hopefully within the next week or so. 

The scene I was writing yesterday was one that seemed really cool when I thought it up… I’m not so sure it actually worked, though. Hm. I guess we’ll see when it comes time to edit. And then it went someplace unexpected. But now I don’t know where to go with it. In the interest of just getting the novel done, I’m going to leave it. 

Today, I move on to birthdays, and disappearing brothers. Have just now, as I typed this, come up with a good setting for this scene. So, onward. 

Current wordcount: 45661

Today’s goal: 47661 

And secondary goal: 48,001 (I really want to “win” this weekend, and that’ll make it happen.)