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Alex Marshall on "Like a Bosch"

A Blade for Black Steel00lastjuThis past spring a humble museum in a small Dutch city mounted the largest Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in history. Along with nearly half a million other acolytes, I made the pilgrimage to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, birthplace of the father of monsters. My way was snared with perils (I neglected to book tickets far enough in advance) but Providence cleared my path (the museum extended their hours, so I flew back to the Netherlands), and in the end I was given the keys to a garden of earthly delights (just not a key to the original Garden of Earthly Delights; the Prado won’t loan out Bosch’s most famous triptych, not even for an event of this magnitude). It was quite literally the event of a lifetime.

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SPFBO2: The First 24 Reviews!

Spfbo2 banner3

I've finished my first pass for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off!

I've read 3 chapters and/or 20% (whichever comes last) of 30 self-published books. I've picked six of those books for further reading and proper reviews. One of those will then go on to the FINAL ROUND in the BLOGGERDOME. It'll be awesome.

Below, you'll find a quick introduction, a not-so-quick spiel about reviewing self-published books and 24 short reviews.

Caution - this post is loooong.

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Breaking the Glass Slipper on "Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender"

Assassin's QuestAs humans living in the twenty-first century, I’d like to think we’ve come a long way towards achieving equality between the sexes and rejecting established notions of gender. But is it far enough? After all, we’re still having these debates, highlighting prejudice, challenging ourselves to ‘think outside the box’. If gender equality truly existed, there’d be no need to stage this conversation.

In fiction, men write women and women write men on a regular basis, some more or less successfully. Both genders ought to be able to relate to each other at the very least on an intuitive level without resorting to dangerous and unhealthy stereotypes. But, as Emma Newman recently discussed, there are still male readers who are hesitant to pick up a book authored by a woman, or featuring a female protagonist.

Why is that? Personally, I’ve never had a problem reading a book written from a male perspective; in fact the majority of epic fantasy I read growing up featured male protagonists. Why then are some readers unable or unwilling to relate to women?

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The Wnids of Wniter, Long Content, and Hatsune Miku

Wnids of Wniter

The Winds of Wniterr

Automated Fanfic generator! If you're tired of waiting for The Winds of Winter, here's my algorithmically generated conclusion:

Tyrion felt really dperessed one day. She had been slitting her wrists even more then normal. She had just found out that she was adopted. Her real parents turned out to be nobels from Europe. They had a upper class tower and were mighty richt! But she had none of that richness around. It made her feel pretty bad about herself so she listened to some good music.

But long she did not have to be depressed as Jon came in and kissed her in her special place (they had falled in love at the end of the story see). And she said: "I love oyu so much, it hurts.But fortunately I like pain, as I am into that stuff. But I know you are hurt now and not in the sexy way. What is wrong with you? If you feel bad then I feel bad.But not in the sexy way"

So Tyrion told her the whole story. She was shocked to hear this and said "I'm really shocked to hear this! Your parents are monsters!"

"Which ones?"

"All four of them, I don't like them. As much as I don't like Sam!"

And that was a lot because Tyrion knew that Jon hated Sam because she was unbelievably stupid and fat.

But Jon took out a letter, "this had just arrived," said Jon.

Tyrion openend the envolupe and inside was an invitation:

"Most Esteemed Tyrion said the message"

"You are condord invited to the royal ball of your parents. Your real parents, miss."

"We hope to see you soon. Most esteamly yours, dutchess!"

Oh my, said Tyrion this is rad!. But Jon was a little sceptic: "Maybe it's a trick."

"Why?" said Tyrion

"Because there are.... rumours. Of Danaerys still being around!"

"Surely she could not come all the way to Europe!?" said Tyrion confidently because she didn't think that Danaerys could travel that far.

"Hurm," said Jon contagiously, "we just have to be careful."

And there's more where that came from! (Not sure why Tyrion is female, maybe I missed something in Dance wid Dlagons?)

More fun stuff below.

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DGLA Nominations & Predictions

H0274840750_throwing-axe-classic_artnr_840750DGLA season has begun! Woohoo! 

The nominations are out, but they are not complete. Try to resist the urge to vote until after 27 May, as the DGLA have said they're still taking (and adding) crowd-sourced nominations until that date. Those folks will be at a pretty substantial disadvantage already. When you are ready, vote here.

The (current) nominees list and my predictions below.

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Friday Five: 5 Old English Superstitions about May

The Arrival of MissivesApril may be the cruellest month, but May is the one that has traditionally been given a bad press.

Perhaps it suits the English temperament to look around at spring-time - the rebirth and fresh growth of the lush green land, with rough winds shaking the darling buds - and come up with a list of possible unfortunate happenings that might ruin everything. Or perhaps there's good advice lurking somewhere beneath the surface; I leave it you to decide. So here are five superstitions about May, four of which are warnings, and the final one is more in the way of skincare advice:

1. Don't wash blankets.

The belief that you shouldn't wash blankets in May seems to belong to Southern England in particular, and to be fairly new, from the turn of the twentieth century. Why shouldn't you wash blankets? It's all a bit vague really, attracting a range of warnings from the possibility of blanket shrinkage to imminent death. A proverb from the 1920s states:

Wash blankets in May
You'll soon be under clay.

Removing warm layers from the bed before the weather is reliable leads to feeling chilly, which leads to getting a cold, which leads to death. The same thought lies behind the next superstition on the list.

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Blogging, Bookselling, Writing: Everything is Weird

Eliza Gauger
Problem Glyph by Eliza Gauger

Writering

I cannot stand writing about writing ( 'writering', naturally). Meg Furey agrees:

Melville’s Moby-Dick contains hundreds of dull-ass, dryly written pages on ship parts, whale books and the minutiae of whaling. When I come upon an essay about a writer writing about writing on Medium, I abandon ship faster than I should have Moby-Dick. Why? Because there are other writers to read. Writing is a matter of doing and I’d rather read the writers who explore things we cannot see, who endeavor to find something new, who chase the fucking whale and live to write about it.

Lest it sound like pure nastiness - it isn't! She also sneaks in some real advice - stealthily done, but very handy.

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The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Young ElitesAfter years of chewing over it and thousands of words of inconclusive blog posts, I still have very little idea where the division is between 'YA' fantasy and 'epic' fantasy (interesting -  heated - discussion on this very point over at r/fantasy).

I mean, physically, it is generally around 15-20 feet - depending on the size of the bookstore. But as overarching, sub-genre distinctive themes? I got nothing. 

Marie Lu's The Young Elites (2014) further muddies these opaque waters. The Young Elites is also a unique sort of muddle, as it contains both very-much-YA and very-much-epic-fantasy tropes within the same book. Rather than blurring the two together, it happily plucks from both extremes.

Adelina is a malfetto, one of the scarred survivors of a great plague that swept through the land. Although generally despised as 'cursed', some malfettos also exhibit magical powers - these are called 'Young Elites'. (Why one term is cod-Italian and the other cod-Ralph-Lauren-catalogue, I have no idea.) These Young Elites are sought after by both the Inquisition (who wish to kill them) and the Dagger Society (who wish to recruit them). Adelina, as you might expect, turns out to be a rather powerful Young Elite - one that's greatly desired, in every sense, by both sides. 

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Breaking the Glass Slipper on "15 of the Amazing Women Writing Genre Fiction"

Copper PromiseWhen Breaking the Glass Slipper was asked to identify some of the issues facing female writers in genre, the very first thing that each of us replied was ‘discoverability’.

Why is it that, with the exception of long-established authors, books by women do not seem to be as widely publicised as those authored by men? Our first episode considers ‘best of’ lists, which certainly play a part in discoverability. They also remain the clearest example of inequality. Why, we wondered, do these lists not feature more than the token woman? What material are the makers of such lists drawing from? Where exactly is the problem?

Well, admitting that there is a problem for starters.

Ignorance is as bad as outright sexism when it comes to the struggle facing female writers. Discoverability is a huge issue. Our sales and therefore careers depend on our ability to reach as many readers as possible. When a great swathe of the population is closed off to us, it isn’t only our finances that suffer; it’s genre fiction too. Female voices are desperately needed if SFF is both to flourish and to retain its longstanding distinction as the genre that challenges the status quo.

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Review Round-up: Narabedla, Cold Silver and A Colder Sun

Three fantasy titles of all shapes and sizes - Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Falcons of Narabedla, Greg James' Under A Colder Sun and Alex Marshall's A Crown for Cold Silver

200px-Falcons_of_narabedlaMarion Zimmer Bradley's The Falcons of Narabedla (1957)

Mike does radio things in a Government Lab. Electricity happens, and, ker-wham, he's mind-ported to Narabedla, Last of the Rainbow Cities. Mike's consciousness rests in the body of Adric, one of Naradebla's arrogant ruling class. Adric's mind isn't totally gone, but sort of repressed, helping Mike/Adric get dressed and occasionally resurfacing in a plot-pushing kind of way.

M'Adric is thrown in at the deep end. Fortunately, there are a lot of people around who are happy to elaborate on Narabedla's history, culture and current events. M'Adric learns that the rulers of Narabedla all have a captive Dreamer under their thrall - a powerful, wish-granting psychic - more djinn than mortal. Adric, in his pre-Mike days, seems to have done something naughty and loosed one of the Dreamers. Now the entire system is under threat. Will there be a revolution? Should there be a revolution? Plots within plots, betrayals within betrayals - including Mike and Adric scheming against one another. From within the same body!

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