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The Siren and the Sword by Cecilia Tan

The Siren and the SwordThe Siren and the Sword (2014) is about Kyle.

Hi, Kyle!

Kyle is an orphan, living with a distant family member who hates him. Through a series of seemingly miraculous events, he learns he's actually a wizard - from a highly respected magical family. He's accepted into a magical university that's divided into four houses. He learns he's (probably) the Chosen One of an ancient prophesy. He makes friends. He fights evil. Etc.

So, yes, this is rather blatantly inspired by Harry Potter, and one of the (genuinely) best parts of The Siren and the Sword is the afterword in which Cecilia Tan discusses her influences, and how she deliberately set out to adapt them in ways that interested her. 

And, in a way, Siren - the first of the 'Magic University' series - is a distinct refinement of its, uh, predecessor. Siren is, as the series title might suggest, wholly about being a magic student. The overall plot is, accordingly, completely tangential; this is a book about late night pizza, course selection, cramming for finals and hooking up. It is a very niche area of world-building, but given the timeless appeal of wizarding school stories, a popular one. And it is fun - school stories give a method of infodumping that's inherently empathetic, much more so than, say, your typical 'wise old man exposits' format. 

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Ben Smith on "The Long Way Round to a Frances Marion Kickstarter"

Frances MarionI’m a huge Howard Hawks fan.

It’s my project to see every film he ever made - and without splurging box-set style, but instead to eke them out across the decades. I go for a new one every few years, as I'm in no rush to deny myself future pleasure. So it should come as no surprise that, a couple of years ago, I was filling in time by reading Todd McCarthy’s excellent biography of the man, Hollywood’s Grey Fox. From it, I learnt that Hawks had been part of Douglas Fairbanks' circle of energetic young men.

So then I searched out a Fairbanks biography, which was pretty remarkable, and then that led me to my first encounter with Frances Marion, named as one of his screenwriters and a close confidant of Mary Pickford.

Naturally, I then happened upon another book in a remainders shop, Joseph P Kennedy’s Hollywood Years, about JFK’s father - a banker, film producer, US ambassador and Nazi sympathiser. It contained an incredible story about Frances Marion and her husband’s ill-treatment at Kennedy’s hands. So I then picked up that author's other biography, this one about Frances Marion. Without Lying Down is so called because Marion spent her whole life looking for a man she “could look up to without lying down”.

I was completely sold on her. 

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KJ Parker's Two of Swords x The Easy Way Out

Two of SwordsFrom K.J. Parker's Two of Swords (Episode 9):

"You want to know a secret? Writing what you call good music is easy, piece of cake. You're writing for intelligent, educated people who are prepared to meet you halfway. It's the army songs and the romantic ballads that made me sweat blood."

"I don't believe you."

"Because they're simple and accessible? You don't know anything about writing music. Simple and accessible is the hardest thing there is. It's like designing a clock mechanism with only two moving parts. It's working with both hands tied behind your back. You're limited to a simple melodic line, which has to conform to strict form. You've got the voice and one instrument and that's it, no orchestra, no counterpoint, nothing.... And that's why I earn good money. Because I can give people what they want. Not just the smart ones. Everybody."

"All right," she said grudgingly. "If money is all that matters -"

"It's the only reliable way of keeping score," he said. "A thousand cultured folk will tell you they love your symphony, but can you believe them? But if a hundred thousand poor people decide they can afford two stuivers to hear you sing, that probably means you're actually getting something right."

----

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Review Round-up: The Essex Sisters and Rules of Prey

Kiss Me, AnnabelA quick round-up of some recent reads: The Essex Sisters, four volumes of Regency hijinks by Eloisa James, and Rules of Prey, the first Lucas Davenport thriller.

Eloisa James' Essex Sisters (2005 - 2006)

Eloisa James's books are wonderful. They are charming, bantery romances that are almost entirely populated by nice people doing nice things for one another. I've written in the past about how epic fantasy could pick up some tricks from historical romance, and the Essex Sisters series ticks those boxes nicely. There's clever foreshadowing with the interrelated characters and perspectives, a casual approach to historical authenticity that balances empowered female characters with Regency world-building, and an openness to both humour and (of course) romance. These four books - about the marital prospects of four orphaned sisters - aren't quite as conniving or as surprising as the Desperate Duchesses series, but they certainly have their highlights. The third, The Taming of the Duke, is perhaps my favourite, as both the male and female leads have their obstacles to overcome. (I was a little disappointed by the final volume, as it recycled some tricks, and used a 'woman in peril' shtick that felt tonally different from the rest of the series.) 

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Extract: "The Girl on the Liar's Throne" by Den Patrick

The Girl on the Liar's Throne

A Rescue from Darkness

The girl sat alone, burdened by forgetfulness and incomprehension. That she was a prisoner was not in question, but the reasons were lost to her, just as she in turn was lost to the darkness. The ever-present silence weighed heavily on her slender shoulders, at once oppressive and maddening. How long had she been here? How would she escape? Questions needed answers, answers lost in a mind that failed to recall the subtle and the obvious. What was her name? Why was she here? 

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Weirdness Rodeo: Trends! Opinions! An Open Letter!

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I'm not 100% sure what this is, but TUBE-LEVELING sounds like a very dangerous pastime.

Trend-spotting!

The Guardian picks out some 2016 trends for art and creativity. Some might be a little more controversial than others, such as Tony Churnside noting that:

A big theme this year will be the use of data to provide personalised content experiences, going beyond recommendation systems and adapting narrative in response to audiences.... For personal data to provide more engaging experiences, art and storytelling themselves must become more flexible. We need to stop seeing art as sacrosanct, as artists and storytellers develop new tools and processes that allow the generation of adaptable user experiences.

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David Bowie's Top 100 Books [Plus Some Links]

READList compiled by DavidBowie.com. 

I've seen this going around a lot, and it is one of the more interesting - and eclectic - reading lists. So I've stashed it here to mull over properly.

I've also cleaned it up a tiny bit to add publication dates and fix some small typos. Where the books are free online, I've added links to legal download sites.

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The Doors of Stone: Howlers vs The World

Name-of-the-wind-586x900A month or so ago, this exchange happened during a reddit AMA:

Reddit user vlatheimpaler:

Have you been surprised that there's such a strong interest in watching you play Fallout 4 instead of extra writing spent towards Doors of Stone? I figured it would be 50/50, or maybe skewed a little bit towards writing, but I was surprised that Fallout 4 wins every single day.

Patrick Rothfuss:

I think it shows pretty clearly that people who howl for book three aren't as interested in donating money to make the world a better place.

The context, in a nutshell, is that as part of Patrick Rothfuss’ annual (and very generous) fundraising for Worldbuilders, he let people pay to choose whether or not he would play Fallout 4 or spend extra time writing his next book.

There was a mild (and probably justified) kerfuffle about Rothfuss’s tone in this response, but then, the dude’s also raised $1m+ for charity this year. Let’s allow him a brief moment of crankiness. 

In the past, I've looked into the hypothesis that 'readers are better people', and found it (to my surprise), demonstrably (and gratifyingly) true. So in the interest of testing another hypothesis, let's look into this one: "Are the people demanding Doors of Stone less likely to donate money to make the world a better place?"

QUICK, TO THE MATHMOBILE!

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The Moonlit Way by Robert W Chambers

The Moonlit WayThere's good Chambers and bad Chambers and The Moonlit Way (1919) is firmly in the latter camp.

This ponderous and preposterous tale - that of an American artist drawn into a Prussian plot in the early days of World War I - is mostly an excuse for rampant jingoism and patriotic drum-beating. Virtually every other page is given over to a lengthy rant about 'Teutonic conspiracies' and the 'porcine Hun', as well as notes about how Britain fights on the 'side of Christ' and 'pacifism is a type of sexual perversion'. The latter is a lengthy diatribe given by a fictional doctor, so you know it is true.

Garry, our square jawed artist/scion of a rich family, is a typically Chambersian character and is painted by route. Although wealthy, he's committed to his art, and The Moonlit Way begins with him in Paris, pretending to be an impoverished student and enjoying himself immensely. It is there he encounters the dancer Thessalie, a beautiful young noblewoman who is the toast of Europe and the object of many a skeezy lordling's fantasy. Thessalie has been bartered to a French politician by the Teutonic Illuminati, and, when Garry meets her, she's hiding from her future husband.

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