SPFBO2017: The Finalists Reviewed (All of 'em!)

11304423085_ee8df18686_oWe're participating in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. You can learn more about what this means (and how the finalists are doing) here. And follow the various stages of our process here.

I think I'm going to follow up in a week or two with a wibbly 'WHAT I LEARNED' post, and talk about my SPFBO experience(s) a bit more as a whole [UPDATE: Nyah.]. It has been a lot of fun, very enlightening - I've read a lots that covered the whole spectrum of quality - and learned a fair amount about what I think constitutes 'good'. Which is no bad thing. And, unlike previous judging or slush-reading experiences, I can wang about this all I want. So, in the next couple weeks, I might take advantage of that.

But, for now, here are this year's ten finalists, in no particular order, with my - somewhat arbitrary - scores. Thanks again for all the writers, readers, judges and administrator (singular!) for participating, and please check out the other judges for other perspectives!

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Mary Stewart, Storyteller; Possible Wizard

Thunder on the Right

To my mind there are really only two kinds of novels, badly written and well written. Beyond that, you cannot categorize… ‘Storyteller’ is an old and honorable title and I’d like to lay claim to it.

Mary Stewart (1916 - 2014) is a British novelist, known for her significant contributions to multiple genres. She was of the most prominent - and critically-acclaimed - creators of the romantic thriller. Stewart then went on to write the Merlin trilogy, a best-selling blend of history and fantasy.

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Eartha Kitt, Yzma's Skin Care, and "Snuff Out the Light"

Yzma

"Snuff Out the Light" is a deleted song from Disney's finest movie, The Emperor's New Groove. You'll undoubtedly remember that Groove was oddly... ungroovy. There's a feisty Tom Jones number to introduce Kuzco and a gruelling Sting number over the credits, but, well, that's it. Unless you count this. All in all, kind of a waste of Eartha Kitt. 

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10 Films We've Outgrown (But Were There For Us When We Needed Them)

Grosse Point Blank

We were inspired by this terrific piece on Film School Rejects, discussing the importance of respecting films we've "outgrown". The article points out an unlikely hypocrisy: we uncritically adore our childhood nostalgia, but we're utterly vicious to those films that 'mean something' to us when we're coming of age.

With that in mind, here are ten movies (mostly) that we've outgrown. They were there for us when we needed them, but, um...

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Fiction: 'Jade City' (Extract) by Fonda Lee

Dragon-jade-from-BM

Even in the shade, sweat trickled down the backs and faces of the year-eight students. Ten of them stood nervously, each behind a short tower of hot bricks. “One more,” said the master, and the assistant year-threes hurried to the fire pit with tongs, carefully but quickly removing bricks from the flames and placing another on top of each of the ten smoldering stacks. One of the waiting year-eights, named Ton, muttered quietly, “Ah, what to choose, pain or failure?”

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50 Books on Imagining and Re-Imagining Cities

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-08-12/8cef1c9a-0c5b-4709-8d9f-88c5b1bf0a13.png
Moil houses from China Miéville's Un Lun Dun

I've been thinking about cities - and how we imagine and definite and interpret them - since the panel at Nine Worlds was announced. The panel itself, chaired by architect Amy Butt, and featuring Verity Holloway and Al Robertson, was brilliant and free-ranging.

One thing we didn't do is lapse into 'here are some books about cities that I recommend'. I'm grateful we skipped that because a) that's boring on a panel and b) that makes cracking blog content. Listicles are good fun.

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Tolkien, Potter, and Pulps

Abandoned Spaces by Stefan Hoenerloh
Photograph by Stefan Hoenerloh

#MordorisforEveryone

Adam Roberts on the global success of Tolkien:

One reason Tolkien’s imaginary realm has proved so successful is precisely its structural non-specificity. What I mean is: Tolkien treats material that has deep roots in, and deep appeal to, various cultural traditions; but he does so in a way—as fictionalised worldbuilding rather than denominated myth—that drains away much of the poisonous nationalist, racist and belligerent associations those traditions have accumulated over the centuries.

This is very similar to what Henry Jenkins has to say about Harry Potter, where he argues (my paraphrasing) there is a world broad and shallow enough to include the potential of every individual reader's inclusion. 

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Fiction: 'Four Feet' by Kirsty Logan

Howard Hardiman - Four FeetOnce upon a night, a girl tiptoed on slippered feet into a garage, clutching a rag and a tin of beeswax. The only sound was the steady tick of the watchman's cane as he passed, but Eliska stood motionless on the step for another moment. The garage smelled of cold air and the sweet tickle of beeswax. She checked again to make sure that her feet were properly encased in their slippers – a cold floor might cause untold damage to a girl's feet – and stepped across to her animus.

The animus was a bull with golden horns and engraved wheels, and Eliska rose before dawn every other month to polish the horns until the tips were sharp enough to pierce the clouds. She knew that she cut a pretty figure, perched high in her animus with her hands resting on the controls.

With the rag gripped in her fist, Eliska scooped a fingerful of beeswax from the tin and started to rub tiny half-moons onto the clouded haunches of her animus. Within moment she was lost in her task. The servants never polished the animus properly, and Eliska could feel it down under her lungs: the shining surface hushed by cloud-fat whorls of grime and grit. She could not bear to have her breath tightened and her eyes blurred by her imperfect animus. It was a part of her, and the servants – they with the shell-hard soles and flattened arches – could never understand that. They could polish from dinner until breakfast and still Eliska would find a smudge at the very tip of her animus's horns.

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