Tag Archives: reading

Capsule Reviews – Short SF and Fantasy Stories

In addition to writing short stories, I also enjoy reading them – just haven’t had much opportunity recently. That changed over the weekend, when I found out that I can subscribe to magazines over Kindle. (I know. I know. I knew in theory. Stop laughing.) So I did.

Here are a handful you might enjoy.

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, September 2015

Racing to Mars by Martin L. Shoemaker
A ship makes a trip to Mars to drop off some supplies, and one of the people along for the ride is the son of the company’s owner. Along the way, the spoiled brat is forced to grow up, and the narrating character – a woman whose medical career is on the ropes because she blew the whistle on medical negligence at an old job – watches it happen. Interesting because of what it says about how learning – sometimes forced – can overcome ignorance.

The Crashing of the Cloud by Norman Spinrad
Short, but I liked the twist at the end. Can’t say much more than that without giving it away.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, july 2015

Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack
The tone of this story (and several others in the magazine) reminded me of China Mieville, Charles de Lint, or Neil Gaiman. To do with dreaming and mysticism. Interesting plot and characterization, though the general shape of the story is fairly familiar. Very entertaining and I liked the ways Pollack built her world. Vivid.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsin Muir
I liked this one a lot. A weird, dreamy sort of language that was also forceful and specific as needed. The protagonist is a seer from a long line of seers, trying to find her way through a prophecy of death and destruction. Characters were well-drawn and vivid, and while I probably should have seen the final twist coming, I didn’t – and I loved the story all the more for that.

Dixon’s Road by Richard Chwedyk
An engaging concept, well-told. The home of a well-loved poet is run as a visitor center, there’s some interesting stuff done with time travel and relativity, and the narrating tour guide gives some insight into a well-constructed world that quickly becomes enjoyably familiar. Another one with a final twist – and not the one you think is coming midway through.

The Silicon Curtain: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer
I’m not a reader of Kritzer’s series, so I’ve never encountered this world or characters before. It was still a fun adventure, though I feel like there were nuances to the tale that I would appreciate more if I had more familiarity with her world. Industrial espionage plot. I wasn’t entirely sure of the ages of the characters – teens or young adults or thirtysomethings – but this might be because I was reading on a plane. I might look for more of the books at some point.

There were other stories in each magazine, but I wasn’t particularly taken by them. Some were boring, some were borderline offensive, and more than a couple weren’t worth finishing. But I’d be interested in reading more from any of these writers, so even if you don’t feel like picking up the magazine, keep an eye out for their other work. And if you do, let me know what you think of it.

 

Thinning the Book-Herd

paring down my libraryI was reading this article from the Guardian Saturday morning, and it reminded me of my own recent library purge.

I’ve always loved books. When I was in elementary school, I used to walk through the halls reading a book. While I never crashed into anyone, my teacher had a prejudice against allowing this kind of nerdery to go unchecked. Similarly, I (though not other children) was banned from bringing a book to the cafeteria for lunchtime. (This problem was solved by reading over a friend’s shoulder – we were both obsessed with The Babysitters Club, so it worked out well.)

Over the years, I built up quite the collection: science fiction, historical fiction, foreign fiction fiction-fiction, mythology and more. Once, I calculated the cover value of my Star Trek novels alone – it amounted to several thousand dollars, and I was only in my mid-teens. Growing older, moving to college and then graduate school and then to live on my own, however, my collection was slowly pared down. First, the books moved to my parents’ basement and garage. Every time I’d come home, I’d go through them and winnow them down to fewer and fewer volumes. Several boxes came to New York City with me, but as my apartments grew smaller and smaller, even these – which I had thought of as the books I could never part with – became fewer in number.

The last few months have seen another reduction, setting bags on the stoop of my building with signs: “FREE BOOKS!” on sunny weekend mornings.

In her article (an excerpt from her book) Linda Grant writes:

The methodology I used for my cull was very high-minded: I would preserve those books of literary merit, the books I had not yet read but wanted to and the books given as gifts with an inscription on the flyleaf. “

This reasoning approximated my own library reduction. I kept the sci-fi greats, books I would not be able to easily replace. Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card – these were books that remained on my shelf, in part because their writing styles always inspired me but also partly because I can’t imagine going out and re-buying these books.

My books of “literary merit” also included classics and old books inherited from my grandparents. I have an entire set of the complete works of Tolstoy, of Sir Walter Scott, of Victor Hugo. The Tolstoy was published in the early 1900s and the author himself was consulted on the translation; I can’t see how reading another version of War and Peace will take me closer to the original Russian, which I don’t read and can’t see myself learning.

Then there are the plays I’ve seen and loved: mostly scripts purchased from the Traverse Theatre or the Royal Court, or gifted to me by playwrights like Alan Wilkins or Jo Clifford.

There are books of sentimental value: my complete set of Moomin novels, by Tove Jansson, or Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. And there are many books I haven’t read yet, but want to, but suspect I may not: Heaney’s Beowulf, some Balzac, a few graphic novels.

What remains on my shelf is eclectic, and still takes up an entire shelf on my wall, but it is pared down. There is a surprising amount of nonfiction, for someone with reading
roots so deeply associated with sci-fi and other imagined worlds. And these days, I hardly buy books any more: I check out digital editions from the library or purchase copies of the books I want from Kindle. If they’re classic, there are almost always free digital versions (or low-cost ones) and if they’re new I can usually borrow the digital copy from a friend, or occasionally spring for it. I read more indie novels, paging through Wattpad in search of samples that get my mind going.

While Grant laments having gotten rid of so many of her books in her move, I find that I rarely miss the physical volumes I’ve let leave my life. Once or twice I’ve wanted a quote only to find that the book in question left me long ago, but for the most part I have what I need. Most of my college textbooks are finally gone – if I want to get back into filmmaking, rather than scriptwriting, there are websites and other resources where I’ll be able to refresh my memory. I no longer felt attached to my British editions of Harry Potter, and kept only a handful of my favorite Star Trek novels – mostly by Peter David and Daffyd ab Hugh (whose no-holds-barred stories satisfied my affection for bloodthirsty sci-fi, as a teen).

What I realized the other day – and what I found a bit upsetting – is how few of the books on my shelf are written by women. While it’s not yet time for me to rebuild my library – that will have to wait until I own my own home instead of rent a small shoebox – the temptation to refill my shelves with Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Poppy Z. Brite, Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffery, Diana Gabaldon and more is difficult to resist. They and others are finding their place on my virtual bookshelf, but it’s clear to me that I need to put more effort into reading (and buying) non-white, non-male authors.

What books do you read? What are some that you’d recommend? Leave a comment to let me know, and don’t be discouraged by the weird error message that comes up when you click “submit” – the comments are posting, there’s just something wrong with the blog.

 

Like reading? Enjoy writing reviews? I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more.

The City’s Son & The Glass Republic: The Best YA Fantasy Novels I’ve Read In Ages

A month or two ago, I won a competition for two books on Twitter. Author Tom Pollock (@tomhpollock) offered up the first two books of his Skyscraper Throne series, The City’s Son and The Glass Republic, and I figured I may as well enter.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I just finished (like, ten minutes ago) The Glass Republic, which is the second book in the series. It was incredible. I haven’t read a book that captured my attention, with such a carefully-built and real alternative reality, in a very, very long time. I immediately took to Twitter and probably embarassed myself a bit by raving about the books, but you know what? If it means he sells a few more copies, I don’t even care. These books were phenomenal, and without wanting to give away spoilers, here’s what I’ll say:

The series begins with two friends, Beth Bradley and Parva “Pen” Khan, London girls navigating the complexities of high school and family and more. They’re quickly dragged into an alternative world where the streets of the city are alive and the son of the city’s Goddess is trying to save their world from destruction.

2014-03-16 10.25.26The first book, The City’s Son, is focused on Beth, while Pen takes a bit of a backseat (though not much of one – her story in this book is one of the most chilling depictions of a character being snatched up by the forces of evil that I’ve ever read). Beth joins forces with the titular City’s Son, learning about the alternative world beneath her feet and ultimately helping fight to save it.

Book two, The Glass Republic, is divided between the two girls, but it’s Pen’s story that’s front and center, here. In this novel, a new facet of Pollock’s alterna-London gets explored – London-Under-Glass, a world reflected in mirrors and filled with intrigue and danger.

2014-03-18 20.24.38Both books feature fully dimensional, well-drawn, independent, risk-taking female protagonists who develop over the course of their stories and find themselves. I preferred book 2 to book 1, but only by a smidge, and only because it’s a little more full-throttle. Don’t skip The City’s Son, though, because you’ll be lost among the creatures in The Glass Republic and besides, it’s a fantastic read.

Although Goodreads has a listing for the third book, I can’t find it yet on Amazon, so I’m assuming it’s not out over here yet. (Pollock is a British author). I’ll be checking back regularly to see if it’s available.

Links:
The City’s Son
The Glass Republic
Both by Tom Pollock.

Free Reads for Christmas!

Hey all!

I’m knee-deep in writing a science fiction play for a company in the UK, so this is going to be quick, but I hope you have a wonderful holiday and wanted to give you a couple of freebies to get you through the next week or two – particularly those of you with kids home from school and in need of entertainment.

If you’ve got kids, STUCK UP A TREE will be free on Amazon through December 29th.

If you like dystopian stories (and who doesn’t?) and haven’t read my play MOUSEWINGS, the next few days give you a chance for some free reading material, too.

I don’t often ask outright, but since it’s Christmas…if you think anyone in your network (including actors, drama teachers, directors…Steven Spielberg…) might enjoy either play, please pass on this blog or those links. And if, once you’re done, you feel like leaving a review? That’d be ace.

Again, both plays are free for Kindle (and associated devices/apps) through December 29th.

Merry Christmas & happy holidays!

xx

Rachel

 

PS – At time of writing, Mousewings and Stuck Up A Tree hold positions 3 and 4 on the Bestsellers list in Amazon’s free Playwriting categoy! (See below for a pic!)

free bestseller three and four mousewings

Inspirational Poetry 101: Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy

I was talking to a friend and brought up an allusion to a poem they were unfamiliar with: Ithaca, by Constantine Cavafy.

I’ve had a printout of this poem on my door at my parents’ house, probably since I was about thirteen years old. Every time I went into my room I saw it, every time I came out I saw it. I didn’t always read the whole thing. Sometimes my eye would just catch a line as I walked by. Other times I’d miss the oval-shaped paper cutout entirely, focusing on one of the other bits of paper I’d stuck up with blu-tack to give my door some personality.

When I was living in London, I remember my mom saying, as we talked about homesickness and missing each other, she’d read the poem on my door for the first time. I think she was suprised to see it there.

In this line of work called writing, payoffs are hard-won and oft-delayed. As I said to my friend, the best we, as authors, can hope for is that a) we’ve picked the right language to be born into or learn and b) X-thousand years after we die, somebody might read and be affected by our words.

At any rate, Ithaca is one of those poems that’s worked its way into the canon of my historic and literary references, so I wanted to share it with all of you. Below is the text of the translation of Ithaca from the Wikipedia page above. You can also check out this link for a reading in the original Greek (link also gakked from Wikipedia.) Written over 100 years ago.

ITHACA
By Constantine Cavafy

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.
Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be when
with what pleasure, what joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time.
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragrances you can find.
To many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
Edit:
This has become one of the blog’s more popular posts: so much so that I decided to look for a photo to add to it. In addition to that, I came up with this video, which is a lovely reading and I encourage you to take a moment and watch it. This and many more of his poems are available to listen to here.

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The Buying Habits of the Paying Readers of Self-Published Authors

A week or so ago, I had a conversation with a friend who reads a lot of e-books. While though her preferred genre – supernatural YA fiction – isn’t one where I’ve yet published, it was still great to hear her opinion on what worked and what had changed in the field since she had started reading e-books, particularly the self-published ones.

She’s noticed a couple of different trends:

– Where books used to be 400-600 pages, now they usually topped out around 250.

– Prices went up as series built their readership – and while she found this frustrating, she also acknowledged that it was a self-perpetuating system.

She also told me that every week, she gets a selection of free books, and those are the ones she reads – before she reads anything else. Which brought to mind something I had seen discussed a week or two ago, about how Kindle Select and its and free loans might be degrading the market for paying fiction readers. What my friend was telling me was exactly the opposite: the writers finding financial success were the ones whose stories were of a quality compelling enough to make people keep reading them. While the first book might be free, the second, third or fourth could rise as much as a dollar per volume in cost.

A while ago, I talked about why I wasn’t feeling particularly gung-ho about Kindle Select; for authors in specific genres, such as coming-of-age YA fiction, though, I suddenly understand where the impetus could come in to offer a short sample of work – but a whole novel?

My friend said that one of her frustrations with the indie market was a lack of well-edited work. By this, she was talking not just about proofreading, but about actual editing: someone who has gotten down in the trenches with the writer and helped them make their story as strong as possible.

I can understand why a reader might want to go on a short trip with an author, a setting, and a group of characters before setting out on a longer journey. But isn’t that what sample chapters are for? Is free, Kindle-Select-Accessible material a requirement for self-published authors who want to make an impact? If so, how might that impact writing trends overall? Is it just a YA thing? Just a genre thing? What about in literary fiction; what’s going on in those self-publishing circles? Is the tendency to read free books first part of why Smashwords and B&N sales are abysmal, because their platforms don’t provide options for free sampels?

HOT MESS: speculative fiction about climate change, is available for Kindle, Nook, on Smashwords and in print.. Cover design by Sarah Hartley.

Now, some of this is navel-gazing – after all, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change is still selling steadily, and we neither used Kindle Select nor did I have other offerings for sale when the book was published.

But I do have other work in the pipeline. Haiku Of The Living Dead, for example, which is a Zombie Haiku compilation I’m putting together with Miranda Doerfler, which will likely not be eligible for Kindle Select because we’re allowing submissions to be made in public forums (including in the comments to this blog entry) accepting submissions throughout the week

So many questions. Clearly I have some reading up to do. But if any of my readers want to talk about their self-published-fiction-buying habits in the comments, your perspective would be appreciated.

Awesome Awesome Amazeballs Awesome

The thing you always forget about performing is how quickly it happens. There’s an interminable amount of stuff that has to take place before a production, whether we’re talking a short film, a play, or a reading involving five performers converging on an old-time prestige venue like the Cornelia St Cafe.

That third one is a little specific, isn’t it.

Yesterday we had a live reading of Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change here in New York City. And by “we,” I mean everybody, with the exception of RJ, who wrote to us from New Zealand. Before about 4pm, the day is a blur. Literally a blur. I remember the gist of what I did: mostly sleep, since the night before was a rush of adrenaline and preparation and as with all these things, there never seems to be enough time. (Note “seems” – this is significant.)

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