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Archive for the ‘Bookery’ Category

New Story Covers: Self-Pub/Hybrid/Trad Chat

After finishing the cover for “The Judgement of Gods and Monsters,” my second Patreon-funded short story, I got a lot of compliments on the cover, and a few people asked who had done it for me.

I’m still pretty cash poor around these parts, funneling most of my money toward getting out of debt, so I’ve been doing these on my own for some time. What I realized with that cover, and with the one I did for “The Light Brigade” is that I had leveled up enough at this skill that it was probably time to revisit what I’d put on the covers for my self-pubbed short stories and collection.

I put out most of these back in 2011 and 2012 as part of my marketing campaign for the GOD’S WAR novels.

As you can see… well, they needed some… updating:

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One of the things I’ve been doing the last five years is studying covers and trying to understand what works and what doesn’t. I also study titles, but in this case I wanted to keep the titles the same just to avoid confusion, so I decided not to update those.

The break down on what I’ve figured out: covers need to clearly convey what genre you’re selling. SF needs spaceships or planets or space, generally. Fantasy does well with epic landscapes and armies and/or fighting. It’s far less important to show what happens in the book on the cover than it is to convey a feeling of the book and what it’s going to cover. You want to drive expectations: this is a story about spaceships fighting. This is a story about nobles who run with wolves. This is a story about Cthulu (tentacles. Always tentacles).

You also need to take small viewing screen into account, especially now that people aren’t just browsing on computers  or laptops – but from tablets and phones. Clear, bold, uncluttered text and simple imagery will get you further than overbusy graphics. You want people to be able to easily see and understand what you’re selling.

Another thing I wanted to figure out was how to mark short stories as being part of existing worlds that I’m writing in, like Nyx’s Umayma from the God’s War universe, or the Worldbreaker series, if I ever write any in that. I came up with a lot of different text treatments, but they all seemed cluttered and difficult to understand, so I just went with a straight-up text treatment:

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I tried this a couple of times with death heads, but bloody heads and skulls code horror, and I needed something that coded “gritty” and that was this text treatment. Yes, I considered using bugs, but every image I put together looked awful. I may go back and add a bug peeking out from the bullet hole there as an Easter egg for those who look closely, but I’m happy with how this looks on the revised covers:

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Same stories. Better designs.

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Purchase

The Seams Between the Stars | After Birth | The Body Project | Brutal Women: The Short Stuff

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I think my most successful cover in this set is for “The Body Project.” It’s a clean design with black text on a pale background. The hovering people in the beam of light not only evoke the story, but also code SF very well without a lot of over complicated detail:

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For my short story collection, I actually re-hashed a redesign I’d started for the relaunch of my old God’s War blog tour post collection, before I sold a THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION to Tor earlier this year, which contains some of those essays. It looks a little literary for what it is, but yanno, fuck it, so does Ursula K. LeGuin’s covers:

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Kameron Hurley: Literary as fuck.

I’ll also be curious to see what affect, if any, new cover designs have on these old stories. I’ve always been keen on running cover/pricing experiments on self-pub stuff, but just never had the time. So far I can say, after a few days, that it’s absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Folks ask me, often, why I don’t go full self-pub, and the reason is that the types of books I write just aren’t suited as well for digital-only. They’re complex books low on romance and supernatural elements. They aren’t the world’s most accessible books. There’s a far greater audience for 100-level fantasy like the Dragonlance novels and The Name of the Wind than for 300-level fantasy like The Mirror Empire. That said, I’d argue the Malazan novels are far more complex than my books, and they’ve found their audience, so hope springs eternal (though the Malazan audience is not primarily digital either, I’ll note. LET US STORM THE PAPER MARKET: MY AUDIENCE POTENTIAL HAS YET TO BE REACHED).

So as much as I enjoy my little self-pub experiments, for me and my career, a hybrid approach where I’m putting up some self-pub, doing some Patreon stories, and working with three or four (or more) publishers is the right mix for now, unless somebody can give me a better deal. In an ideal world, I’d be pulling enough in traditional contracts that I could dedicate myself to one or two traditional publishers, but no one has yet made me a good enough offer to do that.

But someday soon. Sooooon.

So we carry on. We persevere, we make covers, we make deals, we keep our day jobs.

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Purchase

The Seams Between the Stars | After Birth | The Body Project | Brutal Women: The Short Stuff

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Bad Plants in New Packages and Other Cool Stuff

The mass market paperback edition of the grim, parallel-universes colliding epic THE MIRROR EMPIRE is out today and includes a bonus first chapter of EMPIRE ASCENDANT.

READ IT AND WEEP MY FRIENDS.

EMPIRE ASCENDANT can now also be pre-ordered from Audible, and will be out the same day as the ebook and paper version, October 6th.

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As this is a Tuesday, that also means a bunch of other BRAND SPANKING NEW books are hitting the shelves today, including these reads:

UPDRAFT

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TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI

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SORCERER TO THE CROWN

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CHAPELWOOD

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THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS

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And loads more. Happy reading!

To Blurb or Not to Blurb: My Book Reading & Rec Policy

Sometime in the last year, the number of requests I’ve gotten to blurb or simply early-read books has gone up tremendously. For folks who can read a book in a three or four hour stretch, this may not be a big deal, but unless I’m in the midst of a gripping made-for-me book, it takes me a long time to finish things (and even then, bare minimum, it takes me 3-7 days). Add in all my other deadlines, especially here at year’s end, and I’m just overwhelmed.

I’ve been hearing a lot of murmurs at cons that “a Kameron Hurley blurb means something”(but what???) which kind of worries me (no pressure!), and has also contributed to this uptick. I may not sell millions of my own books, but my opinion is apparently taken seriously inside some genre circles.

Because I get so many requests now, I wanted to talk a little about what makes the difference between “Books I’ll blurb,” “Books I’ll review” and “Books I’ll signal boost” so that folks understand what I’m thinking when I choose to blurb or review what I dol.

Books I Will Probably Blurb

Ok, listen. If you send me a book to blurb and I don’t get back to you it’s MOST likely because I wasn’t able to finish it – I was too busy, it got lost among other things, I picked up a book that grabbed hold of me more than yours, etc (I still haven’t finished books I’m reading for fun like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR and THE PERIPHERAL and the last three Christopher Priest books). Next most likely is that I got into and realized it wasn’t for me and put it down again.

22.alamyThat said, there is a strange strata of books I read that I enjoy but that I don’t blurb, and that’s generally because it doesn’t seem like something that people who read my work would be into. Case in point: early in my career I was asked to blurb a secondary world supernatural romance. It was a good book with enjoyable worldbuilding, but it had some problematic power dynamics, and I just couldn’t put my name on it without a disclaimer. I didn’t think people who read my stuff would be into it; if my audience isn’t a good crossover audience for your book, then my blurb isn’t going to help you. I could be wrong! But that’s something I take into account. People tend to come to my work for the worldbuilding, the genderbending, and the kickass women protagonists. If I’m not seeing a lot of that in your book, I will probably just review it instead of providing a pre-release blurb.

I also bear some responsibility for the books that I blurb – if those books are problematic, that does blow back on me, so I blurb with care. I need to love something enough to swallow that and be OK with it.

What I really want to avoid, of course, is becoming one of those authors whose blurbs mean nothing except that I’m friends with the author, or that I feel sorry for them. I don’t want to be one of those authors who just blurbs everything like, “Well, this book promises to be good if only I could have finished reading it!” or some ridiculous nothing-statement like that.

Books I’ll Review

I’ll review pretty much everything that I enjoy or think is worthwhile and challenging in some way on my site in the “Books You Should be Reading” feature. That said, I have to FINISH it, first, and whoa boy, yeah – that’s the real issue, there. What I like about reviews as opposed to blurbs is that I can put the disclaimers in there – yes, this book was great, but watch out for that rape scene, or yes, this book was great, but understand that it has some serious women problems.

Books I’ll Signal Boost

If I know you/have met you and I like you and your books are well-written and not a scourge upon the earth and you’re not a giant asshole, I’ll probably signal boost your release news/goodie tweets, etc. Please don’t ASK me to do this, because it’s at my discretion and I’d prefer to keep this as a “Nice thing to do when I see it” instead of yet another full-time job thing, though. I have enough full time jobs, thanks.

Bonus Trivia

Don’t send me generic medieval dudebro books. For real. Just don’t. You’re wasting your time and my time and your book marketing budget. Send me a book with wicked women protagonists, fabulous worldbuilding, and great writing.

Blurb/Review requests should go through my agent (Hannah Bowman) or to my publicity @ kameronhurley.com address. If you send me a pitch and the book doesn’t sound like it’s up my alley, I will decline or decline through my agent, and save us all some time.

I’m more likely to read paper copies of a book than ecopies. Sorry, marketing budgets. This has something to do with having it staring at me on my nightstand instead of buried on Kindle Cloud on my phone.

I hate fishing for blurbs just as much as you do. I have to fish for blurbs, too, and I know it sucks. Please know that I understand this is something we all have to do even though we hate it, and I’m not mad or annoyed at you or anything for asking, as long as you’re not annoying about it. In general when I ask for blurbs I ask once, then follow up once a couple weeks before blurbs are due for people who requested the manuscript to let them know blurbs are due soon. I don’t expect replies and leave it at that and never mention it again if they don’t blurb or review the book.

To sum up, I love you all (probably), but I have three jobs and very exacting reading taste. So say we all.

Books You Should Be Reading: THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR

I want you to look at the cover of THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR. JUST LOOK AT IT. Anyone who says covers don’t sell books is lying. There’s a reason it’s the biggest marketing expense a publisher spends on a novel, and if they get it wrong, you may not be entirely fucked, but you will be put at a severe disadvantage.

The cover was enough for me to click, and when I opened to the first page, well… it’s about a librarian walking along the road with a detective’s blood all over her, and why the hell would you NOT read that IMMEDIATELY?

It was such a clever way to start a mystery book: it’s not a woman dead on the road. It’s not about the detective standing over her body. It’s about a woman who has just killed a detective, which sets you up for just how wild things are going to get.

Of course, this isn’t actually a mystery book, either. I’ve seen it called “contemporary fantasy” and I guess that will have to do. I don’t want to go into the plot too much because half the fun of this book is the slow, steady reveal of how fucked up and weird and crazy things are. Suffice to say that you have not read this book before, and if you think you know what’s going on, you are probably wrong.

61VYqrAgpzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There are unending cruelties here. Psychotic families. Insane political machinations. Weird magic. Surprising twists.

Any complaints I might have about this book were minor. It’s a first novel, and there were some longish talking scenes (goodness knows I’ve written a lot of those myself) that repeat information to characters that you, as a reader, already know. That was fine – I just skimmed over them. The pacing of the last act runs a little long; but again, by that point I didn’t fucking care because the book was just laying down the payoff of the mysteries it promised to solve at the beginning, and I was down with that. There are horrible things done to people. Horrible things. Including rape and being burned alive. But it’s not voyeuristic and purposeless. There is a method to the horror and madness, and it’s treated fairly; I did not feel punched in the face, though there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions that I can’t really touch on without spoilers. Maybe another time.

I also find it terribly funny that I’m drawn to books with really complex and purposeful plots these days, something I’m not very good at, myself. THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT and even PLANETFALL are political mysteries at their heart, and so is THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR.

If you’re looking for a weird, wild, rough and engaging contemporary fantasy novel unlike anything you’ve ever read before, pick up this book.

Books I Read on my Twitter Vacation

My to-be-read pile is a thing of wonder, as my voracious need to own all the books will never keep up with my pace of reading all the books.

At any rate, taking a Twitter vacation turns out to have been great for that part of me that was hardly reading anything anymore, and look! Hey!

As promised, here’s my slightly deeper reactions post to what I’ve been reading.

Today seemed like a great day to talk about great books.

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PLANETFALL by Emma Newman (November 2015)

This was a book I was reading for possible blurbing (and yes, dear reader, I blurbed it!). It’s out in Novemeber, and I’d heard of the author before via Twitter and liked the cover, so when I was approached about it, I said yes. The first couple of pages, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be for me, but it only took a couple of pages before the whole mystery starts unfurling, like some great gory beast so horrifying you can’t look away. It’s about a group of folks who’ve colonized a planet – how and for what purpose is slowly revealed in a rather masterful fashion, so I’m not going to give it away here. There was something very old-school SF about this book in a fabulous way; it was everything I loved about those old “hell is other people” SF novels of colonization and exploration, without limiting the future to the Same Four Dudes. Here I was getting a future that was diverse and interesting and messy, a story that didn’t punch me in the face or preach at me, while delivering a Golden Age SF tale of humanity as its own worst enemy. There were shades of Joanna Russ’s WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO… in this one that I adored (perhaps that terrible sense of the claustrophobic nightmare, that these handful of people really are the people you’re stuck with for the rest of your life), and have I mentioned the masterful way the whole mystery is handled? Highly recommended.

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THE MECHANICAL by Ian Tregillis

Ian Tregillis is probably one of our genre’s most skillful under-read writers. I love everything he writes, and THE MECHANICAL is no different. What I also love about his work is that he doesn’t stick to a formula or genre. His first three novels, starting with BITTER SEEDS, were alternate history war novels. THE MECHANICAL is an alternate history steampunk novel (I say “steampunk” but there’s a sly note made by one of the characters that steam in fact has no future – they don’t use steam power in this universe, but it has many of the same sensibilities as steampunk, and would appeal to readers of same). This is the story of Jax, one of many self-aware robot “mechanicals” owned by the Dutch empire which now rules the world. Though self-aware, they lack free will, and the text’s engagement with what constitutes personhood is one of the more interesting aspects of the novel. Another gem.

 

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SING ME YOUR SCARS by Damien Angelica Walters

If you’re looking for weird body horror and have prepared to dive into stories about horrible things happening to women (but in which they have absolute agency; in fact, women taking back agency in the face of abuse is a theme that runs through many of the stories), this is a fine collection. Another book I found because I’d seen the author interacting with people on Twitter. Somebody RT’d that her collection was live, I read the first couple pages online, and bought it. I was not disappointed. Equal parts horrifying and weird and tragic, it’s a fine collection of weird.

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PERSONA by Genevieve Valentine

Not quite the book I expected based on the blurb, but a rollicking good read with some good chewy bits about the disappearing lines between political figure, figurehead, and celebrity. I’ve discovered the last couple years that I am a sucker for tough, enduring heroines, and this book has that in spades.

I’d been hoping for a little more worldbuilding and weirdness, but this is not MECHANIQUE. It’s more a near-future SF thriller. So keep your head down and enjoy the ride.

 

 

 

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THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA by Zachary Jernigan

Jernigan writes some of the best science-fantasy weird out there, and I wish he wrote more. This collection introduces you to fantastic people on fantastic worlds; old gods and captured souls. If you’ve seen that GIF of Wonder Woman riding a kangaroo through the solar system, well, that’s the kind of fantastic-SF I’m talking about. Old school Michael Moorcock/Cordwainer Smith fantasy stuff that always inspires me to push my fiction a little further. If he stays in the game, I’d keep an eye on his stuff.

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BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

This book doesn’t really need any introduction. It’s won ALL THE AWARDS for a reason. It’s poignant, brilliant, affecting. Just beautiful. I haven’t read prose poetry in some time, and it was a delight to see it used so masterfully here, perfectly capturing a family, a world, a time.

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THE SINGING SANDS by Josephine Tey

A short little murder mystery written in 1953, I mostly enjoyed this for the travelogue through Scotland. It reminded me of my trip to London/Brighton/Edinburgh last year. This detective’s weakness is not the usual “too much drinking,” but claustrophobia caused by “frayed nerves.” Good little mystery right up until the end, when things are a bit too old-school “And then I confessed how I did it!” for my sensibilities, but as a product of its time, fun. Sometimes you have to remember that the old “LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DID IT!” thing and other tropes weren’t actually tropes in, you know, 1953.

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THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN by P.D. James

Probably bested summed up as “a nice cozy mystery novel.” I had a difficult time figuring out the time period, which was meant to be the 1980’s, but was told so well in the old school 19th-century mystery style that I kept getting confused about why people were using pay phones and wearing dresses with shoulder pads. I realize writing a good mystery is difficult, which is why I read this one – it does it well, but because it does it so well, I find I have little to say. A bit of a realistic but infuriating ending, too (minor spoiler), with “I’m rich so I’ll get away with it, and you’re just a woman, and who would believe you” because… well, because it’s so true, yanno?

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CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

Ending with what may have been the best of the bunch, for me. Cries, cries, cries. This book was delightful in about the way you’d think I’d describe a book as “delightful.” It’s the story of two women – a pilot and a spy – in World War II Britain. One is imprisoned and interrogated, and the story is told entirely through her confession and other written letters and correspondence.

A smart, harrowing, book that does some technically skillful things with narrative and assumptions that are about on par with that great book by Sarah Waters, FINGERSMITH, where with one line, the entire narrative of what you read during the first half of the book totally changes. Almost missed this one because it’s been marketed as YA. It’s not YA, but if that helped it sell more books, more power to it. I do see the new covers looked skewed for an older audience, though admittedly, there is something very evocative about the clasping hands cover that gets to the emotional heart of the story.

 

 

Thoughts on That Controversial Awards Announcement…

So, that Tiptree list, amirite?

(what, you thought there was another awards announcement I was interested in talking about? Silly rabbit!)

I had a few people ask why MIRROR EMPIRE wasn’t on the Tiptree longlist, which is always awkward, when people ask why you weren’t nominated for something, because the short answer is always, “Uh, because people didn’t vote for it? Go figure!”

My work has only been longlisted once, for GOD’S WAR (though I have a hazy recollection of a short story of mine also longlisting a long time ago, I can’t find a record of that) and to be honest, I hadn’t much thought about the Tiptree because MIRROR EMPIRE kind of seemed like a no-brainer for that one.

But MIRROR EMPIRE is, I suppose, also an “in between” book. It’s made people on both the far right and the far left angry. Some thought it went too far. Some thought it didn’t go far enough. It’s was too “epic fantasy.” It wasn’t enough “epic fantasy.” The discussion of gender wasn’t radical enough, the discussion of gender was too confusing, etc. I’d actually bet that the reason it’s sold OK is actually because it walks that line between “too much” and “not enough” in all things. I’m told pre-orders for EMPIRE ASCENDANT are strong as well (which you can do now!).

So please don’t sit around gnashing teeth on my account because MIRROR EMPIRE is on no lists this year – just keep buying it. I have a royalty check nearly as large as my first book advance on the way. I’ve been telling people all year when they congratulate me about all the award noms I’ve gotten the last two years that I’d take sales over awards, and this is the year I am doing that, and yes – I’m doing just fine. Sometimes you do get what you asked for.

The reality is that the Tiptree is a juried award, and just like popular awards, it’s determined by the personal taste of the folks voting. All awards in SFF can be political awards, too. The Tiptree has always been so, the Hugos certainly are, the Nebulas are like the Oscars, etc. etc. This is a casino, friends. It’s a crap shoot.

It’s cool when people like your work who are judging awards, but equally cool to see so many fabulous writers get recognized for work that expands and explores our notions of gender. The Tiptree list is always a delight.

So do please read the fabulous Tiptree winners and excellent longlist. The Tiptree longlist always makes a fabulous suggested reading list, and this year is no different. I would certainly like to see more talk online about this list than I’m seeing; there are tons of great book discussions ahead – don’t feel limited by the selections offered for bigger awards. Go forth and read! I’m in the middle of reading Monica Byrne’s THE GIRL IN THE ROAD right now, and it’s fab.

Let’s celebrate an award worth talking about.

2014 Tiptree Winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton
2014 Tiptree Winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton

Books You Should Be Pre-Ordering

It’s 2015 folks, and hot damn, does time fly. One of the fabulous things about being an author is that I get to see some books early, and tell you about THE BEST ONES. Plenty of studies tell me not to talk about these books before you can click BUY NOW HOLD IN MY HOT HANDS. But I know how important pre-orders are to first-week sales for authors and their success.

PLUS I know how awesome you feel when you’re the first to buy something that EVERYONE will be talking about and you can be like, “Yeah, I pre-ordered that shit before it was cool.”

Here are some books I think you should be pre-ordering RIGHT NOW.

DON’T WAIT.

 THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT

 You know when you read a book and you’re like THIS WAS WRITTEN JUST FOR ME? CITY OF STAIRS was like that for me last year. This year, it’s THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT, a political thriller of a different bent. When a brutal, colonizing empire invades her homeland, Baru Cormorant vows to fight the monster from the inside, rising up through the ranks of the empire in her quest to destroy the people who decimated her homeland. But when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back. Bonus points for toppling countries via banking and borrowing schemes, epic reversals, betrayals, and one of the most heartbreaking love stories I’ve ever read.

I cried through the first forty pages of this book because I knew what was coming. I cried at the last forty because it was even worse than I thought.

YOU WILL LOVE THIS JUST TRUST ME.

 A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER

This is a weird book. It starts out very dudebro epic fantasy, and then… starts to surprise you. Weirdly funny, very simple prose, perhaps too aware that it’s fucking with your expectations, but it’s an epic fantasy that works hard not to punch you in the face, tongue-in-cheek the whole time, and if you think you know what’s coming, well… just you wait.

Nothing here is what it appears to be, including the author, who is apparently a pseudonym for someone who already has a few books under their belt. Let’s hope it’s not an asshole person, because I blurbed this book!

 

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THE GRACE OF KINGS

I’ve only just started this one, but come on. It’s Ken Liu. It’s from Saga Press. Pre-order it.

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THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS

I’m a new reader of Aliette de Bodard, and a fan of her short fiction. THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is set in an alt Paris full of witches and warlocks and Fallen Angels. Not usually my bag, but our story spins out in the aftermath of The Great Magicians’ War, among haunted ruins and devastated lives, and de Bodard does some great stuff with war and its aftermath, who it touches, what it transforms, in her short fiction that I’m very interested to see explored here. PRE ORDER IT NOW.

 PERSONA

A thriller from Genevieve Valentine, whose book MECHANIQUE was fabulously weird and heart wrenching. I still haven’t read her most recent, THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, but I intend to get there. Valentine takes us to a near-future world in this one, rich with celebrity ambassadors and assassins who manipulate the media… so the only truth seekers left are the paparazzi. I anticipate that this one will be super smart, and oodles of fun. Get clicking.

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CHAPELWOOD

Folks know I loved MAPLECROFT, the creepy gothic horror novel about Lizzie Borden as an axe-wielding Cthulu hunter. Well, as with all fine things, Lizzie the badass monster hunter is back in CHAPELWOOD, which Priest calls a “witchy art-deco horror novel.” Yes, please.

 EMPIRE ASCENDANT

What, you think after putting 100 hours into this book just in the last three weeks, I wouldn’t mention it? COME ON NOW WHO DO YOU THINK I AM? Lilia is back, bringing her badass self to the theater of an epic war because come on, what better to prepare you for war strategies than board games oh wait yeah there’s a lot that could go wrong here… We’ve got chaos in three kingdoms, a powerless mage fighting for his enemy, a traitor at the heart of a vast conspiracy who finally shows her hand, and some long-dead folks summoned from a mountainous grave to fight a new battle…. Blah blah. FLESH EATING PLANTS, STAR MAGIC, AND THE END OF THE WORLD?

ARE YOU IN?

Books You Should Be Reading

As I’m bouncing up and down about MIRROR EMPIRE finally being back in stock at the distributor, here’s some other great titles I’ve enjoyed this year that YOU SHOULD BE READING:

WAIT FOR IT

WAIT

YES THESE ONES:

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Usually, a guy with a hood is not a good sign. Not so here.

 

CITY OF STAIRS

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Unless you live under a tree, you’ve probably heard me rant and rave about this one. Last year I talked a lot about ANCILLARY JUSTICE  (pssst sequel out now!) and why you should read it. This year it’s CITY OF STAIRS. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that half the experience of reading is the experience the reader brings to it. CITY OF STAIRS hit a lot of the things that fascinate me – it’s a spy novel, a political thriller, an SF novel, a fantasy novel. It’s about war and genocide and the danger of using the tools of the oppressor. It’s got monster fights and fist punching and a tremendous sense of wonder and engaging mystery on every page. If you have not read this book yet, you are, frankly, missing out. Stop missing out. Stop it.

 

 

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You will squeal every time she says she picks up her ax…

 

MAPLECROFT

By Cherie Priest

Moody. Creepy. Bad ass. It’s Lizzie Borden of “hacked up her parents yes/no” fame as a secret Cthulu hunter. Full of bad ass women doing bad ass things, it’s an engrossing read, stringing you along with tantalizing mysteries and fabulously flawed characters. It’s all that stuff you loved about Lovecraft (including the weird nightmares after you read it) without the constant facepunching. I don’t read books very fast as a rule, but I plowed through this in just a couple of days, eager to see how the protagonists dealt with what would most likely be their inevitable end (Cthulu mythos, remember?).

 

 

 

 

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It’s worth it. Just open it.

 

ON A RED STATION, DRIFTING

By Aliette de Bodard

Please ignore this cover. I’m ashamed to say it was the cover that put me off reading this for some time. I’m a cover snob. But if you are a snob too and move past it as I suggest, inside you’ll find a fascinating… political thriller? Space opera? Whatever the sub genre, it’s SF that will make you think, interrogate what sorts of societies are populating the future, and oh yeah, it’s a great story, too. War, politics, sentient stations, and fascinating, complex family lineages and infighting will keep you turning the pages. And like Maplecroft, this is a story that’s very clear it’s about the women who do shit, not just women who have things done to them. Always terribly refreshing.

 

 

If you liked ANCILLARY JUSTICE and GOD’S WAR you’ll love…

Much to my surprise, at least, both Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE and my book GOD’S WAR have been shortlisted for the BSFA and Arthur C. Clarke Awards this year. Women on the shortlists actually isn’t as newsworthy a thing as perhaps it’s been touted in the media, but having two books that explicitly tackle tricky issues of gender, race, war, and colonialism all at the same time may be a little more rare.

That said, I was surprised to see someone on Twitter say that reading these books had “Proved that the future isn’t just for the guys.” In fact, seeing it made me a bit sad, because though these are highly visible books right now, they actually exist as part of a really massive body of SF that tackles the same themes, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of titles that I’ve been reading for years but that don’t get as much mainstream attention as they should.

To keep this “if you liked x, you’ll love y” list manageable, I’ve tried to keep it restricted to space opera/ish or secondary world space mercenary books that tackle the same sort of themes.

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UPDATE: also worth noting, before we dig in, that the sequels to God’s War, INFIDEL and RAPTURE are already out, and the sequel to Ancillary Justice, ANCILLARY SWORD, can be pre-ordered right now.

 

So after you finish ANCILLARY JUSTICE and GOD’S WAR you should read:

 

ascension-by-jacqueline-koyanagi-485x750Ascension

By Jacqueline Koyanagi

I blurbed this book thusly, “There are badass women running around doing badass things and falling in love with each other and with starships, and I’m totally down with that.” I rest my case.

 

 

 

dust-coverDust  | Chill  |Grail

By Elizabeth Bear

It’s crazy semi-gods/gender shenanigans on a massive generation ship unlike any other you’ve seen.  This one is hard to even sum up – weird space genderpunk action, with Shakespeare. 

 

 

 

Hammered_by_Elizabeth_BearHammered  | Scardown  | Worldwired

By Elizabeth Bear

Because Elizabeth Bear is pretty prolific, I had to keep it down to two series. Hammered, etc. are about a tough, no-nonsense, middle-aged  Canadian Warrant Officer Jenny Casey, who gets bad guys, pilots starships, and endeavors to save the world – again and again.

 

 

 

60929Dawn | Adulthood Rights | Imago

By Octavia Butler

When aliens and humans come together to save the human race – sending many to sleep in giant alien spacecraft to wait out the cataclysm – how do we determine what humanity is anymore? Butler takes on complicated, uncomfortable issues of autonomy, humanity, and our penchant for self-destruction in this series about alien beings who merge with humanity to save them.

 

 

tt-machinegods1Courtship in the Age of Machine Gods

And

Zeraquesh in Absentia

By Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Really, anything by Benjanun is extraordinary.   Read her complete work and upcoming stuff here.  When she actually writes some books, buy them.

 

 

ammoniteAmmonite

By Nicola Griffith

The only men in this book show up in the orbiting space station at the beginning, then it’s all women kicking ass all the time. Right up there as a core feminist SF tale with Russ’s short story, “When it Changed” and  Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein’s “Sultana’s Dream.”

 

 

 

 

we-who-are-about-to-Joanna-Russ4We Who Are About To

By Joanna Russ

One of my all-time favorite reamings of the old assumption that a bunch of people stranded on a planet should start propagating to “save” the human race. One woman decides to take control of her future among the stars, instead of having it dictated to her.

 

 

 

85893Trouble on Triton (Triton)

By Samuel R. Delany

A tad dated, but still an interesting exploration of gender expectations and social norms set on Triton during a time of political unrest.

 

 

 

 

Cover_TheWaterSignThe Water Sign

By C.S. Samulski

Fascinating exploration of war, faith, genocide and gender-swapping. There’s an unfortunate rape scene that pushed me out of the story, but well worth a read (I never could finish Who Fears Death for the same reason).

 

 

 

blackwineBlack Wine

By Candas Jane Dorsey

This book opens with “There is a scarred, twisted old madwoman in a cage in the courtyard.” And just gets better from there. Folks who read “Enyo-Enyo” will see some similarities in theme here. Weird time displacement, meetings-of-oneselves, despair, loss, madness.

 

 

 

0765358735Arctic Rising

By Tobias S. Buckell

After some further thought, I decided to add this one too, even though it’s more a near-future thriller – because it stars a Nigerian lesbian ex-mercenary, and is a great gateway to his more spaceoperay work (which I didn’t dig as much, but which you might like).

 

 

 

 

etched-cityThe Etched City

By KJ Bishop

This is not strictly SF. In fact, it’s fantasy. But if you liked God’s War, you will love this book. It’s about two old war veterans – a roguish man and jaded woman doctor – who try to carve out a life for themselves after being on the losing side of a great war.

 

 

 

grimspaceGrimspace

By Ann Aguirre

Not strictly an SF book about gender dynamics, but the first in a series that’s a fun space operatic romp. Aguirre knows how to write page turners with kickass heroines and great romances.

 

 

 

2502661The Unconquered Country

By Geoff Ryman

This collection of gender-defying, mind-bending novellas had a huge impact on me.  Bonus explorations of genocide, race, colonialism, war, capitalism.

 

 

 

 

Additional books from others’ lists:

I haven’t read these ones, but I have it on good authority they’re pretty great.

Fortune’s Pawn

By Rachel Bach

I have not read this, but keep being told to. It’s about a whiskey-drinking, career-driven woman who likes to bed pretty boys and aspires to be among the universe’s most elite soldiers. So.

Up Against it

By MJ Locke

Another one I haven’t read, but am told I should. This one’s about a century-old resource manager on an asteroid colony who gets caught up in a mystery with ties to a Martian crime syndicate, among others.

The Shadow Speaker

By Nnedi Okorafor

A rift opens up between Earth and an alien world, and a young Muslim girl must try to avert a war between the worlds (bonus plant-based technology).

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I know I’m missing a TON of “if you liked this, you’ll love this” books, but this should help get you started. Create your own lists and share them widely!

Forgotten Fantasy Favorites: Illusion, by Paula Volsky

 In this irregular series of posts, I want to highlight some of my favorite fantasy epics – gritty and otherwise – of the last twenty years.

I discovered Paula Volsky’s Illusion the traditional way – it was recommended by a friend in high school, who fairly forced it into my hands and said, “You need to read this.” Illusion was a revelation.

It was the first book I recognized as taking historical events and meshing them with a rich secondary world. In this case, Volsky took events of the most famous of the French revolutions and put them into a world with magic and caste systems.

Watching Eliste, a young noblewoman obsessed with her own coming out party while revolution brews around her, comes with it this impending sense of doom, as you know from the first chapter exactly where this is going. The young man working on her family’s estate who begins to foment rebellion has a similarly expected change in his station. The nice part about having a sense of how badly things are going to go is that you can spend more time getting caught up in the extraordinary worldbuilding and characters, happily eating popcorn while you wait for the rug to get torn out from under them.

Volsky is a writer after my own heart. 

Make no mistake about what this book is about: this is a book based on the French Revolution, which means heads roll, palaces burn, mobs tear people to pieces, and Eliste’s world goes from cakes and gowns to bread and blood. Shit hits the fan, and fortunes change dramatically throughout this book, and the world opens up  I’ve always loved Volsky’s rich worldbuilding, which she doubles down on in her other work, including The Grand Ellipse and The Gates of Twilight.

Volsky’s last book came out in 2001 under that name, but she has since launched a new series under a pseudonym, Paula Brandon, beginning with The Traitor’s Daughter in 2011, which seems to have been mistakenly marketed as romance, and made a bunch of readers angry.  In an interview, Volsky talks about the inspiration for this setting:

“I had a general, fuzzy image of Renaissance Italy–city states; Fifteenth Century level of technology, more or less; names with an Italianate sound, sometimes. But it’s only the slightest flavor–a starting point for my own ideas about a place called the Veiled Isles.”

And from another interview, more evidence that Volsky and I could totally be friends:

“When I was nearing the end of the third volume, and finally wrote and completed the climactic death scene toward which I had been working over the course of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages, I leaped up from my desk and went singing and dancing about my apartment. Fortunately, no one was around to witness this.”

Go pick something up from Volsky ASAP. I still stand by Illusion as the best book to start with, but YMMV.

I’ve just picked up The Traitor’s Daughter, and The White Tribunal over the course of writing this post. I’m not an addict. Not at all.

 

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