REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong set of stories that joyfully show new and extended aspects of a fascinating fantasy world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Explores the present and past of the Indigo Cloud Court with stories that look into the past history of characters.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:: Detailed and vivid worldbuilding; intriguing non-human politics and character interactions; welcome return of favorite characters.
CONS: Worldbuilding and explanation inserted to allow new readers to catch up sometimes drags a bit on story flow.
BOTTOM LINE: A set of novellas that introduce and extend the Three Worlds to new and returning readers.

Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads introduced a new fantasy universe to her readers. Set in the “Three Worlds”, The Cloud Roads started the story of Moon, an orphaned humanoid with a secret (and terrifying) ability to shapechange into a monstrous flying form. Discovered by a tribe of creatures similar to himself, Moon learned who and what he really is, even as the court of Raksura was under threat by their mortal enemies, the Fell. The subsequent novels (The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths) continued the story of Moon and Indigo Cloud as they return to their ancestral homeland, only to be immersed into adventure and old rivalries with other Raksura as they seek to reestablish themselves in the Reaches.
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MIND MELD: How to Avoid The Suck Fairy of Re-Reads

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This week we asked our participants to talk about the perils of re-reading. Going back to a book read in one’s golden age of SF reading can be a fraught exercise. Characters we thought we wonderful can turn out to be wooden. Settings we thought diverse and open turn out to be monochromatic. Plots that enthralled us can seem facile. Books we enjoyed can be rife with questionable material. Writers whose work we loved can turn out to be terrible human beings.

Q: Let’s talk about Jo Walton’s “Suck fairy”. How do you find the process of re-reading a book? How does a re-read of a book change your initial bliss and happiness with the book? Do you have any strategies for avoiding disappointment? What books have managed to escape the suck fairy for you?

Here’s what they said…

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BOOK REVIEW: Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in Martha Wells newest series closely follows on the first novel, expanding the world and characters.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Deepening of protagonist’s character, cosmology and the world; consistently entertaining; a quick read; excellent Introductory fantasy, especially for readers looking for a female protagonists and role models.
CONS: The novel’s uncomplicated YA nature may turn off readers looking for more complex fare; the lack of space between the two volumes, time-wise, mandates reading the first volume first.
BOTTOM LINE: A sequel that provides an entertaining second visit to Wells’ world and strengthens some of the weaknesses of the first novel.
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MIND MELD: What’s “Wrong” with Epic Fantasy?

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On episode 224 of the SF Signal Podcast, a discussion began about how epic fantasy can sometimes be too long, too detailed, too sprawling, often getting weighed down by its own epicness, and running the risk of losing the reader.  With that podcast and the comments it generated in mind, I asked our panelists this question:

Q: Is something Wrong With Epic Fantasy? If yes, how might it be fixed?

Here’s what they said…
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Aaron de Orive is a writer who has worked on several popular video games, including Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided, Anarchy Online, and the award-winning Star Wars: The Old Republic. He is also the creator of the tabletop RPG Shard: World of the False Dawn. He is currently collaborating with Martha Wells on a new fantasy boook called Blade Singer.

The Origins of The Swashbuckling Adventure BLADE SINGER

by Aaron de Orive

It all started with an incredible duel.

It was the climax of Scaramouche, the 1952 movie starring Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer as Andreu Moreau and the Marquis de Maynes. The amazing swordplay lasted around eight minutes and ranged all across a lavish theater, ending on a stage with a shocking reveal. It’s one of my favorite cinematic moments and one of the finest sword fights ever put on film. I longed to write a story that featured a duel like that.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Today’s Young Adult authors are undoubtedly a big influence on young minds with the stories they tell and the rich worlds they create, but I’ve always wondered what authors and novels made an impression on them when they were young! So I asked them:

Q: As a writer, and especially as a young adult author, you’ve no doubt influenced many young people with your writing and the worlds you create, but what authors and books influenced you the most as a young person, and why?

Here’s what they said…

Mindy McGinnis
Mindy McGinnis is an assistant YA librarian who lives in Ohio and cans her own food. She graduated from Otterbein University magna cum laude with a BA in English Literature and Religion. Mindy has a pond in her back yard but has never shot anyone, as her morals tend to cloud her vision.

I have two rather different answers – Stephen King and Madeleine L’Engle. They both illustrated to me in different ways that you if you set it up properly, you can sell even the most ludicrous of storylines, and have your reader completely invested. If you’ve ever tried doing a one line pitch of any of their books you’ll see – you sound ridiculous! But in your heart you know it’s so good!

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Martha Wells Does Star Wars

Martha Wells has posted the cover art of the her upcoming Star Wars novel Razor’s Edge, which features Princess Leia in an adventure that takes place shortly after the detruction of the Death Star in Star in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.

Here’s the synopsis:
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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Emilie, running away from a bad home situation, accidentally winds up on a research vessel headed into the depths of the Hollow Earth.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong female characters; interesting Hollow Earth world; imaginative worldbuilding.
CONS: Book feels much more middle grade than YA in tone and complexity
BOTTOM LINE: A good introduction to Martha Wells, especially for younger readers.

With a repressive home life with her aunt and uncle, is it any wonder that Emilie would decide to run away, seeking to reach her cousin and a berth in the school she runs? However, her attempt at running away goes wrong. No, her aunt and uncle do not hire a hedgewitch to track her down. Instead, she stows aboard the wrong ship — a research ship destined to head into the depths of the earth, to the strange and foreign Hollow World, to seek a missing scientist. An unwitting passenger she might be at first, but Emilie quickly learns that her talents will be needed if they are to ever return to the world above.

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MIND MELD: SF/F Items on Our Holiday Wishlists

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It’s the holidays, which means it’s time for holiday lists! We’re not above generating interesting lists, so this week’s question is:

Q: Which SF/F-related Items are on your Holiday wish list? Why?

Here’s how this week’s panelists replied..

Connie Willis
Connie Willis‘s most recent books are the time-travel opus, Blackout and All Clear (it’s one book in two volumes), which is partly set at Christmas, and All About Emily, also set at Christmas, and with Rockettes! Last May, she had the very great honor to be named a Grand Master of Science Fiction. Right now she’s working on a new Christmas story called “Now Showing,” which will be in George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s Rogues and on a novel about telepathy, tentatively called Connection.

I just asked my brother for an extra DVD copy of the British TV show Primeval so that I could loan it out to all the people I’m constantly attempting to convince to watch it. (I refuse to part with my own as I watch it all the time!) It’s absolutely my favorite SF TV show ever! It’s about a team of dinosaur hunters in modern London (I know, I know, but trust me) who are dealing not only with velociraptors but also the government, the need to keep the whole thing secret, team stresses and strains (and romances), a really awful villain. It’s got everything I love–irony, humor, romantic comedy, Andrew Lee Potts, and best of all, a real ending. The show ran 5 seasons (short British seasons) and wrapped everything up with a really emotionally satisfying ending, so no being left hanging like lots of cancelled series we gave our hearts to and/or screwing up the ending, like, say, Torchwood. I’m also giving Primeval to the few people I haven’t already given it to, and a Dr. Who ornament of K-9 to my secretary, who introduced me to the joys of Dr. Who. I would also recommend Dr. Who seasons as great Christmas gifts. It’s on my wish list, too. As for book ideas, I’m currently reading a collection of Jack Finney’s short stories–his time travel stories are wonderful!
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BOOK REVIEW: The Siren Depths by Martha Wells

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong third entry in the Books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Moon, only slowly getting used to his role in his own Court, finds himself unexpectedly traded to another. Worse, the Fell are on the move again and they have a plan…

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong writing, especially with regards to the social relationships and conflicts within the Raksura; more interesting worldbuilding.
CONS: Pacing in the last portion of the novel is too swift; the final act feels far too short as compared to the remainder of the novel
BOTTOM LINE: A welcome way to round out the three Books of the Raksura.
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Strange Chemistry has posted the cover art and synopsis of the upcoming novel Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells.

Here’s the synopsis:

While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

Book info as per Amazon US:

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Strange Chemistry (April 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1908844493
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908844491

Upcoming4.me has posted the cover art and synopsis of the upcoming novel The Siren Depths by Martha Wells, the third book in her Raksura series, following The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea.

Here’s the synopsis:

All his life, Moon roamed the Three Worlds, a solitary wanderer forced to hide his true nature — until he was reunited with his own kind, the Raksura, and found a new life as consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. But now a rival court has laid claim to him, and Jade may or may not be willing to fight for him. Beset by doubts, Moon must travel in the company of strangers to a distant realm where he will finally face the forgotten secrets of his past, even as an old enemy returns with a vengeance. The Fell, a vicious race of shape-shifting predators, menaces groundlings and Raksura alike. Determined to crossbreed with the Raksura for arcane purposes, they are driven by an ancient voice that cries out from . . . .The siren depths.

Book info as per Amazon US:

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (December 4, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1597804401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597804400

UPDATE: Martha has also posted sample chapters from the book!

MIND MELD: Monarchies in Fantasy

UPDATED to include a response from Delia Sherman

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Very often, in secondary world fantasy novels, the default political setup is to have a Monarch of some sort, often one that acts in a seemingly autocratic manner. Many times, this Monarch rules by some sort of divine right or providence.

Q: Why are kingdoms with monarchs the default political setup in many secondary fantasy world novels? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such political structures? What are some exceptions to this?
Mark Charan Newton
Mark Charon Newton is the author of the Legends of the Red Sun series. He is also a Whisky addict. Find out more about him at Markcnewton.com

When people create worlds, we only really have our own world for reference, or from which to glean conscious and subconscious influences. Kingdoms, empires, monarchs – that’s all human history has pretty much known. Even today, we’re under the illusion we have democracy, but it’s much more wishy-washy than true ancient Athenian democracy, where power was genuinely more equally distributed, and more citizens played a role in the functioning of society. Today our monarchs and empires now are largely trade-based hegemonies, imperial campaigns given the spin of delivering peace through drone bombings. We are now subject to political and financial kings and queens (well, strictly speaking, in the UK we’re still subjects to the queen, but hey).

So in one sense, that’s life. That’s all we’ve ever known.

Emphasizing this point, many fantasy writers tend to look towards history, consciously or otherwise, for inspiration. Given that, aside from moments in the ancient world, there are very few examples where there are not kingdoms and empires, it’s inevitable.

There’s a wonderful season of Shakespeare on the BBC at the moment, which is hammering the point that I think still lingers today, and that’s a fascination with those who hold ultimate power. The pressures. The mental state. The sheer audacity to rule. Holding a position of god on earth. It is the biggest stage in a nation. So what does that do to an individual? What does that do to their mind? Can they ever be truly human? Such questions continue to inspire fantasy writers today. We’re very much interested in that big stage and what it means when ordinary people connect with it in some way.

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MIND MELD: What Places Inspire Your Worldbuilding?

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Places. Be it distant cities, or even beyond Earth entirely, strange, unusual and beautiful places can inspire creativity and ideas for stories and novels.

Q: What places, on Earth or beyond, inspire worldbuilding in your writing? What appeals to you about them? Share!
Philippa Ballantine
New Zealand author Philippa Ballantine, is a fantasy writer and podcaster. Her novels Geist, Spectyr, Hunter and Fox and Phoenix Rising; a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel (co-written with Tee Morris) span many speculative fiction genres. Her works have won an Airship and a Sir Julius Vogel Award, and been in the Goodreads Top Science Fiction books of 2011. Her newest book will be Hunter and Fox, a Shifted World novel, from Pyr.

New Zealand has been my inspiration. Even though it is home there are still places there that I cannot get out of my mind.

Everyone thinks of New Zealand as beautiful and green, but there are places that are far different. They did film Mordor in New Zealand too!

The desert plateau right in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand is a pretty bleak, but it is full of secret rivers, volcanoes some dark and dreary, some topped by snow. Wild horses can still be found racing across the plains there. There are skree slopes that if you don’t keep running down, you’d get buried in. In other words it is beautiful and frightening…just the place for me.

It’s a place made for adventure…and consequently the final showdown in my last book of the Order, Harbinger.

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MIND MELD: Genre Resolutions for 2012

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It’s the beginning of 2012, a time for new beginnings, new vistas, and new resolutions to make the next year a good one.  Resolutions can come in many forms.

So I asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are your resolutions with respect to genre in 2012?

Here is what they said:

Joe Abercrombie
UK fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie is the author of the First Law Trilogy: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings, as well as the standalone fantasies Best Served Cold and The Heroes.

‘My genre resolutions are the same as every year – read more, write more.

Oh, and spend less time on the internet.

Having a bit of trouble sticking to that last one…’
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REVIEW: The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of Moon continues as the Raksura Indigo Cloud Court tries to settle in a new home, and deal with the problems resulting from that.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: More rich worldbuilding of the “Three Worlds”. A successful transition to a new style of plot from the first novel.
CONS:  A few characters seem underdeveloped and even forgotten about. At least one late book subplot feels off.
VERDICT” Another excellent and wonderful view into the universe of the Three Worlds and its fascinating inhabitants.

The Serpent Sea is the sequel to The Cloud Roads (My SF Signal review here.) and continues the story of Moon. The first book, The Cloud Roads, was a story of discovery and a “fish out of water”as Moon, unaware of who and what he is, is first driven out of his home, and then brought to his own kind, the Raksura of Indigo Cloud. There, dealing with Court politics and life he is completely unprepared for, the threat of the Fell, ancient enemies to the Raksura, spur the development of not only the plot, but Moon as well.

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My recent and long overdue discovery of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories made me wonder about other good sword and sorcery stories, so this week’s panelists were asked:

Q: What are some of the best sword and sorcery stories? What makes them so good?

Check out their excellent suggestions…(and share some of your own!)

Martha Wells
Martha Wells is the author of seven fantasy novels, including The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods, and the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer. Her publications also include two Stargate: Atlantis novels and several short stories.

I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of sword and sorcery, including the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series, and Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes stories. One of my earliest favorites was Charles Saunders’ Dossouye stories, which first appeared in the anthologies Amazons! and Sword and Sorceress in the early 80s. When I read the first one, “Agbewe’s Sword,” I was about fifteen years old and desperately looking for strong female protagonists. The setting of an alternate version of Africa, using cultures and myths that I wasn’t familiar with, also really set the stories apart for me. The stories are available now in a collection titled Dossouye, and I highly recommend it.

I also loved Tanith Lee’s sword and sorcery, like The Storm Lord and Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, the sequel to The Birthgrave, and her Cyrion stories, which had the main character solving magical mysteries during his adventures. The settings are so lush and rich and detailed, with the feeling of starting out in a strange place, only to follow the characters somewhere much stranger.

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