Book Recommendations: Sci-Fi

Time for another book recommendation post!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been something of a sci-fi fan, but never got into the hardcore stuff. Star Wars, movies and novels, made up the majority of my fascination for a long time. Star Trek, especially Voyager (yes, in watching the show now I can understand people’s irritation, and am frustrated myself, at the weak storylines and bland character developments when it had SO MUCH MORE POTENTIAL, but it’s still my favorite of all of them) was a mainstay of my teenage and college years. As an adult I discovered Doctor Who and Firefly, and though my relationship with Doctor Who has soured to the point where I no longer care about it in the slightest, it was wonderful for a while. And I adore Firefly (ZOE!!!). I also get a kick out Warehouse 13, and one of these days I am actually going to watch The X-Files.

But … those are all TV shows. And movies, counting Star Wars. There aren’t a whole lot of books which I’ve read in the sci-fi category. And none at all on my shelves, save for a few holdovers from my Star Wars EU days. So I’m always looking for more.

What I love in sci-fi is not just cool technology and spaceships, although I do love those. And I’m not one who is into all the science-y talk, and figuring out the possibilities and probabilities of Faster-Than-Light speed or the like. Aliens are cool, but not essential. I really like just good old-fashioned space opera, the small drama of human existence played out against the wide background of space (or the wide background of a bigger universe than one we’re aware of – like Warehouse 13. It doesn’t have to be space, though I admit I love that best).

So, here are the few books/series I’ve read and enjoyed, and one or two I’ve tried and now wish to steer clear of, and please feel free to hit me up with more based on what I’ve already tried!

Star Wars Expanded Universe. I sold most of my Star Wars EU collection before one of our moves; it was a wrench, but I really didn’t read them anymore, and the New Jedi Order books had left me feeling rather cold toward the EU in general. I kept my X-Wing novels, though, at least all the ones before the NJO, as well as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology. Oh, and Mike Stackpole’s I, Jedi. I saved all those because I would love them whether they were Star Wars or not, they were just fun, fun reads. And glad I was that I did when Aaron Allston died and I was able to re-read all the Wraith Squadron books by simply going down to our storage unit in the basement and pulling them out of a box there.

The Vorkosigan Saga. I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books first, and loved them so much I turned to her Vorkosigan books as soon as I finished Paladin of Souls. I read Cordelia’s Honor first, and loved it but was so overwhelmed that it took me a little while before I could read The Warrior’s Apprentice. That pattern has remained, in fact. I love each book that I read, but I have to take long breaks in between them because I get so intensely involved in them as I read. And I absolutely cannot read them before bed, or my mind races like crazy all night long!

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. These books, by Ann Leckie, are so, so good. Rich characters? Check. Sci-fi and alien concepts used to bring home truths about our own societies and thought processes? Check. Intricate, well-developed plots? Check.

The Touchstone Trilogy. By Andrea K. Höst, an indie writer from Australia. These novels, written in diary form by the teenage protagonist, a girl from our world thrown all of a sudden into a strange new universe, are brilliant. I’m dying to re-read them, but making myself wait until I finish writing From the Shadows, which is also written in diary form from the perspective of a character thrown out of her ordinary world into a new one (of sorts). There are enough similarities there that I don’t want to let myself be accidentally influenced by Höst. I’m saving the trilogy re-read as a reward for finishing my own work.

Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, by RJ Anderson. Oh my. I love these books. Not space opera, but glorious nonetheless. Ultraviolet especially was so gripping and so unexpectedly moving to me, in a way I hadn’t experienced since reading A Ring of Endless Light.

Now for the ones I’ve tried but didn’t love.

Honor Harrington. I really, really enjoyed the first one. The second one dealt with some topics which turn my stomach, and while it might have handled them well (they are so distressing to me I cannot possibly be objective about how they’re handled – I had the same problem with the Phryne Fisher books), it made it impossible for me to continue with the series.

Ender’s Game. I read it because it’s a sci-fi classic. It was, I thought, really brilliantly written. But I didn’t enjoy it. That’s all I can say on that.

To close, I will mention that I have the first book of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series coming to me through ILL, but there was a glitch and it got held up for about two weeks, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I’m excited to try when it does get here!

There you have it, my list as best my memory (and my Goodreads lists) can serve. What do you recommend, or recommend I avoid in my search for more awesome-to-me science fiction books?

Update:

Doris Egan’s Ivory books have been recommended (and I ordered the first one already!)

Two people (blog and FB) recommended Anne McCaffrey: the later Pern books, the Talents series, and the Crystal Singer series.

Also recommended was Shannon Hale’s MG superhero book Dangerous.

 

Writing Update

I chat so much, so casually, about my book projects on Twitter that I forget sometimes to talk more in depth about them here. I thought today might be a good time to give you all an update on what I’m working on.

First: From the Shadows, most often abbreviated to FTS (which I’m sure also stands for a less savory phrase, but whatever. I’m not exactly inclined to Google it to find out).

From the Shadows is a space opera which started out as a novella, and then grew into a novel. When it was still a novella, I was planning on publishing it late August or early September; obviously that date had to be pushed back when the story got expanded. I was stuck on a couple of plot points for a while, but a few emails with one of my betas helped me over that (a thousand thanks, Laura!), and I am ready to move forward with finishing the changes, and beginning (again) the editing process.

I’ve loved space opera ever since I was a kid. Star Wars, movies and novels, had a huge impact on shaping me into the person I am. Star Trek, while not quite as influential, is also special to me. Firefly, Doctor Who (some of it), the Vorkosigan saga … honestly, I don’t read/watch a ton of sci-fi, not compared to fantasy, but I do love it, and it does stir my imagination in a unique way. I’ve found writing sci-fi to be incredibly difficult (that whole “science” aspect of it, not to mention universe-building, something hugely daunting to a dedicated soap-bubble world-builder), but also incredibly rewarding. I’ve allowed myself to get more raw, and more real, in this story, than in any other I’ve written thus far, and I love it. I can’t wait to finish it so I can share it with all of you.

Second is Wings of Song, or WOS. A title which will almost certainly change when the story actually gets published (sigh).

Wings of Song has a complex background. See, about ten years ago, as a newlywed in a strange city, with no job and no friends (and no car), I discovered the sometimes alarming, sometimes marvelous world of fan fiction. I started reading the stories in the LM Montgomery section, and was inspired to write my own, which turned into two, then three, then an entire series. When I finished with that series (five stories in all), I started another. Both featured Anne’s children and grandchildren, and mostly used LMM’s rich world as a jumping-off point for my own original characters and stories.

WOS, originally, was going to be a reworking of some of the stories in that first LMM series, to take away the connectors to Anne &co and make them wholly original. A simple enough edit, I thought. Until I sat down and realized that the characters, taken away from Anne’s world, verged on insipid, and the plots on non-existent. I turned to the second LMM series I wrote, written much later after the first, when I was a stronger writer, and decided to blend the two series together, picking and choosing the best parts of each, to write an entirely new story with its own characters.

What has emerged in something similar in flavor to my fanfics, but its own unique story. Some names and relationships have carried over from the other stories, but personalities and plot and character development are all new. It’s turned into a much more grueling process than I blithely imagined at first, but also rewarding.

Recently, I’ve been looking into ways to self-publish it as a serial – preferably as a newsletter from this blog, if I can get the technical know-how to make that work. I always enjoy playing with new ideas and forms of publishing, and I think this sort of story, a slower, simpler tale of an eleven-year-old growing up along the St. Lawrence River during the 1930s, is perfectly suited to a serial. I just have to figure out how to make it work!

If I do publish it serially, my plan is to have all the chapters written in rough draft form first, and then edit them one at a time before publication. Less of a daunting task that way, and a better chance at getting each one out in a timely fashion.

Third, and finally, Magic in Disguise. (Or MID. Or Book 2 of the Intelligent Magic series. Or “the second Maia & Len book.” Whichever you prefer.)

Second books in a series, so I’ve heard, are hard. I never had any problems with that in my fanfics, but it certainly is proving true with this. It’s been the extremely weird experience for me of for once having a really good plot, and not being able to make the character come to life. Since my problem is usually the opposite, I’ve struggled with how to combat this. I love Len and Maia still, and Becket, and I’m very fond of the new sidekick character I’ve introduced, and the plot has flowed together nicely, and yet overall the story has a lifeless feel to it, and I gleefully take any chance to leave it alone and work on something else. Hence FTS and WOS.

However! I am not giving up. Right now, the plan is to finish FTS without any more dawdling, and then to finish the rough draft of WOS so I can begin serialling (so not a word) that, and THEN to devote my full attention to figuring out what the heck is going wrong with MID, and either fixing it or starting over from scratch. Len and Maia mean too much to me to either abandon them or let them settle for a half-rate book!

I have plenty of other story ideas swirling around in my backbrain right now – a possible sequel to FTS, as well as some short stories set in that universe; an Intelligent Magic prequel set during the 1830s; a sequel to WOS; editing and polishing up that fantasy I speed-wrote earlier this year … but if I have learned anything from having three full-size book projects going on at once, it is to pace myself, and never attempt more than two at a time.

So there you have it, a probably-more detailed update than you even knew you wanted!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Costume

Carl finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the girls last night before bed. They hadn’t been too sure about it at first, but round about the supper at the Beavers’ house, they were hooked. They needed a little bit of explanation about why the Witch killed Aslan, and how he came back to life (at first Gracie thought the Witch brought him back to life – that took some straightening out), and a couple other parts confused them at first, but overall they loved it.

So much so, in fact, that they are right now listening to it on audiobook while they take their afternoon rest. It’s narrated by Michael York, and I keep picturing Captain Crane from Road to Avonlea telling the tale, and it’s cracking me up.

Joy’s Halloween costume is a medieval princess, with an underdress of light blue and a sleeveless overdress of dark blue, and we figured out how to strap a toy shield at her side and fake a scabbard out of ribbon to go over her shoulder for her foam sword. Last night, I asked her if, now that we’d read the entire story, she was going to be Lucy for Halloween.

“No,” she said, looking at me like I was crazy. “I’m the oldest. I’m Susan.”

Er. Right.

I think we’ll stick with “warrior princess” so as to avoid any confused and well-meaning neighbors spoiling the ending of The Last Battle for her.

And then I really need to introduce her to Eilonwy, who is NOT a younger sister.

(Gracie, in case you are curious, if going to be a fox for Halloween. Mamma realized a couple weeks ago there was no way her princess dress would be finished in time, and the promise of getting her face painted was enough to sway her to something simpler. And even at that I only finished sewing the vest and stuffing the tail yesterday.)

Characters I Would (or Have) Dress Up As

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Visit the Broke and the Bookish for more!

I love costumes. I love theater, and acting. Carl surprised me this weekend by taking me to our community theater’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which was brilliantly done, and which I would have adored even if it had been less professional, because I haven’t been to a live performance since … well, before college. Carl had never seen live theater (aside from high school plays) before, so it was a whole new experience for him, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed it, too.

Anyway. Because I love acting and theater, I also love dressing up as various characters. Always have, probably always will. Here are some of my favorites from the past, and some I still dream of attaining:

1. Raggedy Ann. My kindergarten Halloween costume! My mom sewed me a dress and pinafore, and made a red yarn wig; we couldn’t find striped stockings anywhere, so I still remember sitting in class and my dad showing up right before the parade with wide red elastic bands to put over my white tights, to look like red and white stripes. It worked beautifully, and set the tone for going all out with costumes in our family.

2. Robin Hood. This was for a friend’s 18th birthday party, where she wanted everyone to dress up as a character from their favorite movie. I chose Robin Hood, being a big fan of the Errol Flynn version, but also of the character himself from the many stories I read. Having short hair worked really well for that one; I recall I used an eyebrow pencil to give myself a mustache.

3. Joe Hardy. This was a last-minute costume. The well of inspiration ran dry, and we had a Harvest Party that night, and I had no idea what I was going to do. Staring at the bookshelves finally gave me an idea. I ran to the local department store and bought a pinstriped Oxford shirt and clip-on tie; borrowed my dad’s old leather bomber jacket, and slicked my (again, short) hair down with a disgusting amount of gel. Success!

4. Regency Lady. This was not any specific book character, but definitely inspired by my fondness for all the Jane Austen books and adaptations. In one week, I bought the pattern and fabric, cut the dress out, and sewed it. Still one of the fastest sewing projects I’ve ever managed to complete. I sewed the sleeves in backward, but no one ever noticed! We tied a wide ribbon around my head and my sister coaxed a few curls out of my hair, and there I was. (Fun side note: that was the night both Carl and I started having more-than-friendship feelings for each other.)

Now for characters I would want to dress up as, even still!

5. Lucy Pevensie. I want to wear this dress, and be Queen Lucy the Valiant. Someday.

6. Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan. Let’s face it, fantasy-medieval characters are pretty much the best, especially when they get to carry weapons with them. I made Joy a blue princess outfit for Halloween this year, and we are figuring out how to concoct a shoulder belt and scabbard out of ribbon for her foam sword, while her shield clips at her waist, and with a headchain/crown on her head, she is a pretty uncanny representation of Eowyn (not that she knows who that is, of course – she rolled her eyes when I called her a Shieldmaiden of Rohan).

7. Rounding out my medieval list would be Eilonwy, daughter of Angharad, daughter of Regat, daughter of – oh, it’s such a bother going through all that. Carl recently read “The Book of Three” for the first time, and he told me afterward: “So, Eilonwy … pretty much you as a kid?” Hey, there are far worse book characters I could have been.

8. Anne of Green Gables. Though to tell the truth, I would honestly mostly like to dress like Anne for everyday life, not just as a costume. After watching the movie with some of my neighbors recently, I found myself craving long wool plaid skirts and hand-knitted sweaters for autumn and winter wear.

9. Harriet Vane. An excuse to wear 1930s clothing and say clever and biting things! What more could one want?

10. I had a terrible time narrowing down this last one, but I think I finally settled on Albert Campion. I’ve already got the glasses and pale hair and indeterminate face (I love that descriptive phrase, by the way: indeterminate face. Isn’t it evocative? And since I cannot go anywhere without having people say “Oh yeah, I know you … don’t I?” because my face always looks like somebody else, I think I can claim that phrase for myself). All I would need would be a natty 1920s gentleman’s outfit.

Carl could accompany me as Lugg.

To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

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Oh man, how to narrow this down to ten?

1. Wales. Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander chiefly are responsible for my love affair with Wales. Between Prydain and Will Stanton I was hooked early, and Brother Cadfael and Celtic lore in general only strengthened my love. I’ve even attempted to teach myself the Welsh language, that’s how much I love it.

2. The Rest of the UK. I have read way too many books set in England, Scotland, and Ireland to not want to visit every corner. Carl is looking at getting his PhD in either Scotland or England, and the thought of actually living there for 3-4 years seems like a dream. A really good one.

3. Greece. Books like MWT’s Queen’s Thief series and CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians, not to mention all the Greek Mythology I grew up on (did anyone else ever play the board game By Jove? Friends of ours owned it, and we would play it all the time) kindled in me a deep, deep desire to someday visit the land that has inspired so many wondrous stories.

4. Oxford, England. I know I already listed Great Britain above, but Oxford deserves its own special spot. Not only is it the home of my beloved Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, but so many of my favorite authors attended or lectured (or both!) there, that I can’t even imagine walking around there.

5. Mankato, Minnesota. Maud Hart Lovelace based Deep Valley on Mankato, her own home town, and someday I intend to visit there and pay my respects to Betsy Ray properly.

6. Prince Edward Island. Because Anne and Emily and Kilmeny and the Story Girl and Jane and Marigold, that’s why. Because LM Montgomery. And because it’s beautiful.

7. Mythology is to blame for a lot of my travel lust, it seems, because I also really want to visit the Scandinavian countries due to my fondness for Norse mythology. Also, as with PEI, because I think they’d be beautiful. And because Carl’s heritage is largely Swedish. But mostly because of myths.

8. Colorado. The first time I read Susan Coolidge’s Clover and In the High Valley, I fell in love with her description of Colorado. I am 100% certain it’s nothing like that today, but I would still love to visit and see for myself.

9. Egypt. Yup, blame it on the myths again. Also on Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game. And the Amelia Peabody books.

10. Narnia. I know it’s not a real place. But oh, how I’ve always wished it was.

As always, check out The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten lists.

Sinusitis and Love

Sinusitis is no fun at all, guys. Seriously. I thought my occasional tyramine-intolerance migraines were bad until I had to deal with daily sinus headaches.

Ho-ly smokes.

I think I’m over the worst of it now, I’ve still got some pressure and pain, but I ate a tiny piece of jalapeno this evening and my head pretty much exploded and then I felt so much better. Not cured, but on the road. Thank goodness.

The downside to sinusitis (aside from constant pain, of course) is that I haven’t been able to accomplish much of anything for the last almost-three weeks. The upside is, I’ve gotten quite a bit more done on my niece’s baby quilt, since resting on the couch with a quilting hoop and Netflix was about all I could manage. If I’m very diligent, I just might get the quilt done in time for Christmas. Which would be excellent, since she turned a year old last week.

(In my defense, I am quilting in one-inch squares, no pattern to follow, no lines drawn in (the fabric is light-colored and I didn’t want to leave pencil markings behind), no stitching lines to follow, just me measuring and pinning every. single. line. as I come to it. If I’d drawn the lines in or was following a pattern, I’d have had this finished ages ago. I’m slow, but not usually that slow.)

I am, despite the burst of productivity on Miss M’s quilt, glad to finally be able to start getting some other stuff done. I set up the sewing table to work more on Halloween costumes today – I would be finished with the underdress of Joy’s medieval outfit tonight if it weren’t for the fact that the sewing machine noise keeps Gracie awake so I have to quit once they’re in bed. I cleaned the kitchen earlier today, and made a delicious, healthy supper. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering what I’ve been getting done, it’s a lot.

And just in time, since we’re having company join us tomorrow for dinner. (eek!)

Not a lot of writing done of late, but I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel for From the Shadows, and even a hint of hope that I might be able to finish the first draft of Magic in Disguise by the end of the year. I confess to feeling some discouragement that my wretched body seems determined to throw a monkey wrench into all my plans, all the time (if it’s not one thing, it’s another, she said in a gloomy tone to rival Eeyore’s), but I am determined to not let it master me.

Because in the long run, what’s a few extra weeks, or months, or even year? Am I suddenly going to lose masses of fans because I didn’t publish the sequel to Magic Most Deadly exactly one year after the first book? Or are people going to forget all about me if I’m not churning out books steadily? Is my value, my worth, going to drop if I don’t publish on a regular basis?

(The answer to all those questions, by the way, is no.)

And you know, a few weeks with constant pain has taught me a lot, even as it’s eroded my plans. Plus it’s given my husband and kids a chance to show their love for me in practical, tangible ways, like Carl making an absolutely delicious supper Saturday evening because I couldn’t move my head, even though he’d had class Friday night and all day Saturday. Or the girls playing quietly and nicely with each other several afternoons without me having to ask, just because they saw me resting on the bed and knew that Mommy was hurting again.

I dunno, as important as writing is to me, moments like that are even more important in the long run. Maybe not to me as a writer, but to me as a person.

So there are my ramblings from the last few weeks. What’s new with all you?