tagged Contemporary Fantasy Music

Sonant by A. Sparrow

Sonant is a modern fantasy novel self-published by A. Sparrow, available for free at Smashwords. I needed a bit to get into it, but after a while it became a pageturner I couldn't put down (despite editing flaws). The general atmosphere reminded me a bit of Stephen King books, but a bit less dark.

The official blurb:

Something strange lurks in a bell jar in the music room of wealthy eccentric, Aaron Levine, feeding on the sounds his mercenaries create. Bassist Aerie Walker, lured back into performance after a failed odyssey in professional jazz, finds herself involved with this band of musical alchemists as a Deliverance Ministry attempts to exorcize the demons perceived to dwell in Aaron's abode.

The viewpoint characters are Aerie, above-mentioned bassist, who is struggling with depression and finding a paying job; John, stay-at-home stepdad and neighbour of that bands usual "stage", who has some trouble understanding why his wife considers bad music "devil's work"; and Donnie, the priest that ends up, at John's wife's insistence, trying to get rid of the demons that must be behind that unholy noise from the house across the street.

The book keeps the question which side is right - has Aerie been drawn into Bad Things, or is the religious faction hysteric? - open for a long time, and in my opinion even at the resolution doesn't reduce either to cardboard-cutouts. Things that I found really fun to read were the pragmatic attitudes of most of the "exorcists" to their holy-magical job, and the interaction between Aerie and her bandmates; generally there's a neat cast of secondary characters with personality in this book.

I had the feeling it let up a bit towards the end; mostly a romantic subplot I'm not sure was supposed to be absurd and funny, or taken seriously. Anyway, romance doesn't take up much of the book.

Suspense and mystery, mundane problems, and the occasional scene of comic relief made for a very nice mix.

On the not-so-good front: The book should have had someone else proofreading. I noticed missing quotation marks, comma mistakes, dropped words, or the kind of mistakes you get when you have two possible versions of a sentence in your mind and write down a combination of both. However, this wasn't so common and bad that the "I want to know what happens next!" factor didn't pull me through.
Formatting was neat for the most part; one page or so towards the end had a slightly bigger fontsize, and there was an empty page before each chapter heading.

Being not a music buff myself I have no idea if the parts of the book talking about music and instruments sound well done to someone who is familiar with the subject. Apart from the very start, I did not find them distracting or in the way of the story despite my unfamiliarity.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to re-read this, and would pick up a sequel if it happened.

Available for free at Smashwords

Blog tags: Ebooks Reviews Novels
tagged Science fiction

Midnight Fireflies by Scott Niven

Under the (in hindsight apparently mistaken) impression that Scott Niven was a big name in Science Fiction who had started self-publishing older stories, I picked up this collection of "3 Tales of Speculative Fiction" from Smashwords.

Official Blurb:

Inside an intergalactic watering hole, a bizarre bet is made with high - yet unknown - stakes. In a nursing home, an elderly woman creates her own virtual reality. And in a medieval land, a boy in search of adventure stumbles upon a mysterious relic that will change his life forever. Midnight Fireflies collects these three tales of speculative fiction into one short story collection that will have you wondering "What If?" all night long.

A Mare Imbrium Wink

The backdrop of this story is a universe with various alien species, which may be watching humanity, which is still stuck on earth - so apparently "present day", more or less. The protagonist and viewpoint character belongs to an alien species that at one time in their life can merge with a (dead) member of another species, taking on their shape and parts of their personality. This specimen merged with a human scientist. Some characteristics he has taken on in that process - a longing for companionship and a certain cockiness - lead him into trouble.

This story mostly consists of aliens thinking or talking about characteristics of humanity at large. The ending breaks my suspension of disbelief and seems ridiculously harsh.

Fondest Desire

A nursing home provides immersive VR to its inhabitants. The protagonist of this story uses it to sit in a near-perfect copy of the actual nursing home, minus other occupants, to think about the past in peace - apart from a boy who sometimes shows up uninvited.

Nothing interesting happens. I get the impression this is meant as an essay about comparing VR and memories, encoded in fiction.

The Carrion Sphere

A young man kitted out with armour and sword goes into the woods for a rite of passage taking the shape of a solitary hunt. He finds a strange artifact that starts to talk... Sorry, I'm going to spoil the story here: He learns that the world has gone through cycles of humanity destroying itself through too much and/or the wrong technical advancement, and the artifact is supposed to tell people when to stop this time around.

The story ends with him deciding to take the artifact home.

In Summary each of the three stories gives me vibes of being constructed to convey a moral or message about humanity. Since I don't like that much, it all feels rather heavy-handed and lifeless to me. The fact that at least the first two stories have what I'd consider downer endings doesn't help. Not my cup of tea.

The formatting is tidy, including both a linked table of contents in the text, and one available through the reader, and copyediting seemed fine to me, too.

Total wordcount cracks 10,000; available for 99 cents on Smashwords

tagged Cats Science fiction

Three Kintaran Stories by Elizabeth McCoy

"Leaping Lizards", "The Best Revenge", and "What Really Matters" are three science fiction short stories published as separate ebooks. They take place in the same universe, and mostly follow Kinahran, a young cat-centaur growing up on a clan-ship of her people.

I've read and listed them in publishing order, starting with the freebie introductory story. (Covers below link to Smashwords sites.)

Leaping Lizards cover, showing two white cat-centaurs in front of storage boxes and a circuit-like design The Best Revenge cover, showing a white cat-centaur child with a hindleg in a cast sitting on the back of a grown black and white, in the background a brown tabby climbing on storage boxes What Really Matters cover, showing a group of cat-centaurs of different fur colours running from a spliced-in snapshop of a spaceship interior to an area with grass and trees
Decent tale, worth a try.
Jump to review
Not my cup of tea
Jump to review
Nice mix, recommended
Jump to review

As a general note I'd like to say: Elizabeth McCoy Obviously is obviously big on worldbuilding, including conlanging. The second in my eyes is a bit problematic. It's mostly that something like leaving "khih" and "nih" ("yes" and "no") and other words in the original Kintaran when translating a line of dialogue seems illogical to me, and makes reading less smooth than it could be. (The vocabulary is given in a glossary up front in each story.)

On the plus side, I think that she does a very good job of working in information about her universe in small, natural-feeling bits—in these stories I never had the feeling of being stuck in an unneccessary infodump. Aspects of Kintaran culture are shown organically through actions or thoughts of the characters in the stories.

On to the individual tales:

tagged Science fiction

Finished by C. A. Young

Finished is a science fiction adventure short story (~4800 words) published as ebook at Smashwords

Official blurb:

A life of larceny in a half-wrong body isn't what Aldin hoped for, but right now it's all he's got and he's making the best of it. When an unwelcome surprise sends him running, his prospects hinge entirely on his wits and an unlikely ally.

Aldin (our viewpoint character) is an art thief one job away from retiring and getting his sex reassignment surgery finished. When needing to evade authorities, borrowing transportation including driver at gunpoint seemed like a good idea...

Suspense, action, and a little commentary on gender change.

Content "warning": Starts off with a short section of pillow talk shading into foreplay, before that's interrupted.

There were no spelling, grammar or similar issues that jumped out at me.

My verdict: Worth a read.

Available at Smashwords for 99 cents.

tagged Fantasy

The Sheepfarmer's Daughter

I had heard the name Elizabeth Moon in author recommendations, so when I saw one of her novels available for free at BAEN, I gave it a shot. It's the first volume in a fantasy series.

The prologue tells us of a written account of Paksenarrion's (here not specified) deeds being delivered to her humble family. It amazes them. Since chapter one jumps back to when she ran away from home, that prologue smells to me like a cheap ploy to build interest.

In the following, we get rather a lot of detail about basic training in a mercenary army. While we hear how to handle a spear, what the food's like, and what the unit marches past on the way to their first campaign, we don't see much character interaction beyond orders and some bullying from a fellow recruit. Paks making friends is covered with "Despite having little time to talk, she knew that Saben, Arñe, Vik, Jorti, and Coben were going to be her friends". The occasional conversation seems to be designed primarily to lay out worldbuilding details (gods, elves and dwarves, geography).

The only point which is not that boring is a sort of investigation after an offstage fight involving Paks and two fellow mercenaries, in which she is initially accused. The thing is, this has her locked up, and the interesting part is someone else showing initiative.

About a quarter of the way into the book, Paks is still a cipher to me, rather than someone I care about, and she's supposed to be the protagonist. I read too character-centered to be interested in this, and couldn't be bothered to finish.

Might might be interesting for military aficionados (Elizabeth Moon was in the US Marine Corps, so presumably it's not too far-fetched), but the more military-centered stories I read, the more I think I just should stay away from the topic/genre.

Blog tags: Reviews Books
tagged Fantasy Science fiction

Jokka Short stories

A while ago I posted short reviews of stories M.C.A. Hogarth collected under the headline "The Pelted SF". Today's the turn for another setting and culture she invented.

The Jokka are an alien species with three sexes, going through two puberties during each of which an individual's sex may change, at random. The stories take place in a pre-industrial age and do not feature humans or other aliens, so I guess if you file these as "fantasy" or "science fiction" is a matter of your personal definition of the genres.

Freedom, Spiced and Drunk, a story about a female who turns neuter at first puberty, is a good introduction to the biology that shapes the Jokkas' culture, and a poignant tale. (available for free at Smashwords and B&N)

New Stories involves an attempt to change traditions to changing traditions and getting over preconceptions.
It feels mostly like a puzzle piece to me; I think it works way better if you get the stories before and after than on its own.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

A Trifold Spiral Knot involves a Jokkad who h had been considered the chosen of a god, and whose sex-changes had been interpreted as signs. This story contains the most in-depth description of the sex changes themselves, and one of the Jokka's religions, as well as a jJokkad's musings on colour.
I find this story hard to pin down, but find the descriptions transporting.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Money for Sorrow, Made Joy shows us a trading caravan of neuters planning to go exploring uncharted areas, but circumstances make it more difficult than expected.
As usual the descriptions are charming, but this one does not speak to me as much as most of the others.
(Available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

Unspeakable follows a male getting involved with a story teller who spreads taboo works. The short summaries of the stories cast interesting little spotlights on facets of the culture. (One of those taboos is loving someone not your own sex.)
This is one of my favourite stories by the author.
(available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

His Neuter Face is told by a female turned neuter. Not as physically capable as someone born neuter, and not salable like a female, it is thrown out by its clan, and must find a new place, and new confidence. Luckily there is a newcomer in town taking a liking to it.
While the previous stories about neuter characters focussed on their physical resilience, and often their role as hunters or workers, this story casts a greater focus of how the social lives of Jokka work. I really like the narrator's character development in this story. (At a bit over 12,000 words, this might pass as a novella rather than short story, depending on your definition.)
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

The narator/viewpoint-character of Fire in the Void has made posing as an oracle to sell vague or common sense answers to people a lucrative business - but with his latest customer asking for help in matters of love, things turn more serious.
Usually I have trouble with present tense fiction, but M.C.A. Hogarth's attention to detail and all senses makes up for it. A slightly eerie story.
(Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

I really recommend anyone who's interested in fiction about alien species to give at least the free ones a try. For me, the ones with a pricetag were worth it, too.

M.C.A. Hogarth is also working on a collected volume in print, to be titled Clays Beneath the Skies. She is looking for sponsors for the project, and the goodies on offer go up to the original illustrations she created for the collection.

tagged Fantasy

The Sharing Knife series

The Sharing Knife is a series of four books by Lois McMaster Bujold, which from what I've seen is more "love it or hate it" than the rest of her work, so, just some info to help people decide if it sounds interesting.

Let's look at the blurb of the first volume, for an impression:

Troubled young Fawn Bluefield seeks a life beyond her family's farm. But en route to the city she encounters a patrol of Lakewalkers nomadic soldier-sorcerers from the northern woodlands. Feared necromancers armed with mysterious knives made of human bone they wage a secret ongoing war against the scourge of the "malices", immortal entities that draw the life out of their victims, enslaving human and animal alike. It is Dag—a Lakewalker patroller weighed down by past sorrows and onerous present responsibilities—who must come to Fawn's aid when she is taken captive by a malice. They prevail at a devastating cost—unexpectedly binding their fates as they embark upon a remarkable journey into danger and delight, prejudice and partnership . . . and perhaps even love.

This gives a decent impression of Lakewalkers seen from Farmer eyes. I don't think the "feared" and "mysterious" bits hold hold up from reader side, since Dag is also a viewpoint character.

This is not a story about monster-hunting. It's a romance that starts with Dag saving Fawn from a monster, but that's over in the first quarter or so of the book. The rest is them falling for each other Dag introducing Fawn to the joys of sex, and cultures clashing, a lot of the latter as Dag tries to win his future in-laws over. Good if you like romance, not good if you don't, and start the book expecting mostly adventure with a little romance added.

There is also some potential squick involved... Dag and Fawn fall hard for each other, but, well, Dag... we're talking about a man falling for a girl who's a third his age, and the first appreciative mental comment on the shape of her breasts from him comes when he interrupts some bandit attempting to rape her. In addition, as a Lakewalker he has "groundsense" that Fawn as a Farmer doesn't, which includes that he always has a pretty good idea what she feels, leaving her with rather less mental privacy than he has.

All things considered, Dag comes out this side of decent, and he cares deeply about Fawn, and she falls hard for him, too, but some things I try not to dwell on too much.

The focus of the series shifts in later volumes, particularly in the third and fourth books, which include Dag and Fawn dealing with a life neither of them was prepared for, and trying to tackle the big problem of that world by talking to people.

It's slow-paced and focuses on people and their interactions, with a big side of culture clash. Violent threats are usually a surprise rather than long prepared for; there is no "big bad" that our protagonists overcome with epic heroics. I love that. I've seen reviews complain that the "the world would be better if people just talked to each other more"-approach was naive, but I loved it. Changing the world one opinion at a time, by talking, is a nice change from hack and slash.

I got the first book of this series "warned" by negative reviews and halfway expecting to hate it. It involved more sex than I'm used to, but I enjoyed the humour and other parts of the book so much I was very glad I couldd get the ebook version of the rest of the series (particularly since it really is the first half of a story that got too long for one book), without having to wait for shipping. For me, definitely something for the list of things to re-read.

Blog tags: Reviews Books Novels
tagged Science fiction

The Pelted SF: Adventure and Ethics, with Gengineered Furries

M.C.A. Hogarth calls herself "an anthropologist to aliens" in her author bio, and it shows. A lot of her stories explore different fictional cultures.

On the list of her available ebooks, she splits her writing by setting, and sometimes further. One of those settings is a science fiction universe in which humanity created furries, which formed their own cultures on other planets. I had a look at the stories in this universe not listed as "military SF"

The novelette A Distant Sun features as main character a committed history teacher. If you're going to present some historical information about your setting, there are certainly worse ways to do it, particularly since here it does not degrade into personality-less infodumps. The story touches on ethical problems of creating new intelligent species, but to me the practical matters, shows through things that personally affect our protagonist and his students, stand out more.
Interesting ideas, engagingly presented.
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Rosettes & Ribbons is another novelette. Working as an intern at an archaeology dig, Pelipenele gets to translate a previously unknown legend. She is also drawn into problems due to misunderstandings.
Of all five stories in this group, this feels most "stand alone"; a completed story in itself, rather than a snippet of or introduction to something bigger. I think that's a good thing. The interweaving of legend and present-day narrative was a bit very convenient, but, hey. I really enjoyed this story.
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

In the short story The Elements of Freedom, a seismologist has to convince a tribe to leave their land before it is destroyed by earthquakes, and has to convince them by performing one of their rituals.
One of Hogarth's greatest strengths in my view is describing or conveying emotion and sensation, which is something that stands out to me here, in addition to the reveleations.
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

The shortest work in this group, Tears is a sweet little story about a young woman with self-confidence issues caused by birthmarks that make her look like she is crying all the time.
(available for free at Smashwords | B&N)

Butterfly, lastly, is another novelette. A sibling pair of nobles try to bring their abandoned-at-birth sister Noelle "back" to her "home". Problems are not only the culture shock, but also the fact that Noelle was abandoned in the first place.
I'm afraid I couldn't really warm up to this one, a combination between the viewpoint being religious feudalists, and how it kept going on about how beautiful Noelle was. I suspect that was meant as a counterpoint to her assuming people would consider her a "freak" or "mutant", but having so much value put on looks makes me uneasy.
It still had beautiful word-pictures and interesting looks at a strange culture (including checking of assumptions).
(available at Smashwords | Amazon | B&N)

Bottom line: For the low pricepoint, they're definitely worth a try if the general topic intersts you. My favourite is Rosettes and Ribbons, which I'd like to recommend again.

(Disclosure: I have no link with the author other than liking a lot of her work, and bought those books myself.)

tagged Fantasy

The Emperor's Edge

Ebook at Smashwords

also at Kobo

The Emperor's Edge is a fantasy novel self-published by Lindsay Buroker. I had a lot of fun reading it thanks to witty dialogue, interesting worldbuilding, and, oh, the plot...

What happens, in one sentence? A former police officer and a hyper-competent assassin (and a few other misfits) try to stop a plot against the young Emperor by counterfeiting money.

It makes more sense in context, and there are more complications. I love stuff like that. I'll mentally shelve it along with "military-school dropout becomes admiral of a space mercenary fleet by accident" (The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold).

Blog tags: Reviews Books
tagged Science fiction

On Basilisk Station

On Basilisk Station is the first book in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. It's available for free at the Baen webshop.

There is a plot in there somewhere... something about a young captain being screwed over by a military lousy with aristocratic nepotism, being sent to a neglected station, actually doing the navy's job, and uncovering some kind of plot... but I found it hard to follow.

The two main problems I had were the infodumps and the viewpoint changes.

The long and sometimes awkwardly placed infodumps about technology and history seemed to go into way, way more detail than was required for the story, leaving me with the impression that David Weber rather wanted to write something like an RPG sourcebook. (For example during a spaceship "chase" not only explaining the neccessary information about their FTL travel, but the complete history of its development.)

I did not keep count of viewpoint characters, but wouldn't be surprised if it had been over a dozen. The really confusing part was that often a change of viewpoint and location would not be signalled in any way; one paragraph from the viewpoint of Our Hero on her ship might be followed by one from the viewpoint of an antagonist on a different ship, which would only become clear a line or two after it happened, things like that. (I can't tell if that's just a problem with the ebook edition, or if it was really written that way.)

I appreciate that there is a female protagonist, and that she isn't the only one in the military (competent women being treated as miraculous because women aren't expected to be competent is really tiresome), but had trouble connecting with her.

I guess to enjoy this you need a higher interest in weapons and spaceship specs, military hierarchy, and worldbuilding details even when they interrupt scenes than I have.

Blog tags: Reviews Books Free reads
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