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.)
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).
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.
My head was too crammed with coding for characterartexchange.com the last three weeks for writing, but I'll try to restart the Friday Flash habit next week.
Meanwhile, here's most of the rest of the art-crop from this year. They're all drawn for other people, 4 for "secret santa" exchanges, 3 as gifts, though one of the characters in the third pic is my own. Ungulate Crossing OverSnog's Little PoniesCaught a FochsVes for Roo (max10-12a)Getting her Feet WetTezRunning
Alexia Tarabotti is labouring under a great many social tribulations.
First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.
Where to go from there? From bad to worse, apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.
With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia is responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's High Society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
That blurb made me expect a mystery with a bit of romance thrown in. However, it's at least half romance, including sex, and the mystery bits didn't seem handled very well.
I get the kind of mystery where the reader is supposed to know more than the protagonists trying to figure things out, because some scenes are not from the protagonists' perspective, and I get the kind of mystery where vague hints are dropped that the reader might figure out things faster than the protagonists.
In this book, there was a hint early on not only dropped, but highlighted with red flashing lights and a klaxon, so I was left with the impression that the supposed investigators were remarkably dense never considering something in that direction.
That leads to my main beef with the book: The plot is utterly predictable. The only suprises are of the kind "man with a gun enters the room", metaphorically speaking; nobody turns out to be anything other than they seem.
What I like best about this book is the worldbuilding. It's an alternative history in which the Renaissance was triggered by immortals (vampires, werewolves and ghosts) giving up their "masquerade", and by the time of the book they are accepted sub-societies that people who survive the initiating bite get congratulated on joining, at least in Britain.
Another interesting bit were the mindgames Alexia was playing with herself at some point regarding her relationship (or not) with Lord Maccon.
As to the writing style, I think the author was mostly going for an amusing tone. There were a handful of places where the words themselves threw me right out of the story (most bizarre example: referring to penis-in-vagina intercourse as "he impaled himself").
There were at least that many lines that struck me as particularly funny and/or clever, though, so over all not too bad.
For me it was OK to read fluff, but nothing that makes me want to buy following books. I suspect someone who has more interest in romance and sex might get more out of it than I did.
So, recently I finished re-reading Making Money, the 36th Discworld novel, by Terry Pratchett. I have read all of them, some of them more often than I can remember.
I'm a bit sad that in my mind the best part of Making Money is that the list of Discworld books on the first pages includes those for younger readers as part of the main series, rather than on a separate list. People going "they are children's books, so they're not Discworld book" were a kind of pet peeve of mine, while this novel just fell flat, to the point that I took a break to re-read a 50 volume manga series between chapters.
There were a few bits of impressive or funny descriptions, sure, and I did finish it, and maybe it'll grow on me if I re-read it more often. For now at least, it just doesn't click.
Mr Bent's sermon-rants about gold at the start put me off, and the idea (suggested on the backcover an by Moist von Lipwig in the text) that he might be a vampire does not gel from the start, considering that that would be the first vampire not admitting to being one in how long? The entire series?
Gladys, the golem with a crush on her boss, the abrasive Adora Belle Dearhart, Moist's old associate with the denture troubles, the Leonardo-with-a-narrower-specialisation, the generic slightly mad scientist and interchangable Igor, the utterly pathetic bad guy Cosmo... No-one in this book caught my sympathy or interest, which is sad.
As to Moist, in Going Postal his crazy stunts to revolutionise the mail system were fun to read. In Making Money, the things like breaking into his own office at the start make sense as something to show he doesn't deal well with routine, but, well, compared to his last book, his later actions seem rather boring, at least if you already have a basic idea of how money works despite not being backed by gold.
What comes to my mind when comparing those two books is how mundane Making Money is. Paper money is something we all are used to. There were some bits of description that tried to create a sense of wonder about how a penny would "turn into different things" depending on what it was exchanged for, but for me it just didn't work. Money is something practical and lacks the "magic" and personal touch of the written word that, in form of letters, drove Going Postal.
Superficially, the cabinet and the golems added some magic to Making Money, but it seemed rather tacked on rather than integrated into the story.
In summary, Making Money seemed to me mostly like a mix of "let's write about how money works" and "let's modernise Ankh-Morpork" with story sprinkled on top, rather than the (admittedly very high) quality of storytelling that I love so about other books in the series.
The Stepsister Scheme is a novel based on fairy tales.
Shortly after her honeymoon, Danielle - also known as Cinderella - is attacked by one of her stepsisters, who tells her that her Prince Charming is gone. She insist on accompanying Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (White) to find and rescue him from his kidnappers.
Jim Hines draws on not-Disneyfied versions of the tales, adding his own ideas on top of it. Talia received among other things the fairy gift of grace and dance - and considers fighting a dance. She also is well-informed about goings on in the kingdom, and has more than a bit of criminal energy. Snow is a sorceress adept in mirror magic. Danielle's main contribution to the team seems to be a certain knack for finding ways to twist fairy "contracts", though the whole talking-to-animals bit doesn't hurt, either.
There are only three things that bothered me a bit, but they were rather minor. First, a trend of repeating some words too often in short intervals. Second, the "we don't care about you, we just want the child you're pregnant with" stuff - but then, Danielle didn't exactly play the part of incubator on legs, when she could help it. Third, the strong plot hook left for the sequel - not a real cliffhanger (though I guess it could be if you care more about children than I do), but it's a practise I dislike.
On the plus side we have a nice adventure plot with mystery elements, friendship in a group of women (rather than the usual "dudes plus one token female/love interest"). I particularly likes easygoing, enthusiastic Snow.
The world as such also feels alive, with Snow and Talia's background from different countries, and the politics between the (human) kingdom of Lorindar and the fairies.
It's fun to read and will end up on my bookshelf, and I will probably get the sequel eventually.
*points at title* That's a children's book (9+) by Derek Landy, a sequel of one I liked a lot, so I picked it up when I spotted it on the shelf in a local bookshop.
The backcover blurb reads, "You know how it is - you think you've saved the world, and then ANOTHER evil villain turns up with an unbeatable monster and starts breaking things. Oh, yes, and you've got a skull for a head. A thirteen-year-old girl for a sidekick. And no clue what to do..."
Now, while the weird prevalence of very nearly every damn book dealing with saving the world is getting on my nerves a bit, the first book's writing style made up for that. That blurb also suggests that Skulduggery Pleasant is the protagonist, which would have been nice. Unfortunately, he wasn't.
Playing with Fire takes place about one year after its prequel, and Stephanie is a mage in training and the skeleton detective's junior partner. She is the protagonist, and the title character of the series is a supporting character only.
As to the plot, some evil mage was sprung from prison and now tries to revive some kind of Frankenstein Monster which in turn will call Lovecraft-style elder gods back to our world.
In short, this book lacks everything that made the first one interesting.
The great dialogue that was the reason why I liked the prequel was nearly entirely absent, being genuinely funny in maybe two or three places, and otherwise coming across like annoying bickering rather than amusing banter. Unless dialogue was outright dropped and replaced by action scenes with far, far too many "and"s in them. Top it off with over-the-top gore I thought I didn't have to endure in children's books.
Neither was there a mystery, or any surprising plot twists. It was pretty clear what was going on from the start, and when information was needed, it was only a question of going to a particular person who had it, all very linear.
On top of that the more interesting plot threads (I'm thinking particularly of Stephanie's reflection, a double summoned out of a mirror to take her place at home and school while she's off adventuring, possibly growing into more than a mere reflection) are left dangling for the sequel(s?). I do not like books that cannot stand on their own, and I really dislike obviously deliberate sequel hooks.
Well, that was money wasted, and I definitely won't buy the next part.