Nico watched the fairies dance in the reeds. "Are they laying eggs?"
"Yes. They stick them to the leaves. Another pest, on top of gnats."
"Can you use the eggs as fishing bait?"
"Not bait as such." Her host looked around furtively. No-one was near. "When I was small we'd drop the eggs in the water for the fish to eat. Made them act like they were drunk. Swim in circles, hit their heads on things... It made catching them with your hands easier. We stopped it after a big pike bit my sister. Don't tell the children, please."
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.
Early this year I bought a dedicated ebook reader, and I thought I'd write down some of my impressions and experience.
My main reason for wanting an ereader was that I had almost stopped buying new books. I tend to keep ones I like to re-read, and even the ones I don't like so terribly much are not that easy to pass on when you're mostly reading English novels while living in Germany, so my bookshelves are close to full.
A bit of research showed that the first thing to decide was "Kindle or anything else", because Amazon uses their own file format for books, but not epub. All other brands supported epub, but not the format Amazon used, so if I bought a Kindle, I would never we able to switch to a different brand of reader. (I think if you buy books from B&N, there's a similar problem due to a variant in DRM, but I'm not sure. They don't sell to people outside the US at all.)
Between that, the $2 surcharge for buying ebooks from outside the US or UK that was still in effect for Germany at the time, and preferring a device with touchscreen to one with a built-in keyboard, I went for a Sony PRS-650.
Cue some frustration trying to find a shop that would actually sell English novels to me. While epub was (and is) the standard format in German ebook shops, their selection of English novels was tiny to nonexistent. B&N, Borders, Diesel, Waterstones, etc pp would not sell to me, because I was not in the US or UK - in some cases only telling me that when I tried to check out.
But eventually I found Kobobooks, where, since I am one of the weird people who actually has a credit card, I could actually buy books.
Only some publishers either have really weird contracts, or mess up when giving information to ebook vendors: I was interested in three fantasy series, and in two cases I was only allowed to buy the first and third, but not the second installment. (I double-checked, and the same was true on Amazon, so the problem wasn't with Kobo.)
But, well, I bought one book, and read it on the eink reader... and loved it.
A paper book I have to hold open, or it will flap shut. The pages will be bent, and I'll have to look at pages at an angle, which distorts the letters. On the reader, by contrast, I can always look straight-on at the "page". I really had not anticipated how much more comfortable that is. It probably helped that the reader I got is pretty quick; flipping a page doesn't take longer than in a paper book.
The eink display is not a backlighted screen like on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and while the background is slightly darker than actual paper, I found it quite pleasant to read on.
I think I've tried out more new-to-me authors this year than in the five years before. Quite a few of those had self-published at Smashwords. That site is rather awkward to surf, and some of the books really should not have been published without at least another proofreading pass, but I like giving indie authors a try, the usually low prices are nice, and I have found some nice reads there. I've also drawn a few books from the Baen Free Library, though have not found an author there (apart from Lois McMaster Bujold, whose work I'd known before) that I like - military seems to be not my cup of tea. Kobobooks is my usual source for books that came through big publishers.
So, in summary:
Geographic restrictions are a pain in the butt.
Ebooks are more fun for me than paper books, because it's easier to get a lot of them that interest me.
All things considered, I'd be very happy... If only the last firmware upgrade had not caused the Sony reader to act up. I should really contact Sony about how to fix that.
The stream that had carved out this valley had shrivelled to a rivulet, a narrow band of sparks floating over near-black gravel where it still flowed, damp earth and debris a short distance downhill. Its bed was wider, here lumpy stones that retained the occasional edge—not proper smooth river pebbles at all—there caked mud ripping apart. The water could barely cool Mara's skin, but at least it was not hard to cross.
Trying to strike a balance between elevation and distance she would have to traverse, and praying that there would not be too many obstacles in the way, Mara went uphill and downstream, taking the slope at an angle rather than straight-on. It meant that she sometimes had to duck under one of the feeding lines of the ward, or otherwise evade them, but she thought that all things considered, it went quite well.
Too well, she realised a short time later. What she had thought would be a small rocky outcrop she could circle on it's downslope side had grown into another cliff face, towering to her left and forcing her to turn downhill again. The ground grew more uneven, made so by previously fallen rocks. Mara hesitated at the edge of a clearing. Ahead lay a stretch of scree slope on which footing would be even more treacherous. It might not take that much time to circle it closer to the stream at the bottom of the valley, but even if so, there was no guarantee the way ahead wouldn't keep getting worse. Turning back and looking for a path along the top of the cliff would not guarantee success, either. The feed lines she could see, a handful of which disappeared in the mountain, indicated that her goal was now more to her left than ahead, but that did not suggest she was on the wrong path. The cliff seemed cut-off a little ahead; was it just curving a bit, or ending, or could that be the valley shoulder?
Her eyes scanned the ground downslope, while her mind tried to come up with a good reason not to turn back and have wasted an hour or so. As her gaze swept back towards the edge of the rock wall, it snagged on a bit of movement.
Bear? They walked upright, no? No, that's braided hair. And clothes. What's a person doing here? A man, she guessed, and walking downstream and downhill, and right into— Mara stifled a warning cry, which came too late, anyway. The stranger walked straight through one of the ward lines, then heard her aborted call and turned. Looked around, and spotted her where she stood rooted to the spot. When he took a tentative step towards her, again crossing the ward line, Mara flinched, and watched it for a reaction.
The magic warning system, however, gave no ripple she could detect. Was she too far away? Or was it so badly made the feed lines did not sense anything?
"Are you... hello?"
The man's voice snapped her out of confused speculation. He had moved, not in her direction, but starting to round the field of scree that had given her pause. Telling herself to pay attention, she tried to take stock. His clothes were in worse shape than those of the hunting party she travelled with, but his beard was more or less cropped, not like she pictured a lunatic hermit. She could see no weapons, so he could not be carrying something bigger than a knife. Her disbelief about meeting someone here seeped in her voice when she called back, "Hello?" At least she kept the manic laugh out of it. With vague ideas of loud sounds causing things to fall in the mountains, she went downhill again.
When they were close enough that they did not have to shout, merely talk loudly, Mara took a nervous step back. The stranger stopped, not wanting to scare her off. She asked, "What are you doing here?"
"I live here." He indicated the general area with a rather vague wave, while watching Mara intently. "What about you?"
"Right now I'm looking for whoever it is that wove the ward around this area." Could it be that rather ragged human? Another northerner, though shorter than many, and young. He had a beard, which tended to throw Mara off when guessing age, but at least there seemed to be no grey in it, or his hair. It seemed unlikely that a human, particularly a human who might have been about her age, should be able to create a ward of this size, and anyway, the lines should be connected to him if they were his.
"I don't know what you mean."
"More generally, I'm looking for a dragon." Probably not the wisest choice, but Mara felt as bewildered as the man looked.
His shoulders fell and his back straightened as he relaxed from what Mara belatedly recognised as a slight, wary crouch.
"There is one?" she guessed.
"And you're living here."
After waiting for him to expound, Mara eventually asked, "Why? And how?"
He smiled. Maybe he was insane, after all. "I guess you could say it insists."
"An animal. Insists."
She got a shrug and a smile as an answer, the general impression being rather apologetic. "It found me again the few times I tried to run."
"What about right now?"
"It's asleep. And I'm not running."
Mara rubbed her lips. This seemed like a chance, but for what? And was it true?
He took the initiative. "I was on the way to the river. We could sit down and talk."
A mistrusting look she cursed herself for not hiding did not seem to faze him.
"I am not planning to be disrespectful. It might be imprudent." He touched the centre of his forehead with two fingers.
The spark in his eyes drew a dry chuckle from Mara as she echoed the movement, touching her guild tattoo. Considering that the direction he had indicated when he'd mentioned the river would lead them further away from the centre of the ward, she gave in to her curiosity. The other way would have felt more like a possible trap. "Lead on."
"What? Oh. Sorry." John moved aside, making room for the lady's shopping cart to pass, and returned her smile and nod. I must have been standing here staring for minutes.
There were orchids on special offer, and one plant stood free of plastic wrapping. It has mesmerised him with the complex 3D curves of its blossoms, and the faint glimmer of its petals when the light hit them at the right angle.
Unfortunately he was on a tight budget. It would be imprudent to not save what he could, in case of unexpected expenses. Besides, they probably needed some kind of special plant food. And while he used to have a cat, he didn't know how to take care of orchids. He only had a vague impression that it was tricky.
On the other hand, they wouldn't be flogged in a supermarket if they were all that fragile, would they? Mrs Snell had orchids in her window, and liked to angle for chats; maybe she would have a few tips for him.
In the end, he returned a few of his other planned purchases. Chocolate cookies were a treat, but they'd be available later, too. Noodles for dinner for a few days in a row would not be a disaster.
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.
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.
Mara's hands worked on their own, fixing the water flask to her belt so it would not bounce uncomfortably, while she watched the odd pair until they slipped out of sight past the crest of the hill. Fern had the stature and long legs typical of the humans up North. Her hair was salted with so much grey it was lighter than her skin. Luen was short and scrawny even for a goblin, and had to scramble to keep up with her, but he was as used to doing that as everybody else was to seeing it.
It was strange to think that the adolescent goblin was a veteran already, but he had earned a set of griffin claws as a trophy-share in his second hunt, the previous one for the whole party apart from Mara.
But if the plan works, I might top that on my first hunt. Inevitably, that thought drew Mara's mind towards imagining how things could go wrong, from someone or something else waking the dragon to her failing in myriad ways. Well, three or four ways. The most productive thing she could do was concentrate on her surroundings. Another look to get her bearings; her aim might be in the next valley over, which joined with the one she was barely in around a rocky outcrop. Lucky if it wasn't any farther.
She backed away a few paces from the smaller cliff they had used as lookout point before turning to walk along the valley, watching for a way down to its bottom. Grey stone plunging down to her left was replaced first in patches, then in total by the copper-straw of old pine needles, as the hillside grew less steep. No paths here. She took the chance when she did not have to expect causing an avalanche of rotting plant material that would take her right along to the bottom more quickly than was advisable.
Walking sideways and occasionally using roots as handholds worked well enough. Only once a grating scream made Mara flinch and slide a pace or two downhill. Belatedly she identified the call of a watcher-bird, telling everyone in hearing distance that it disapproved of her presence.
Apart from that bird and chirping insects, the airy wood was very quiet. The day was turning towards noon, and the air was still and heavy. The spots of sunlight filtering through the treetops made the ground or bark glow where they fell, bright enough to sting Mara's eyes. Or maybe that was mostly the sweat; walking downhill was hard work on soft ground, when you had to carefully watch your balance.
She went even more slowly when she approached the ward, to avoid stumbling into it—it did not have the good grace of meeting the ground where the latter was flat.
The outer shell was composed of circles of radial lines of roughly equal size. One whose centre was at ground level was tall enough that its upper rim would be just out of the reach of Mara's hands if she stretched. In the one next to it she could see the feed line that connected it with the weaver of the ward. The whole structure reminded her of some flower seed heads she had seen, when they were ready for the wind to take the seeds away. The ward lines went right through the ground and the trees, so not any touch would set them off. Presumably small animals would not register, either, but too much disturbance would ripple through and cause alarm. That was how all wards worked, surely.
A closer look at the area where two of the circles met showed Mara that the ward was not well-made: while there was not much more than a handspan of space between the lines of one circle at its edge, they only overlapped and crossed a little with those of its neighbour, rather than being firmly connected to them. Having found her opening made a smile tug on her lips. It turned into a smirk as the memory of the woman had taught her how to weave wards flashed through her mind. That principled lady certainly would be opposed to using the knowledge she had shared to circumvent any kind of protection, no matter their creator.
Paying careful attention for the reactions she got, Mara reached out with her own magic. There were no safeguards against the ligatures she set, thought the pressures of those had to be carefully balanced. They let her shorten and thicken enough strands to open a gap big enough for her, without the shock of it carrying inwards.
Mara ducked through the hole she had made in the fence, and just as carefully let the lines return to their original shape. Still no sign of anything untoward happening. She shook the tension out of her shoulders. Looking back where she came from, the slope she had climbed down seemed tall as a temple tower.
Looking forward... for the first time since Luen alerted the camp of having smelled magic she felt optimistic. The feeding lines linking the source of the ward with its perimeter were not all straight. She could see several flowing together. Otherwise very soon it would have been tricky, if not impossible, to move in here without touching them.
Besides, setting her own pace, without having to worry about the words and looks some of the others had for her pace, was a refreshing experience. She allowed herself a short break before going on.
Some days, Officer Adanne Amaechi really would like to hang every costumed vigilante by their feet, and lower them into a septic tank.
Most of them were well-meaning, sure, and a few actually did good, but thinking of the cases where due process was violated, or proof had to be thrown out because it had been handed in anonymously, with no way to check if it was collected or faked, made her sick. And then there were the ones whose methods where just so god damn irritating.
She had had to leave one of her shoes behind next to the would-be bank robber, who was still stuck doubled over on the floor. Whoever was responsible for the mess had disappeared, and not left information how police could get the suspect from the floor without ripping the skin from his hands.
Nearby the bank manager sat rather uncomfortably on the floor, ranting about his ruined Armani suit.
Adanne again tried to interrupt him, "Sir, it would be more helpful if you'd try to describe the woman with the glue gun."
She hoped the colleague she had detailed to find some turpentine would show up soon.