Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back Home With Books

We're back home from Worldcon, and back into the beastly heat. A perfect time to curl up in a cool place with a good book.



The Eyes of a Doll by Rob Howell

Just another day in Achrida... All Edward Aethelredson wanted to do was to enjoy his ale, heal from his wounds, relax during the summer, and help his friend with what should have been nothing more than a pleasant ride in the country. Two bodies later, including one he kills in self-defense, Edward is drawn into the dark recesses of the Empire’s criminal underworld. He cannot flee, for that would impugn his honor. He cannot hide, for that would leave a six-year-old girl and her family in danger for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He cannot attack, for he does not know who to strike at. With an ally who is more foe than friend and his back against the wall, can Edward find the cunning necessary to save his friends? Or will crime lords and deadly wizards spell the end of him?

(This is the second volume of the world of Shijuren, which began with A Lake Most Deep).



Silent Meridian by Elizabeth Crowens

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is obsessed with a legendary red book. Its peculiar stories have come to life, and rumors claim that it has rewritten its own endings. Convinced that possessing this book will help him write his ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories, he takes on an unlikely partner, John Patrick Scott, known to most as a concert musician and paranormal investigator. Although in his humble opinion, Scott considers himself more of an ethereal archeologist and a time traveler professor.

Together they explore lost worlds and excavate realms beyond the knowledge of historians when they go back in time to find it. But everything backfires, and their friendship is tested to the limits. Both discover that karmic ties and unconscionable crimes have followed them like ghosts from the past, wreaking havoc on the present and possibly the future.

Silent Meridian reveals the alternate histories of Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Houdini, Jung and other notable luminaries in the secret diaries of a new kind of Doctor Watson, John Patrick Scott, in an X Files for the 19th century. Stay tuned for A Pocketful of Lodestones; book two in the Time Traveler Professor series by Elizabeth Crowens.

(If you like steampunk and time travel, take a look).



After the Sundial by Vera Nazarian

AFTER THE SUNDIAL by Vera Nazarian is the author's first short fiction collection that focuses specifically on science fiction works, and can be viewed as a companion volume to her earlier collection, SALT OF THE AIR which focused on fable, myth, and fantasy.

Bound by the common theme of time and temporal exploration, the ten selections here range widely from traditional speculative fiction to the surreal literary to poetry to bawdy adventure humor to space opera and far future speculation.

Includes an introduction by the author, two previously unpublished works and a full-length critically acclaimed novella THE CLOCK KING AND THE QUEEN OF THE HOURGLASS.

(One of my favorite single-author collections, I originally read it in uncorrected proof. And I still enjoy re-reading it, savoring the stories that range from pretty hard sf to mystical speculation that isn't exactly sf or fantasy, almost philosophical fiction).



Sasharia En Garde by Sherwood Smith

First published as two books—Once a Princess, and Twice a Prince—this romantic fantasy has been revised and published as one book, as first intended. It is set in the same world as Crown Duel, to which Sasha’s mother, Sun, was once swept away by a real prince.

But not to happily ever after. Her prince vanished, and a wicked king took the throne. Since then, Sasha and Sun have been hiding on Earth, both training in martial arts until Sasha is tricked into going back to Khanerenth.

She’s more than ready to kick some bad-guy butt, but is the stylish pirate Zathdar the bad guy? Or artistic, dreamy Prince Jehan, son of the wicked king?

Meanwhile Sun is determined to cross worlds to save her daughter. She might not have been a very good princess, but nobody messes with Mom!

(I originally read the two-volume version. A side story, but with ties to Crown Duel and A Stranger to Command. Because it's self-contained and starts on Earth, it may be a good entry point to the intricate world of Sartorias-deles).



The Ten Just Men by Joseph T. Major

The fighting in Europe is over but the war is not yet done. The allies cannot agree. The defeated must rebuild, faced with the problem of overcoming the last eleven years, of creating a new structure of society, of making some sort of economy.
All the while, the former allies are facing problems inside and out.
In the not very pacific Pacific, the power of the Allies is converging on the last enemy. The price needed to be paid to overcome them may be more than can be paid -- even if wonder weapons provide a final out.
In the midst of this tumult, ordinary people try to pick up and carry on, to bring new life into the world and to reconstruct existing life.
The war is grinding to an end . . . but only the dead have known the end of war.

(The fifth volume of Joseph T. Major's Alternate World War II series, it covers the time after VE Day, as Japan alone of the Axis remains to be defeated. This saga began in Bitter Weeds and continued in No Hint of War, The Road to the Sea and An Irresponsible Gang).



Visions V: Milky Way, edited by Carrol Fix

Visions V stories take place somewhere—anywhere—in the Milky Way Galaxy. Planets, stars, and aliens, with no limitations, form the subject and action taking place outside our Solar System and within the Milky Way.

Humankind has forded the immense stream of space between stars and reached our nearest solar neighbors. What will we discover on hospitable planets circling those new stars? Will we find almost familiar moons, asteroids, planetary rings? Or, could there be never before seen astronomical formations? The sky is no longer the limit for our soaring imaginations, because somewhere out there is a potential haven for the remnants of our beleaguered civilization.
Global catastrophe is a constant threat for our war-torn and dysfunctional human race. No one can foresee the future, but we have lived on the brink of extinction since the invention of the atomic bomb and, more recently, germ warfare and genetic manipulation.
Astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking has said, "I believe that the long term future of the human race must be space and that it represents an important life insurance for our future survival, as it could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets."
The vast Milky Way Galaxy may allow the seeds of our future to be widely distributed, past the danger of a final extinction.
Visions V: Milky Way brings together a collection of fascinating and entertaining stories by award-winning science fiction authors.

“Ships in the Night” by Jay Werkheiser
“End Around” by E. J. Shumak
“Unwanted Gifts” by S. M. Kraftchak
“Greatcloak” by Jonathan Shipley
“Claim Jumpers” by Doug C. Souza
“The Device” by Tara Campbell
“Where the Last Tramz Stops” by Sam Bellotto Jr.
“Eighteen Winters” by D. A. Couturier
“Yellow Star” by John Moralee
“The Shadow of a Dead God” by Leigh Kimmel
“Black Hearts and Blue Skins” by Timothy Paul
“Welcome to Your Dream House” by Steve Bates
“Pan Ad Aster” by Bruce C. Davis
“Rachel’s Fall” by Teresa Howard
“When Unknown Gods Leave” by Margaret Karmazin
“First Sunrise” by Marie Michaels
“Dropworld” by Fredrick Obermeyer
“Bright Horizon” by Thomas Olbert
“The Mirror Dialogues” by Richard Zwicker
“The Drive” by W. A. Fix

(Yet another anthology with a story of mine -- except why did I persistently remember the title as "The Long Shadow of a Dead God"? Was that an earlier working title, later edited away, or was it from some ot her work, now abandoned? Memory is such a tricky thing).



The Stirge by Leigh Kimmel

When Liphrel's family fell too far on their debts, he was sold to the priests of the death god. But his family were followers of the birth goddess, which left him in a difficult position.

(One of my first published stories, it was accepted right at a time when I was at the nadir of my life. Not only was I despairing of ever being published, I was starting to wonder if my life as a whole was ever going to improve. And then things turned around, and by the time it actually saw print, I was in considerably improved circumstances).

The Free-Range Oyster also has more cool book recommendations over at Sarah Hoyt's blog.

And as always, If you would like your work promoted in my blog, please e-mail me at leighkimmel@yahoo.com.

Crossposted at The Starship Cat and Through the Worldgate.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cool Books for Hot Summer Nights

So often we use metaphors of heat: "hot off the press," "hot new author" etc. to create excitement about a book we want to promote. Yet right now, with a dome of unbearable heat settled over so much of the US, it just doesn't seem to be appropriate.



A Man and a Plane by Joseph T Major

Who could stop Hitler? Germany in 1933 tottered on the brink of revolution, dissolution, and destruction. The Nazis were some kind of a solution.
There was no one who could be an alternative.
A stroke of fate took from the scene one man who could have made the difference. In that fateful April of 1918, Germany's hero fell from the skies.
And if he hadn't?

(I read this one in draft, or rather, several different drafts in the course of transforming it from idea to novel).



Bitter Weeds by Joseph T. Major

"There are bitter weeds in England." The Dunkirk Evacuation was a great deliverance. But some of the soldiers did not make it. If someone had only known . . . A troubled man, a man divided between two nations and several natures, delivered from the continent, pursues a twisted course in a wilderness of mirrors to serve his masters. A woman staging a great pretense that is almost true finds herself in the heart of darkness, seeing the advance of evil. Their relatives and connections each struggle with his or her own burdens as the horrors of war spread. The simple kindness of stopping to give the dead some small dignity begins a wave of change that will wash across the world, in this first volume of a series highlighting the great and the petty, the powerful and the victims, and finding both pain and hope.

(This is the first in a series that is currently up to five volumes: No Hint of War, The Road to the Sea, An Irresponsible Gang and The Ten Just Men. I've read the first and half of the second, and would be reading faster if only I had no obligations in life to attend. Unlike A Man and a Plane, it's a story of small changes that build in significance through the course of the story arc.)



Fleeing Peace by Sherwood Smith

Siamis said, “Your young friend Liere is not going to enjoy the trap she’s walking into, I fear. But you figured that out, did you not? Why didn’t she listen to you?”

“To snap her fingers under your nose,” Senrid retorted.

“Irresistible.” Siamis smiled gently. “But it’s going to cost.”


Fifteen-year-old Senrid is newly king of the difficult warrior kingdom Marloven Hess . . . just in time to lose it, and find himself running for his life. When Senrid is captured he overhears a secret—one he can use against the enemy, a charismatic, handsome man named Siamis who can read minds, and who enchants people just by talking to them.

Liere has always known she was special, which just increased her loneliness and sense of isolation. She can hear others’ thoughts, and she senses the real emotions below the fa├žade. When a golden-haired man named Siamis comes to her village and enchants the entire town around her, she finds herself on the run.

Liere and Senrid couldn’t be more different, but their goal is the same, to locate the powerful magic that will unravel Siamis’s world enchantment.

Chased by powerful enemies, Liere and Senrid are tested to the max as they form an alliance of kids to aid them, and gain magical support from surprising sources.

Neither ever expected to discover something even more powerful than magic: friendship. First written when Sherwood Smith was fifteen, this is the story of how Senrid and Liere first met.

(This is another story I read in draft over the course of its development, from photocopies of fragile hand-written notebooks through typescripts and printouts to digital files. JRR Tolkien was not alone in discovering that it is not easy to reconcile the visions of one's youthful exuberance with the work of one's more mature older self).



Poor World (CJ's Notebooks Book 4) by Sherwood Smith

CJ and the gang of girls from Mearsies Heili like their adventures fun and villains to be defeatable by a well-thrown prune pie. In fact, they laughed at the very idea of stories about kids who have to Save the World . . .

Until it happens to them.

Written when Sherwood Smith was a teenager, this is the story of the M girls up against the toughest challenge of their lives so far.

(Another novel I got to play auntie to, as it went from that first draft in a crumbling notebook to polished prose).



Eldritch Embraces: Putting the Love Back into Lovecraft by Michael Cieslak

Combine the mind splintering horror of the Cthulhu Mythos and the heart shattering portion of that most terrible of emotions - love - and what do you have? You have Eldritch Embraces: Putting the Love Back in Lovecraft. This collection of short stories from some of the best working in the fields of horror and dark speculative fiction blends romance and Lovecraft in a way which will may make you sigh, smile, weep, or leave you the hollow shell of your former self.

(I have a short story in this one: "Beach House on the Moon.")



Ice Storm by Leigh Kimmel

Everywhere Evangeline looks, a thin coating of ice makes objects gleam in the sunlight. Yet the beauty proves deceptive, for it hides a deadly secret, one only she can recognize.

In her youth, Evangeline had aspired ot master the powerful magics of her world. Those dreams died the day her Gift awakened uncontrolled and plunged her into a vision of a full fleet battle. The Admiral's Gift will not be denied, and for Evangeline there was no choice but to trade her mage's robes for Navy blue.

Now she is faced with an enemy she cannot fight save by magic. Except those who bear the Admiral's gift are forever barred from working magic.

(A nice, chilly selection, this short story was one of the finalists for a writing contest at LoneStarCon II, the 1997 World Science Fiction Convention.)



The Workhouse War by Leigh Kimmel

An afternoon for sketching in peace – that was all Nadine Darby wanted. She thought she was taking a shortcut to get past an overgrown levee and gain a better view of the Mississippi for some landscape work. Instead she ended up somewhere else. A place called Elyssium, where the past walks alongside the present. Where you can see a modern car pull up and a Confederate Navy officer climb out, talking on a cellphone.

On the riverbank Nadine met a strange little man who told her he was an artist as well, and showed her his sketchbook to prove it. But no sooner had Nadine made her first friend than she discovered all was not well. She watched in helpless horror as a young man was pursued, arrested and beaten by thugs from an institution that goes by the official name of the City Orphanage, but is generally called the Workhouse by the inhabitants of Port of White Fleet.

Nadine can count herself fortunate that she fell into the company of a man who has little use for this organization. But his efforts to help her attain her artistic ambitions instead attract the attention she must avoid, and draws her into quarrels that have simmered for decades.

Can Nadine thread her way through the myriad perils of this world and save herself and her new-found friends? And even if she defeats the Workhouse, will it be at the cost of losing everything she's found here?

(A little Christmas in July).

If you read and enjoy any of these selections, please consider rating and reviewing them on Amazon.com -- reviews are critical for getting onto recommendation lists, which are critical for indie authors.

PS: I'm hoping to make these promotional posts a recurring, if irregular, feature of my blog. If you have indie or small press

(Crossposted at Through the Worldgate and The Billion Lightyear Bookshelf

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Intestinal Fortitude of the Independents

I'm happy to see that The Interview is showing after all, thanks to the courage of the owners and managers of our independent theaters. When the big chains refused to take the risk of showing it in the face of threats by North Korea's tyrant Kim Jong-Un and his tame hackers, these brave men and women stood up and insisted that Sony provide them with copies to show.

And with that bolstering their courage, Sony also decided to release The Interview online, which means that anybody with an adequate Internet connection can watch it, even in the absence of an independent theater showing it.

As of yet I haven't had a chance to watch it. But I'm going get it done, just to show that pudgy little two-bit dictator that I'm not scared of his threats.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The New Cowardice

Back in 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the novel The Satanic Verses, I made a point of getting a copy of it and actually reading the whole thing through. It wasn't the sort of thing that I would normally read, and quite honestly I found a good bit of it tedious, but I was disgusted by the notion of a religious leader calling for the death of a writer (personally I think it's for the unflattering roman a clef portrayal of Khomeini himself, and that the disrespect to Mohammed issue is a convenient cover).

Recently, when the news came out that North Korea was trying to suppress The Interview through  cyberterrorism, I thought I was going to need to sit through a showing of it, just to show my support for intellectual freedom. But it looks like I won't even get the opportunity. Sony has caved completely and shelved the movie indefinitely, rather than even risk the chance that the pudgy little dictator of a two-bit tyranny actually can carry through on his threats of violence against theaters showing it.

What a long way we've fallen in just twenty-five years.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When They Don't Know Their Own History

I've written before of the problems that happen when writers don't read the foundational works of their own genre in reference to the breathless praise being heaped upon certain recent works by reviewers who seem to never have read Ursula K LeGuin's award-winning The Left Hand of Darkness. But that's not the only area in which it's becoming abundantly clear that the new generation of writers are failing to read the works of the great masters of the genre, and as a result are re-inventing the wheel and making fools of themselves in the process of chattering about how wonderfully forward-thinking they are.

Take for instance the current push to write post-colonial narratives. As I was re-reading David Brin's Sundiver to get a review up, I realized that here we have a post-colonial narrative. It's a world in which humanity went blithely out to the stars, fully expecting to carry out the taming-of-the-west narrative that had been replayed In Space in so many science fiction stories -- and then thumping their noses hard against the discovery that the galaxy is occupied by a civilization of incredible antiquity, that even seemingly empty planets are in fact owned, and the penalties for trespass on fallow planets can be horrific. And it was published in 1980, before most of the current crop of Bright Young Things were born, or at least before most of them were doing much reading of grown-up books that are all words and no pictures.

And he's not even the first classic science fiction writer to posit a future in which humanity doesn't get to just go taking over every planet that takes their fancy. All the way back in the 1950's, Robert A. Heinlein was writing Red Planet, in which humanity has a presence on the Red Planet -- but it is very clearly at the sufferance of the ancient indigenous sapient Martians. And when crooked bureaucrats forget that, the Martian Old Ones are quite ready to kick every last human off the planet and kill those who won't evacuate.

I wonder what they'd say if you pointed these little facts out to them. Wiggle and squirm and try to find reasons that those books Don't Count -- because they're written by white males, because the indigenous populations aren't marginalized and weaker, whatever? I'd like to think that maybe someone out there would have the courage to actually read those books and appreciate them in the context of the time in which they were written -- but that would require work, not to mention an actual historical perspective, when it seems a lot of the current crop of Bright Young Things are adamantly presentist and don't want to hear it pointed out to them.

Which is a pity, really. Yes, old science fiction can be Zeerusty to the point of embarrassment at times -- but it can also be chock full of sense of wonder, not to mention ideas some people would claim have been absent from science fiction until just now.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Million Open Doors

One of the most exciting things about the digital publishing revolution is the sheer variety of publishing possibilities that are opening up for writers and readers alike. Science fiction has long imagined that the future would change the book, but it tended to be part of the "furniture" of the future world, background rather than the focus of the story. A character may read a "filmbook" or the like, but its mechanics are glossed over. It's just there to provide a sense that We're Not In Kansas Any More, rather than a serious extrapolation of the future of publishing.

When digital publishing first became a practical reality as a result of the growing popularity of the personal computer, the first forays were simultaneously excited and hesitant. Excited because it was seen as the realization of generations of science fiction readers' dreams. Hesitant because of the enormous uncertainty about how to translate the experience of the printed page into digital format.

Some of the problems were simply the immaturity of the technology. Physical media such as floppy disks and CD-ROM's required distribution networks, which imposed their own limitations, especially since there was no easy way to piggyback onto existing print book distribution. But even as more people gained access to the Internet and distribution of the intellectual good no longer required the movement of a physical object, problems remained. Concerns about digital piracy tended to be the most publicized, and led to a great number of counterproductive digital rights management schemes that effectively punished the legitimate user for the possible crimes that might be committed with the technology. But the real problem was that most people didn't want to read for pleasure on a computer screen. They wanted something they could carry with them and read during random bits of time here and there, something for which even the lightest laptop was too bulky and awkward.

Various companies produced dedicated e-book readers, but all of them were bulky and expensive, and their proprietary formats meant that you could only buy books from the company's bookstore, and if the company went out of business, you had an expensive, useless brick. Sure, you could keep reading and re-reading the books you had loaded on it until the device stopped working, but you couldn't get anything new for it. As a result, people were reluctant to buy these devices, ensuring they would fail in the market.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, several changes converged to finally realize the possibility of the e-book: Baen offering DRM-free e-books through their Webscriptions system, Amazon.com creating the Kindle e-book reader that wasn't entirely tied to their bookstore, Apple producing the iPad and iPhone (which opened the way for Google to offer the Android OS for other companies to produce tablet computers and smartphones). Suddenly readers had the possibility of an easily portable and relatively seamless reading experience, which made it easy to move from the familiar old paperback to digital format not just because of the cool factor, but because of utility considerations.

As a result, we have not only conventional e-books that are effectively digital versions of paper books, but also a wide variety of other formats. For short formats, publishers have been experimenting with e-zines ever since the Web really took off. Serialization is another distribution model that has come back into fashion through digital media.

Such a wide variety of possibilities can be overwhelming, but it can also be liberating. A writer who doesn't find success in one model of fiction distribution can try a different one. If serialization proves disheartening when readership dribbles off to nothing after the first several chapters, publishing whole novels via Kindle Direct or some other e-book publisher may reach a greater audience. Similarly, a reader who prefers bite-sized reading can find a wide variety of short-form and serialized novel formats, while a reader who wants the substance of a book can download full e-books onto a reader.

And it's quite probable that we're only seeing the beginning of the digital publishing revolution. The futures imagined by even the most innovative and imaginative writers may actually prove short of the mark, for the simple reason that they had to write a world comprehensible to their contemporary readers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the Boundaries of Criticism

Recently there has been an enormous amount of discussion about an individual who blogged and wrote under a variety of names, the most well-known being Requires Only That You Hate (sometimes shortened to Requires Hate or ROTYH). This individual's characteristic book reviewing style was not only sharp and incisive in observation about observed flaws of the works in question, but harsh and even brutal in comments directed to the authors themselves. In some cases this individual make remarks to the effect that the author in question should experience various horrific forms of bodily harm, including acid attacks and being raped by dogs.

This individual typically focusing a particular wrath upon works that were perceived as racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise containing unacceptable bigotries. And these were not necessarily the obvious -- many of the criticisms were focused on offenses such as exoticization, in which the Other is portrayed as interesting and exciting simply for being other, or cultural appropriation, which was originally used to refer to people taking the traditional stories of impoverished communities and repackaging them for profit without any sort of consideration to the peoples from whom those intellectual properties originally came, but grew to become effectively a catch-all term for almost any writing of other cultures by white authors. But they all had the common trait of vicious language, often shocking in its level of cruelty and vulgarity.

One may ask why this individual's critical style should only have become an issue recently, when this individual has been writing for years, almost a decade. Part of it is a desire not to appear thin-skinned or unable to take criticism -- it is generally considered very bad form for an author to take exception to a review, except in matters of verifiable factual matters. But the biggest part of it, the part that kept even third parties from stepping up and saying that Requires Hate's most egregious personal language toward authors crossed the line to unacceptable, was the fear that one would look racist, or at least appear to be an apologist for bigotry, by attempting to speak against the excesses of RH's suggestions that horrible things ought to happen to authors whose works were to be condemned. Thus it was only when another author revealed that RH had also been targeting minority authors that it became acceptable to object to RH's conduct, and then only in very careful terms.

There are two big issues in this discussion that are in danger of becoming the Elephant in the Middle of the Living Room if political considerations are given primacy. First is the question of Acceptable Targets -- should some people be considered fair game simply by their membership in certain identity groups, in particular Straight White Male? Or should the discussion of a work be entirely on its merits, and the author entirely upon his or her actions?

And the second is how far is too far in writing a harsh critique. Are there limits on what is appropriate in a review, and is there a point at which one has Gone Too Far? Should the work be treated as something separate from the author, or does it necessarily reflect flaws in the moral character of its creator that may have been carefully kept from that individual's personal behavior?