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Crunchtime!

Hello loves! I defend my dissertation April 24th! I need to have it to my committee two weeks in advance so that’s April 10th! I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading (I mean some since otherwise I can’t handle life, but not as much). As soon as I’m done though I’m taking May off of work, yey! So the blog is on hiatus until then, wish me luck!

Updates from the Lair 3/19/17

Updates from the Lair

Updates from the Lair is my weekly wrap-up post that includes what happened in my real life, what I’ve been reading and my posts from the week. 

Whew, uh hi! So obviously my life was not as back to normal as I thought the last time I wrote one of these…. Eh, it’s part of my new ‘hobbies should be fun’ philosophy, so when I’m busy all weekend, I don’t sweat writing an updates post! So let’s see, I defend my dissertation April 24th, i.e. find out if I pass my PhD (unlikely to fail, but if I didn’t show up it would be bad). Then I have graduation May 5th. Then I fix all the final things in my dissertation before turning it into the university, find out formatting errors, fix again, rinse and repeat! Hopefully it doesn’t take too many tries ;-).

I’m very much in crunch time for the dissertation. Things are good, but I need to actually write up a lot of sections that I have just heavily outlined. Also I was getting some really weird results and then a new theory paper came out directly predicting my results, so that’s cool!

But I’ve been reading of course because I would get really depressed otherwise, woot! Here is what I’m currently reading, not everything I’ve read since the last update since that would be way too much haha.

My Week

Tropic of SerpentsI started the audiobook of Tropic of Serpents and I’m soooooo in love! I will need to go page through my physical copy to see the sketches that I’m missing, but the narrator is so amazing for this series that I have no regrets. DRAGONS!!!! Like seriously I want to grow up to be Isabella…. Still time right? More seriously though, this book, despite being fantastical science, has been a great inspiration to dive back into my actual science after a hard day. Isabella’s love of dragons reminds me how much I also love the natural world and want to uncover its secrets :).

The TurnI have been meaning to read Kim Harrison for a long time and so this new release seemed a good time to try. It’s a prequel to another series and therefore I’m a bit worried that it isn’t actually a good start. There is a lot being thrown at me early on that I assume are just reminders for readers of the main series, but I’m all right so far. Mostly I’m just pumped because the heroine is a scientist :D. Magic/supernatural + geneticist is pretty awesome in my opinion.

Gone with the WitchI get obsessive about things from  time to time (okay I pretty much always have an obsession but it might not be as noticeable as another month’s). A few weeks ago it was sourdough (I have my starter all raised up and have been making weekly bread instead of buying it, which I’ll continue!). Now it is dogs. Since we are finally nearing the point where we will own our own house, I can finally start thinking about getting a dog! Husband, however, has only agreed if it is a low/non-shedding dog and also not a puppy (he’s never had a dog, I want to ease him into it!). Therefore, I’m actually obsessed with ‘designer’ poodle mixes. We don’t want a poodle (he’s prejudice), but the mixes are sooooooo perfect. So if you know of an adult (4 years would be ideal) poodle mix that needs a home near Iowa, let me know!

Oh right, I’m reading Gone with the Witch because it’s about a pet show :D. And in fact that little dog on the cover is a poodle mix. So yeah, it makes me happy and channels my obsession a bit.

[Read more…]

Booklender – Netflix for Books!

Book Discussion

I’m in love with Booklender

I would have had this post written up days earlier, but every time I open the BookLender site, I end up adding books to my queue for an hour instead of grabbing the link and typing this up! I’m still kind of amazed that I had never heard discussion of this site in all my time book blogging. You need to know about this!

Storytime! So as I’m transitioning away from requesting review copies at all, I started missing book mail. It is just so fun to get unexpected books in the mail! I would put in hold requests at my library and that sort of worked for surprise book arrivals but my library holds ALWAYS all come in at the same time! Like, it is a rule of the universe I think. And therefore I just got stressed once again about reading them before they were due back. Anytime I have two books that I want to read equally much (i.e. library hold requests) and I have to pick one not to read at that moment, my heart hurts. It strangely makes it harder for me to enjoy the one I do pick to read immediately since I keep looking at the abandoned one sitting sadly in the corner. [Read more…]

Carrie Vaughn: Writing for My Kid Self {Guest Post}

 

Today I’m excited to welcome Carrie Vaughn to the blog to share why she wrote her new novel Martians Abroad, out today!

            I’ve been telling people my new novel Martians Abroad is old school. I intentionally wrote it to be old school, harkening back to the gee-whiz adventures of the so-called Golden Age of science fiction of the 1940s and 50s, when we hadn’t quite gotten into space yet and we still thought Mars might have water and we were sure we’d be able to visit the Moon on Pan Space Airlines in just a couple of decades. When we really thought colonizing the solar system was going to be a whole lot easier than it turned out to be. (Living and working in space is really hard. One of the things NASA is grappling with right now is how spending a long time in microgravity damages astronauts’ vision when they return to Earth. The orbital environment seems to be physically mooshing their eyeballs and optic nerves. That’s definitely a problem that’s going to have be addressed before we get our asteroid colonies.)

I wanted to write a book that had that same kind of optimism, that imagines what a colonized solar system might be like, with capable characters solving problems and having adventures in a space-faring future. Moreover, I wanted to update the concept with all the scientific and technological discoveries that have been made over the last fifty years about astronomy, space travel, and planetary science. (We have detailed maps of the surface of Pluto now! How cool is that?!) And I wanted to modernize the general sensibilities of such a story. For example: I wanted the main character to be a girl. A teen girl who wants to be a starship pilot, and who has adventures, where such a thing is entirely normal and no one needs to comment on it. You know, the kind of book I really would have loved when I was a teenager.

           One of the most famous science fiction short stories from the 1950s is “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. It’s a classic hard SF story about real physics and real problem solving: a ship delivering much-needed medicine to a plague-ridden colony carries exactly enough fuel calculated for the weight of that specific cargo. So when a stowaway is discovered on board, all the weight-based fuel calculations are thrown off, and the ship won’t have enough fuel to deliver its desperately needed medicine. The lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few, and the stowaway is jettisoned into the cold darkness of space. That the stowaway is a teenage girl makes the scenario even more tragic, right? Well, no, because there’s a not-so-subtle implication that she got into this mess because she’s a girl and just didn’t know any better. She’s wearing sandals and a dress. She has no concept of things like fuel calculations. This story made me so angry the first time I read it — as a teenager girl — and even more angry on subsequent readings, when I remind myself that yes, it really is as bad as I remembered. It seemed like such a failure of characterization: if she grew up on a space station, or in a space colony, she would know about things like fuel calculations and safety rules of spaceships. I asked myself, what would this story look like if it was a boy who stowed away? And I get the impression the author never considered that a boy might have stowed away because he didn’t know better. For all the brilliant optimistic future many of these golden age SF writers imagined, they couldn’t imagine a place for women outside their traditional roles.

The hero of Martians Abroad, Polly, knows all about space ships. She wants to be a starship pilot. She learns everything she can about traveling in space. She knows all about fuel calculations.

So was it hard, writing an old-school SF adventure starring a teenage girl with poor impulse control? Not at all.

There’s kind of this secret that isn’t really a secret: If you want to write an adventure story with a woman as the main character. . .you just make the main character a woman. Or a teen girl, in the case of Martians Abroad. That’s it. It’s not really any more complicated than that. I’ve been asked by a lot of new writers who want to write good, inclusive fiction: How do I write strong women characters? You write people, I tell them. You write a human being. You ought to be able to list ten traits that character has before you even get to sex or gender. Are they funny, nervous, impulsive, kind, athletic, careful, angry, manipulative, optimistic? And so on. Those are the traits that will drive a story. A kid who grew up in space would know about space.

Polly is ambitious, impulsive, a fighter, and a good friend, and I hope you all like her as much as I do.

 

 

Updates from the Lair 01/14/17

Updates from the Lair

Updates from the Lair is my weekly wrap-up post that includes what happened in my real life, what I’ve been reading and my posts from the week. 

Oh hey look, an Updates post! This is how you can tell that my life is getting somewhat back to normal :D. Now that the contract is signed, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be starting at Grinnell College in the fall as a Computer Science professor! So if you are a high schooler thinking about colleges or an undergrad thinking about computer science, feel free to email me questions and I’ll give what advice I can, ha.

My Week

Dreadnought

My ebook has been Dreadnought for a bit here. I’ve been very slow in reading in general despite getting a shiny new Kindle for the holidays. I love Dreadnought though and highly recommend it. It has a trans super hero MC!

FallerI just started the audiobook of Faller and I’m not sure what I think so far. I loved McIntosh’s young adult Burning Midnight, so I’m sticking with it for now. I started getting sleepy listening on my drive and had to switch over to music to stay awake, so that always seems a bad sign….

Save the Cat!I’ve also been reading Save the Cat! I saw it on the shelf at work (yeah, we have random books on our shelves for anyone to borrow) and was hooked immediately. Obviously writing books has a bit more flexibility than mainstream screenwriting, but as a big believer in engrossing fantasy, I’m definitely happy to be reading some of these tips. I had been feeling a bit lost in how to improve the structure of my WIP and now feel much much better. Highly recommended if you want to write fiction! [Read more…]

Ch-ch-ch-changes: No More SFFFridays

Sorry everyone! Sci-fi and Fantasy Friday was something I had a lot of plans for, but all those plans require a fair amount of my time to really succeed at. It’s been losing interest over the past few months, so I think for now it is time to retire it. The reason I can’t do anything that will be taking a lot of time is: I got a new job! As of August 2017 I’ll be an Assistant Professor of Computer Science. That will obviously take top priority and since I really don’t want to stop reviewing, I’m simply going to cut everything on a schedule so that if I suddenly disappear, no one is disappointed ;-).

I’ve also finished the first draft of my fantasy novel and its working title is The Scent of Rain and Souls, oooooo! I have a bit more editing to do, some scenes to add along with a bit more world-building, but then I’ll be sending it out to alpha readers for feedback :D.

Along with the theme of this year, I will no longer be requesting books for review consideration! *gasp* I have a couple of ARCs that I agreed to review before I made this decision, so I’ll finish those up, but then I’ll be reading and reviewing books from my shelves and the library. My goal last year was to not buy any books and I succeeded at that! Now that I will be starting a new job, I can afford to buy books again and want to start supporting my favorite authors with pre-orders (because it’s funnnnnnn!). I want no guilt of any kind associated with this blog, so even though I’ve adopted a pretty lax approach to review books, I want to relax that even more. I honestly just love the idea of grabbing a random book from my shelf. I even finally put together my TBR jar with books I’ve been meaning to read for a while!

Since I won’t be trying to keep up with all the newest releases, I also have a list of books by marginalized voices coming out in 2017 and older books that I never got to and I’ll be prioritizing those in the coming year. So if you’ve been looking for those kinds of books other than what is super hyped by the big publishers, keep an eye out!

I think that’s it…. How are you doing?

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings-Anya

Sci-fi and Fantasy Friday Link-Up

Sci-fi And Fantasy Fridays

Link-up Your Sci-fi and Fantasy Reviews and Giveaways!

I’m a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan, to the point that that is really all I read anymore. Therefore, I decided to start a weekly feature where I get all of you to gather the sf/f reviews and giveaways you’ve published and found so that we can all discover new books, blogs, and giveaways in our favorite genres!

[Read more…]

Writing an Unlikeable Character {Guest Post by Ken Liu}

Today I’m excited to welcome Ken Liu to the blog to discuss unlikeable characters! I always feel like I end up liking the characters you aren’t supposed to like, so I couldn’t resist reading what Ken had to say about the writing process for such a character. Ken’s newest book, The Wall of Storms, is out now!

Writing an Unlikable Character in The Wall of StormsWall of Storms Cover

– by Ken Liu

In most of my short fiction, I’ve relied on protagonists who are likable in some way. It made sense to create characters who were easy to empathize, whose struggles the reader could connect with without a lot of explanations and justifications, and whose ideals and motivations, while complicated, fit into common interpretive frameworks.

Naturally, I wanted to try something different for my novels.

In The Wall of Storms, one of my favorite characters is Empress Jia, and she is not a likable character. She schemes and plots for most of the book, often bringing suffering and harm to characters who are likable. She doesn’t bother to explain herself to her enemies, and so even the moments of her heroism can be seen—not without good reason—as mere instances of self-serving propaganda. She doesn’t focus her life on love (either of family or otherwise); instead, she is almost single-mindedly dedicated to power: to obtaining it, to wielding it, to protecting it from anyone who would try to take it away from her. She is ruthless in the pursuit of her own (often opaque) goals, and she doesn’t care who’s harmed in the process. From time to time, she speaks of ideals, but she is not a gifted orator, and so her speeches come across as … lacking.

Yet she is the one who manages to save the day, the one who leads her people through their gravest threat. She is the survivor, the one who madkes the critical decision and has to live with the consequences, even if most fear her and demonize her rather than love her.

She is, in other words, very much like a modern political figure thrust into an epic fantasy setting.

Ken Liu photo_credit Lisa Tang LiuOne of the themes of The Dandelion Dynasty is the ways in which political mythmaking can often be more important than political reality. The Grace of Kings can be read as a competition between two political myths, as embodied in two larger-than-life figures. Kuni Garu presents a myth of political progress, of positive change motivated by the vision of a more just Dara for all. His opponent, Mata Zyndu, presents a myth of cyclical stability, of restoration to a simpler, less turbulent status quo ante in which everyone knew their place. Mata Zyndu is consumed by his myth, and sacrifices himself on its altar without ultimately understanding why. While Kuni always operates with an understanding that the story he tells is only a myth that must deviate from the pragmatic concerns of real governance, he sincerely believes that the myth is a worthy vision to aspire to.

Both are likable in their own ways: flawed figures whose failings can be forgiven in the metaphorical logic of mythic narratives. They hew to the classic vision of heroes as human beings who are just a little bit closer to the gods than mere mortals.

Empress Jia, on the other hand, embodies a very different sort of political myth. It is intellectually possible to understand that her vision of civilian control of the military, of replacing the fragile bonds of personal loyalty of warlords to a charismatic sovereign with lasting structures of a self-interested bureaucracy dedicated to the machinery of state, may perhaps be desirable. Yet this isn’t a myth that arouses the passions. It doesn’t hold much emotional appeal to the masses. The only way she can make it come true is through ruthless political machinations and carefully calculated plots that she cannot (and feels no need to) explain to those around her.

At a very simplistic level, Empress Jia embodies a dilemma that is often attributed to modern politics: good, sensible policies cannot be sold to the public because they do not hold the kind of intuitive appeal craved by most of us, driven by our primitive (but no less legitimate) emotions. In order to implement such policies, either a charismatic leader must sell them as something else or faceless elites must sneak them in through the backdoor, taking advantage of the political ignorance of the populace. Often the most sensible policies are not the most emotionally appealing, and the most visionary politicians are not the most likable.

It is a challenge to hang the weight of the narrative on such a character. I’m not sure what “success” means in this context: if readers dislike her, have I “succeeded”? If they do not, have I “failed”? But I do know that the political mythmaking in The Wall of Storms is, because of her, also much more interesting.

Purchase Wall of Storms: Indiebound | Amazon* | Simon & Schuster

Start with Grace of Kings: Indiebound | Amazon* | Simon & Schuster

*Affiliate Link

Sci-fi and Fantasy Friday Link-Up

Sci-fi And Fantasy Fridays

Link-up Your Sci-fi and Fantasy Reviews and Giveaways!

I’m a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan, to the point that that is really all I read anymore. Therefore, I decided to start a weekly feature where I get all of you to gather the sf/f reviews and giveaways you’ve published and found so that we can all discover new books, blogs, and giveaways in our favorite genres!

Hello loves! This week I’m going to try just putting one link-up and just try to label your links Giveaway or Discussion, since most of the time they are reviews. Let me know if you do or don’t like this!

[Read more…]

Sci-fi and Fantasy Friday Link-Up

Sci-fi And Fantasy Fridays

Link-up Your Sci-fi and Fantasy Reviews and Giveaways!

I’m a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan, to the point that that is really all I read anymore. Therefore, I decided to start a weekly feature where I get all of you to gather the sf/f reviews and giveaways you’ve published and found so that we can all discover new books, blogs, and giveaways in our favorite genres!

[Read more…]