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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…]

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

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Fandom of the Month Box Review – Mythical Creatures

Fandom of the Month Club Review

Fandom of the Month Club Review

Hello loves! Today I have something a bit different for you, though still fairly book related since it’s mythical creature jewelry :D. I’ve been eyeing Fandom of the Month for a while, but am not really into not knowing what fandom I’ll get each month. However, I saw that they were doing a special edition that was mythical creatures themed and the proceeds went to a no-kill shelter. This seemed a great chance to try them out with a theme that I knew I’d like (plus you know, hoping for a dragon, hehe).

I have to say, though, that I ended up a bit disappointed at the quality of the items included and really would have preferred fewer items that looked better. Update: I forgot to mention the price, it was $20!

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How to Use Biology Terms in Your Speculative Fiction

Book Discussion

Correct Uses of Biological Terms for SF/F

As many of you know, I’m a graduate student in addition to being a complete sci-fi and fantasy book nerd. Therefore, I notice when biological terms are used just a bit off in whatever fiction I’m reading. Of course, it’s speculative fiction so magic and hand-waving of futuristic technology is par for the course. However, if you are a writer and are interested in upping your game by using biological terms correctly, I’m here for you.

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5 Unlikely SF/F Heroes – Guest Post by Mishell Baker of Borderline

5 Unlikely SF/F Heroes - Guest Post by Mishell Baker

Guest Post by Mishell Baker Author of Borderline

When I heard about Borderline all those months ago, I was instantly intrigued by the idea of an urban fantasy with a main character with a physical disability and a personality disorder. We’ve been asking for fantasy starring characters with disabilities for so long, and I was so nervous to start hoping we were finally making progress. Now that I’m nearly done with Borderline myself, I know that I shouldn’t have been nervous. I absolutely love this book and so I’m thrilled to welcome Mishell to the blog to talk about other unlikely heroes! And remember, Borderline is out now (Amazon affiliate link) so go pick it up :D.

Millicent Roper, the woman who saves the day in my urban fantasy novel Borderline, is a bilateral amputee with a personality disorder. While it’s true that Millie isn’t exactly the stock image that pops up if you Google “hero,” she wouldn’t be the only surprising person to fill the role of protagonist in a fantasy or science fiction adventure. SF has long been a refuge for the sorts of heroes who’d be picked last if the cool kids were in charge of saving the world. Not sure what I mean? Here are a few favorite oddball examples from my personal library:

  1. Roen, The Lives of Tao, Wesley Chu. In a fun twist on the “chosen one” trope, a flabby, aimless IT technician is in the wrong place at the wrong time and by sheer dumb luck ends up as host to an incorporeal alien on a mission to save the world. Poor Roen has no choice but to rise to the occasion through painful hard work and turn himself into someone worthy of fighting a war for the future of humanity.
  2. Tyrion Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin. In most stories about clashes of royalty, a little person like Tyrion might, at best, hope for the role of court jester. Although “hero” might not be the most precise word for this unwanted second son, Tyrion Lannister is always at the center of epic events and is quite possibly the character with the highest intelligence, the kindest heart, and the largest army of adoring readers of any in the series.
  3. Meg Murry, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. Fourteen-year-old Meg does not exactly inspire confidence at first sight. She’s young, awkward, unattractive, and barely getting by in school despite coming from a family of highly intelligent people. But in the end it is only Meg’s love that can save her father and brother from the soulless evil that is trying to swallow the universe.
  4. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed. When a series of supernatural murders threatens the great city of Dhamsawaat, who rises to the occasion? An overweight, elderly ghul-hunter who wishes he’d retired years ago. His silvery beard, round belly, and fondness for tea and poetry may not be standard-issue for a monster hunter, but his courage and honor carry him through what he hopes will be one last job.
  5. Nicodemus Weal, Spellbound, Blake Charlton. In a world where magic revolves around the precise construction of language, the dyslexia-like disability that causes Nicodemus to “misspell” any magic he touches is more than an inconvenience; it’s outright dangerous! He’s the guy everyone tries to keep as far away from the action as possible, and yet he excels when fate casts him in the central role of world-shaking events.

None of these characters would be identified as heroes on sight, and they’re just a handful of examples. SF is rife with characters who may not look like much at first glance, but who possess deeper qualities that are crucial to solving the problems at hand. As readers — often less than glamorous ourselves — we take comfort from these characters and look forward to the day when the world requires the use of our own hidden talents.

ABOUT MISHELL BAKER

Mishell Baker is a 2009 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and her short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede. She has a website at MishellBaker.com and frequently tweets about writing, parenthood, mental health, and assorted geekery at @MishellBaker. When she’s not attending conventions or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children. Borderline is her debut novel.

What if DNF was your default option?

Book Discussion

DNF as Your Default

I have an idea for you all and I hope you hear me out before the shouts of “Blasphemy!” start up ;-). I know a lot of us struggle with marking a book DNF (‘did not finish’), especially if you’ve already invested a fair amount of time into it. I definitely do.

I’ve realized there is a murky place in between “I love this book and can’t put it down” and “I hate this book so much that I have no problem putting it down.” That murky place often leads us to finishing books that we knew were only okay all along, when we could have been reading something that we loved.

In my hunt for a first book for my not so secret project, I’ve been doing something new: starting every possible book with the intention of stopping after the first chapter or two. Certainly, some books could get markedly better later on, but for this project, I want to find the books that grab you from the first page anyway. A side effect of this method of winnowing possible books is that I’ve found the ones that I’m heart-broken to stop reading. I’ve filtered out the ones that are in that murky space between love and hate. I feel no pull to continue them after the first two chapters, and that makes it clear they aren’t the book I’m looking for in this moment and that they probably would be one of those books that I struggle through and end up rating 3-stars or lower.

We always say that life is too short for books you don’t enjoy reading. We have given ourselves permission to stop reading a book we don’t like. But that still means that a book has to be bad enough to make you set it aside and mark it a dreaded DNF. What if, instead, we switch the direction the decision needs to go. What if instead of needing to decide to DNF, we make that the default option — and therefore easier to do — and make continuing the option that requires deliberate action.

There are so many amazing books out there to read, why spend a moment more reading something that doesn’t inspire you? That doesn’t remind you why you absolutely love reading? Think about how many first chapters you can try in the time it took you to read the last ‘only okay’ book you read. You could have found an unexpected favorite instead of finishing a book you celebrated being done with. Doesn’t that sound better?

Sure, maybe you’ll pick up one of those discontinued books in the future when it calls to you again. You’ll have read the first chapter, so you’ll have a good idea what sort of mood the book would work for and will likely like it better then anyway! There’s nothing wrong with having an arsenal of first chapters to help you pick a mood book.

Now, I do here you calling, “But what about review books??” And I understand your worry. It obviously depends on why you review books — what your goal is in reviewing books — but if your goal is to help your readers find books that they will want to read, you have at least two options: 1) you could do mini or first chapter reviews for ones that don’t inspire you to keep reading (similar to my Just Hatched, though I encourage you to come up with your own way of doing it!) or 2) you could make sure you try those books that are less-hyped and likely to have been overlooked by many of your readers. I personally would prefer reading a review for a book I hadn’t heard much about, but the blogger loved, than a review of an ‘only okay’ book.

Obviously negative reviews can be very useful too, so if you want to push through every book you have for review consideration so that you can outline the negatives and positives, go for it! A negative or ambivalent review of a super-hyped book is something I seem to specialize in at times and can be exceedingly useful. However, I think that that should still be a deliberate decision that you make: ‘I’m continuing this book even though it isn’t compelling me to do so, specifically so that I can write a comprehensive review about it.’ Really, it’s all about making deliberate and thoughtful decisions about what you read instead of reading the equivalent of potato chips because they are there on the coffee table.

So what do you say? Do you want to be able to sample more books and only read the ones you can’t live without? Then let’s do it! Instead of feeling bad about DNF’ing a book and making that the less likely event, let’s embrace trying lots of first chapters and finding those unexpected but amazing reads. I know I’ve personally already found two books that I likely wouldn’t have had time to read before, but now suspect will be new favorites and I can’t wait to share one with you all ;-).

What do you think? Is this a mindset you might try out? Do you feel you have to try to finish every book you start?

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings -Anya

I just can’t do everything I “should”

Book Discussion

There’s so much I should be doing!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging (I’m not leaving, don’t worry!). After the craziness that was spring semester, I wanted to get back on the blogging horse so to speak. During the semester, I could barely get comments answered and a book review up a few times a week! Now that it’s summer, there is a lot of grad school work that I need to do, sure, but the timing is more flexible. Therefore, I had been hoping that this would be the time I’d get back to growing the blog and really rocking out. I’m realizing though, that I just can’t do everything that I should be doing to grow this site….

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Should you only request books you’ll love?

Book Discussion

I’ve been trying hard lately to get to all the books I receive for review consideration to the point where I have nothing waiting for me on the review pile (I’m down to five :D)! This means seriously cutting down on what I request since we all fall into the trap of requesting more than we can actually get to. However, it also means making sure the books on my for review consideration pile are ones that I’m pumped about reading a month from now or even several months from now. I’ve been struggling with the best way of balancing this and figuring what I should request for a number of reasons.

It’s a hobby, so I want to love it!

My goal with book blogging lately has been to really get back to the root of freaking loving reading and that means reading books that I’m really excited to read! It also means trying to avoid being in the situation of having a book that a publisher sent me based on my request that I now have lost interest in and have to slog through. I have a number of features to help me deal with those situations, but I’d honestly like to avoid them all together.

Only request the MOST exciting?

I have gotten much much better at noting when I’m actually really excited about a book and when I’m just tempted to request because I want the shiny. My current measurement of excitement is “if this book was in my hand at this moment, would I want to drop every other book I have to read it?” If my answer is yes (and I haven’t gone over my four requests a month!), I go for it. If my answer is hesitant, I can generally convince myself that I don’t really want that book and I’ll get it from the library if everyone ends up loving it.

What if I miss something??

Hence I’ve ended up with a stack that I’m genuinely excited to read every single book and have a hard time deciding which to start first. However, I’ve talked before about finding diamonds in the rough and I’m pretty darn sad that I’m not really doing that anymore. I love the idea of reading the book that no one else is planning to and finding out that it is awesome. I probably wouldn’t have requested Uprooted with my new very stringent policy and that would have been freaking tragic! I know that if a book becomes big, I can easily get it myself, but what if a book doesn’t become big and I never realize it is awesome????? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night ;-).

You can’t read everything

Obviously even when I was less strict with what I requested, I couldn’t actually read every single one of those books because my time-turner still hasn’t come in the mail, so is it really any different if I just don’t request them in the first place? I’m consoling myself with images of nothing on the for-review-consideration stack and me drifting through library aisles and grabbing whatever strikes me. There are lots of hidden gems buried in the backlist and I want to read them all! I’m hoping by requesting only books I’m pretty darn sure I’ll love (i.e. fairly few), I’ll read them quite quickly and then have time to read older books and random new ones I find.

What is your criteria for requesting books? Do you have a set limit each month? Do you try to resist requesting ones you lose interest in?

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings -Anya

Seriously Wicked Blog Tour + Giveaway!

Seriously Wicked Blog Tour

Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

I’m so so excited to have Tina Connolly on the blog today for the Seriously Wicked tour! Many of you may think her name is familiar because I push her first trilogy, Ironskin, on anyone who makes the mistake of mentioning they like unique fantasy >.>. She is back with a lighter but so so fun fantasy, Seriously Wicked, which I’ll be reviewing next week! Be sure to check out the bottom of the post for a giveaway of 5 copies of Seriously Wicked!

In the world of Seriously Wicked, witches have their own internet, “WitchNet”, that’s not connected to our internet. They also have their own TV, books, and reality stars. Therefore I give you:

WitchClick’s Four Things We’re Crazy About This Week!

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Read Along Group!

SF/F Read Along Group

New Read Along Group!

It probably isn’t a secret that I quite enjoy a read along for getting to those older books that you might otherwise keep accidentally putting off ;-). For a long while now, our little read along group has just relied on emails all around for coordinating read alongs and that works all right. Except that what if someone misses the announcement?? Or worse (and quite likely) what if there are other read alongs that I’m missing out on because I don’t follow those blogs?? D:

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