The rumors are true! (Were there rumors? There may have been rumors). Along with Inkshares, we're running another Collection Contest to find the next great science fiction and fantasy novels. We are so thrilled with our current (in-production) collection, and we can't wait to see what else is out there!
Head over to Inkshares to get the whole scoop, and to learn how you can submit your idea!
Back when we launched the S&L Inkshares Collection, we were thrilled with the quantity and quality of the entries we received. For that first contest, we decided to pick two books that epitomized the concepts of "sword" and "laser" to us, and The Life Engineered and Asteroid Made of Dragons were those selections.
After three centuries trapped underground, Yulric Bile—the Curséd One, the Devil’s Apprentice, the Thousand Year Old Vampyr—has risen only to find that no one in this time believes he is a vampire. Werewolf, they call him. Zombie. Mummy. Lich. Vampires, he discovers, have become very pretty, very weak, and most disturbing of all, very good. He resolves to correct this disgusting turn of events, or at the very least, murder the person responsible. Aided by a vampire wannabe, the eight-year-old reincarnation of his greatest foe, and a host of ancient horrors as far from sexy as it is possible to be, Yulric journeys from lost subterranean cities to pink suburban houses, battling undead TV stars and his fear of cars, for the right to determine, once and for all, what it truly means to be a vampire.
I'm very happy to announce that An Unattractive Vampire is officially joining the S&L Collection on Inkshares! Jim is also a S&L listener, so we're extra excited to welcome him to the family.
Veronica is down in LA, which means we get to do a team Book Unboxing! Sorry for the low audio, Tom doesn't know how sounds works ;)
The Bands of Mourning (ARC) by Brandon Sanderson (January 2016)
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss (November 17, 2015)
The Sixteen Burdens by Dave Khalaf
With the huge success of the film adaptation this month, we thought it would be fun to travel back in time to our interview with The Martian author Andy Weir and Influx author Daniel Suarez.
If you're interested in picking up where that episode left off, you can follow this link to the Soundcloud page (audio should start at the 45:05 mark).
As noted, Patrons will receive this episode at no charge. Enjoy!
Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews by the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica
Review by Bryan S. Glosemeyer, original on Goodreads here.
"The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."
The opening line of Neal Stephenson's new 'hard SF' thriller, Seveneves, is bound to go down as one of the great opening lines in science fiction. I'm sure it will soon be mentioned in the same breath as William Gibson's opening line to Neuromancer. "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
So as you can see, the very first sentence packs quite a punch and the punches keep on coming. The clock is ticking till the sky itself burns for five thousand years. Will science and reason save humanity in the harshness of space? Or will politics and greed be our final undoing? Well, I won't spoil it for you, but if you are familiar at all with Stephenson's books, you'll expect very smart and very brave people try to save the world with their smarts and bravery.
Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The premise is exciting and fun and the tension keeps ratcheting up and up. While this is most definitely 'speculative' fiction, he keeps the science grounded, yet fascinating. No artificial gravity, no warp drives, no energy shields. As usual, Stephenson does a great job of helping to make sense of the science for the average reader. But to do so means he does a lot of 'infodumps.' His books have always been high on the infodump quotient, Seveneves is even more so.
The book is divided into three parts, and I have to say I found the second act the most compelling, fast paced, edge of your seat reading. While there are smart people being heroic throughout the book, this is by far the most adventurous and heroic section.
I do have a few criticisms, and most of that has to do with character. Stephenson has never been one to dive too deep into his characters's inner worlds, but even so he could craft fleshed out, compelling and fun characters like Raz, Hiro, Jack Shaftoe. To be honest, I have to say that most of the characters fell pretty flat for me in Seveneves. I understand that the majority of them are scientists and engineers and they're not going to be the type to fall apart int an emotional mess when the shit hits the fan. But this is some pretty goddamn apocalyptic shit hitting the fan and I would expect even the coolest, logical engineer to have their emotions get hotter and go deeper than what we get here.
One character standout, though still lacking in the emotional depth I just mentioned, is the African American scientist/celebrity Doc Dubois. Any fan of Neil Degrasse Tyson won't be able to help but picture Dubois as Tyson. Even the speech cadences are there.
Again, without going into spoiler territory, the third act of this book was very reminiscent of Raz's quest in Anathem.
All criticisms taken into account, this is still a damn fun and exciting read. Fans of hard sci fi and doomsday thrillers are going to dig this a lot, I think.
Also, when I was reading it, I kept envisioning it not as a movie, but as a miniseries. With the right budget and enough hours to tell the story (5-6 hours I'd say) this would be awesome to see come to life on the screen.
BTW, I also made an online mixtape inspired by the book, especially parts one and two. You can check it out here!
Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews by the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica
Review by Emily Carlson
In a multiverse where magic is the product of the rise and fall of three celestial bodies, things can get a little complicated. Characters’ power waxes and wanes with the movement of these satellites, but the world seems to have reached a balance. However, that balance is shattered when the fourth, dark satellite – Oma – begins ascending. Oma, the Worldbreaker. Last time Oma rose, continents were literally torn in half by its power, and it seems that this generation will be no different.
The Mirror Empire follows Lilia, a girl from a dying universe with an amber sky, as she is hurled into a new and thriving universe in escape from the dark forces gathering in her amber world. But Lilia is far from safe in her new blue-skied universe because the armies she fled haven’t given up the chase.
Genocide, multiverses, TRULY NOXIOUS WEEDS, gender and sexuality, mystical orphans, THE DOPPLEGANGER, celestial bodies (wink, wink), BLOOD
Hurley has bitten off an awful lot with her ambitious Mirror Empire. And for those of us who are bored with a linear and predictable narrative, this is a very good thing. Hurley seems determined to supplant nearly every fantasy troupe, even down to her five-gendered social structure with group marriage and funerary cannibalism. These bold rejections of what we take for granted in our own society are illuminating in Hurley’s hands.
Take for example the thirty-something, war-hardened general returning home from her tour abroad to her teenaged, undereducated, ornamental husband. On one hand, this seems very familiar to fantasy fans (Drogo and Daenerys, anyone?). But on the other, it is completely unexpected and frankly, appalling. Readers might swoon at the scenes of Drogo and Dany together, might even excuse the some of the harsh treatment that Dany receives from Drogo. However, when the general dominates her husband and when we see how isolated he truly is, it’s harder to wear those same rose-colored glasses.
The result is a novel that is challenging, though inducing, and at times shocking. But very much worth the time of any fantasy reader ready for something different.
What’s Less Than Good:
Hurley has bitten off an awful lot with her ambitious Mirror Empire. What is this novel’s greatest strength can be its most frustrating weakness. Switching characters, universes, and social structures can be very confusing. Hurley pulls it off with a surprising amount of ease, but readers can still get lost easily.
Furthermore, although Hurley is making wonderful strides towards fulfilling the potential of the unique world she created, only time (and more novels) will tell if Hurley is able to pull this off with the finesse demanded when an author deviates this much from reality. In my mind, the farther an author strays from reality, the heavier the burden is to make all of that mental strain worth our while.
The Final Verdict:
Maintain focus. If you can do that, The Mirror Empire is definitely worth the read. But for those of us who don’t want to leave a book with a pounding headache (I mean… not really, but you get it) this may not be the novel for you. The world Hurley creates is rich, engaging, and completely surprising. It is worth the effort the novel will require from you, but know that this is not a mindless read. So much of the world in this book is utterly new that it is bound to leave most people feeling a little star-struck.
The world Hurley builds takes on a personality of itself, much like another character you are getting to know. It would be easy for the human characters to fade into the background of the novel and let the newness of the world stun readers. However, the characters in the novel are utterly profound. They are likable and revolting in turn, but in a way which reminds us of our own little green planet with a blue sky. The true wonder of this book is not the differences Hurley creates between her worlds and ours, but the similarities. Somehow, Hurley has managed to create a story where even with a radically different reality to ours, we are able to relate to and care about her characters.
If you’re willing to go the extra literary mile, Hurley promises to deliver even more mind-blowing confusion in the upcoming Empire Ascendant dropping in October 2015.
Executive Summary: Best one yet! I've always enjoyed this series, but I really loved this book. My only complaint would I don't have more to read! I can't wait for book 6.
Audiobook: Jefferson Mays is back! Huzzah! Don't get me wrong, he's not one of my favorite narrators or anything, but he is good. And the guy they got to replace him for book 4 was not. I was considering switching to text for this book if that narrator was used again. Thankfully I didn't have to.
His accents for Avasarala and Alex are excellent as always. Everyone else isn't really anything special. He has good inflection and reads in a nice and clear voice. Hopefully they'll be able to get him for all the future books.
The Expanse books have been a lot of fun since I finally picked them up last year. However I was starting to feel like maybe it was running out of steam.
I liked Leviathan Wakes and thought Caliban's War was even better. However I felt Abaddon's Gate and especially Cibola Burn weren't as good.
I've grown tired of the rotating POV's with new characters to follow around. Part of the problem is that Avasarala and Bobbie were so great in Caliban's War, everyone that followed was a disappointment.
Not only that, but they didn't really feature in books 3 and 4 and I think that's a waste. Thankfully that's been remedied in this book. While they aren't POV characters again, they do feature fairly heavily in the plot, albeit Bobbie moreso than Avasarala.
The other problem was I always found at least 1 or 2 of the POV to be less interesting than the others. The best part is that instead of forcing the readers to deal with some new characters they won't like as much, they chose to make the other 3 POVs the remaining members of the Rocinante. Not only do we finally get in the heads of characters I've come to love in the last 4 books, but we get more of their backstories as well, especially Naomi and Amos.
In fact if you haven't read The Churn previously, I'd highly recommend doing so before this novel. I think you'll get a lot more out of Amos's storyline if you do. I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite plotline. They were all just so good.
So apart from excellent choice for POVs what really makes this book so great is the focus of the story. The stuff with the protomolecule in the last four books has been interesting, but this book mostly takes a break from that.
The tensions have long been bubbling between the three human factions of Earth, Mars and The Belt/OPA have finally come to a head. And just when I thought I was enjoying this book, BAM! It somehow got even better.
This is a very different story than last four. That may upset some fans, but for me it breathed new life into a series that seemed in danger of losing its way.
Some characters in this book made me so mad! Others made me scared or nervous. Just seeing Bobbie and Avasarala made me happy. I hated having to stop listening each day, and I couldn't wait to start listening again.
To me that's the sort of thing that pushes something from a 4-star rating into the vary rare company of a 5-star rating. It also put it solidly on my favorites shelf. I will definitely be listening to this one again.
If I had one complaint it's that it's over! I can't wait for book 6! If you found yourself not as happy with the last book or two, I highly recommend giving this one a shot, I really think it's best one yet!
This month, both of my nerdy online book clubs combined forces and chose the same book: Uprooted by Naomi Novik! You've already heard our wrap-up on S&L, but make sure you watch the slightly more unhinged episode of VF. We cover sexy times, casting, magical systems, and otter relations.
As you may have heard on the podcast, we launched a contest on Inkshares last month to find the debut novel for the Sword & Laser Collection. This novel would be published by Inkshares with the S&L imprint, the author would get an interview on the show, as well as writing advice from Gary Whitta!
Well, the time has come, and the news is out!
Good news, everyone! You know we love Inkshares, and now we've partnered with them to kick off their Collections. What does this mean?
To debut the Sword & Laser Collection on Inkshares, we will publish the five science fiction and fantasy projects with the most pre-orders by May 31st, 2015. Sword & Laser will choose their personal favorite from the top five and make it the debut book in their Collection.
The debut Sword & Laser Collection author will receive an interview on the Sword & Laser podcast. All five winners will receive a coaching session from Gary Whitta, Star Wars: Rogue One co-writer and author of Abomination, in addition to having their book published and distributed into independent bookstores, Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.
You can read all about the content over on Inkshares. Can't wait to see what you guys are working on!
Here at Sword & Laser, we love encouraging people to try writing for themselves, even if it's just during NaNoWriMo! But the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop is helping many young writers, ages 14-19, learn their trade with the help of volunteers at their yearly workshop in Pittsburg. But they need our help!
Writing genre fiction can be a lonely business for teens. The Alpha SF/F/H Workshop brings together young writers, aged 14 to 19, for ten days of creation and peer review critiques. At the end of the workshop, students leave with new skills and a vibrant network of support.
Alphans have published in dozens of markets, including Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Analog and Strange Horizons. Many of them have placed and won in contests such as The Dell Magazine Award, Writers of the Future, and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
Tamora Pierce, author of young adult series such as Protector of the Small and The Provost's Dog, has instructed at the workshop every year since its inception. This year, instructors include Ellen Kushner, author of the beloved Riverside books recently adapted into an award winning Audible series, Delia Sherman of Freedom Maze fame, and Andre Norton-award nominee Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Alpha works hard to keep costs low--every staff member is a volunteer, and the tuition is kept at the lowest possible level--but prospective students often require financial aid. This year--as they have for the past several--alumni have contributed writing and art to an illustrated flash fiction anthology and offered it as a donor reward in the entirely alumni-organized scholarship fund drive.
The Alpha alumni fundraiser will run March 17-26. Would you consider giving us a signal boost? Donations really do change the course of our young writers' lives.
To learn more about the Alpha SF/F/H Young Writers' Workshop, please visit the Alpha website, and check out our latest video, featuring interviews with Bruce Coville and Tamora Pierce.
Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews by the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica
Review by Emily Carlson
Robin Hobb is back, my friends. And for devotees of her epic fantasy series, Realm of the Elderlings, this is a very good thing. Fool’s Assassin is the much-anticipated continuation of the story of Fitz and the Fool, a pair of outcasts who struggle to save their beloved Six Duchies from near disaster.
Fool’s Assassin opens while Fitz is enjoying his well-earned retirement. Things are finally peaceful and although he cherishes the quiet contentment of his life, Fitz struggles to accept that the need for violence is completely over. He still sequesters himself away from his loved ones, still keeps secrets like a compulsion, still can’t seem to let go of the intrigue - no matter how much he might like to.
But when some suspicious coincidences start hinting of danger lurking outside Fitz’s rural, idyllic life, it seems it might be a good thing that Fitz has had trouble letting go of his past, because it certainly hasn’t let go of him.
Country life, paranoia, fatherhood, A MURDER MOST FOUL, prophesy, creepy-crawlies, class, secret passageways, THE ULTIMATE DRAMA QUEEN
Hobb is a master storyteller. Over the course of the last nine books, Hobb has honed her characters into realistically flawed, frustrating, and oh-so-lovable men and women. Though the over ten-year gap between Fool’s Fate and Fool’s Assassin gnawed at many fans, the gap was deliberate. With such beloved characters and intricate plot, Hobb has been careful not to exploit them. That is the true triumph of this novel. Nothing here feels forced, nothing feels like Hobb simply wanted to capitalize off of her most recognized and well-loved series. Instead, Hobb has crafted a story that leaves you thinking, Of course! How could I have thought Fitz would fade into quiet retirement??
Hobb’s strength has always been her ability to make us care about her characters, and Fool’s Assassin fits right in with her previous books. Some of them have us tearing our hair and shaking the book in frustration, some have us cheering into the pages, but all of them feel fully realized.
Furthermore, in a marked departure from her previous books staring Fitz, we are finally privy to more than one first-person narrator! Though I won’t reveal who this narrator is, I will say that it was a refreshing and exciting change that is probably going to prove necessary in her next novels. Hobb also builds on our feelings of dramatic irony in this book (everyone remember those high school English classes??) – the characters are intentionally a few steps behind the reader, creating delicious tension to put us all on the edge of our seats.
As another tasty tidbit, it seems that we may finally get a glimpse into the mysterious southern country The Fool hails from!
What’s Less Than Good
Though Hobb springs into action with hints of doom left and right, make no mistake – Fool’s Assassin falls victim to first-volume-in-a-trilogy-syndrome. Odd ends from the previous series and wrapped up. We build a detailed picture of Fitz’s current life. New threads of intrigue are introduced. But, just when the action is starting to get really exciting, we break for the new book. Fool’s Assassin is crucial to move the plot along, and that’s not all that it does, but it can feel frustrating to have so many questions by the end of the book.
Furthermore, though Hobb always strives to have her novels and trilogies as self-contained as possible, readers with no experience in Realm of the Elderlings will be shortchanged by starting with this novel. Tearful reunions will make no sense, bittersweet partings won’t have their full effect. But that doesn’t mean this series isn’t worth it, it means those readers should look forward to this book at the end of finishing the previous nine books - because it is totally worth it.
The Final Verdict
Hobb had a lot of expectations to live up to when she decided to continue the story of Fitz and the Fool. Such a beloved series is both a blessing and a curse to an author. However, Hobb rises to the challenge admirably. Although only time will tell if this series can capture the grandeur of her previous novels, Fool’s Assassin has all the hallmarks of a great new series.
More than anything, Fool’s Assassin promises to capture our attention for her next novel in the series, and leaves us all slobbering for more.
Congrats to all the nominees! Lots of Sword & Laser reads and authors in the list, which is always exciting. The winners will be announced during Nebula Awards Weekend June 4th-7th, 2015 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Illinois.
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu ( ), translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)
We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
“The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
Calendrical Regression, Lawrence M. Schoen (NobleFusion)
“Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)
“Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
“The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
“We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
“The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)
“The Breath of War,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
“When It Ends, He Catches Her,” Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction 9/26/14)
“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
“The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
“A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
“Jackalope Wives,” Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
“The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)
When I drafted my new novella, Rise of Hypnodrome, which takes place in 2039, I couldn’t decide whether the main character, Grady Tenderbath, should order a male or female robot from Amazon.
Mired in a slump at work, Grady is impressed by online reviews about personal robots. They’re praised for their ability to help humans grow as professionals and realize their potential. His robot can be programmed as a man or woman, depending on which gender he thinks he’ll work better with.
Grady’s feelings of self-worth are riding on this robot. The job at his publishing house is the central focus of his life, yet he can’t seem to unlock his creative potential. He is plagued by the sense that he’s underachieving.
I wanted to make things right for my fictional main character. But I have to admit, I wasn’t only thinking about Grady’s creative potential. I was thinking about myself as a male writer. Did I have it in me to create a compelling character out of a female robot?
It’s hard enough to succeed at writing a human of the opposite gender. I know all about this. Before Hypnodrome, I wrote a novel from a woman’s perspective. According to my writer’s workshop, I missed the mark. When my female character had casual sex and said “dude,” she was too bold and assertive – “not believable.” When she cried, she was too meek – “not likeable.” Ultimately her character wasn’t “rounded enough.”
I defended my writer ego by imagining my readers were biased. They simply refused to believe a guy could sufficiently understand women to write from the female perspective. Unfortunately for my writer ego, other male authors have succeeded where I failed, and the folks in my writer’s workshops were more than happy to point them out.
Concluding that writing female characters wasn’t a strength of mine, I decided that Grady would ask for his robot to be programmed as a male. This robot, named Andy, was going to be a very helpful colleague and nurturer of Grady’s talent.
At least, that’s what I planned to have happen in my story outline. The funny thing is, when I actually wrote the scenes, I immediately sabotaged their relationship. Andy lasts only about a week in the Tenderbath household. He’s too aggressive. He thinks in terms of short-term rewards at the expense of strategic, long-term benefits. He’s a male robot in a China shop.
What happened? Looking back, I think Grady’s frustration with Andy had as much to do with me trying to fulfill my own creative potential, as it did with Grady fulfilling his. I knew it was relatively easy for me to make the robot believable and entertaining if the character was male instead of female.
Too easy. I sabotaged Andy because, deep-down, I wanted to push myself.
Luckily there was a quick fix, one that didn’t require Grady to mail back his robot in exchange for another, and didn’t require me to go back and rewrite the whole story.
Andy would have a sex change.
Andy the robot becomes Ashley the robot – no surgery is required, you just press a few buttons. Ashley is more intuitive and strategic than her male predecessor. She could be considered Grady’s “office wife,” a term that carries a connotation of subordinance. But Ashley knows she’s not subordinate as a female, and she doesn’t believe she’s inferior as a robot, either.
She supports Grady and is vulnerable with him, but she’s also incredibly ambitious. Ashley is no one’s office wife.
When I returned to the same workshop, my readers thought I struck a nice balance of traits with my robot, crafting a more believable portrayal of a female than the one from my previous novel. Not only did Ashley help Grady at his publishing company, she helped me as a writer.
But for my next novel, do I dare take another shot at telling a story from the perspective of a human female? Was there something about Ashley being a robot, some extra margin of error that freed me and my readers to connect with her as a character?
Perhaps, in the sequel, Ashley becomes a woman.
ABOUT MATT FUCHS
att Fuchs grew up in Nashville, TN, lived in Baltimore and currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Marcy. He majored in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. Matt has been a freelance food writer; co-founded H&H Creative Ventures, the entertainment production company; and serves on the leadership team at CREATE Arts Center in Silver Spring. "Rise of Hypnodrome" is his first novella.
ABOUT RISE OF HYPNODROME
It’s 2039, and a political faction called the Lifestyle Party has risen to power under the Presidency of Deepak Chopra. The new government bans scientific innovation and introduces a set of policies focused entirely on maximizing personal happiness. So why is Grady Tenderbath so unhappy? Believing that he’s fallen short of his professional potential, he buys a personal robot muse to nurture his talent and ego, while his wife Karen, a genetic scientist, becomes more entrenched in her lab. But just when Grady seems on track to solve his career crisis, he discovers a new problem: he’s swooning for the empathetic yet artificial Ashley. Not only that, he’s distracted by haunting visions of Karen transforming into...something else. "Rise of Hypnodrome" explores how future generations might draw from the realm of epigenetic engineering to eventually control their own biology. Whether human or robot, the characters in this cutting-edge science-fiction novella have one thing in common: an irrepressible desire to evolve.
Recently we were introduced to author Nalo Hopkinson, who was kind enough to answer some questions for us here on the blog. Two of her books, The Salt Roads and short story collection Skin Folk, are being published as e-books for the first time through Open Road Media. Editor Betsy Mitchell tells us, "I had the pleasure of introducing Nalo's wondrously imaginative work to the world when her Brown Girl in the Ring won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. It's a delight to be able to bring out the first-ever ebook editions of The Salt Roads and Skin Folk.”
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Nalo! When did you start writing?
NH: You're most welcome. Thanks for asking me. I believe I began writing in my mid-30s. But I'd been an avid reader since I was three years old. Author Samuel R. Delany has said that one learns more about how to write by reading a lot and internalizing models for good writing. I agree. I always have a book or seven on the go. I also watch a lot of fantasy and science fiction media, and read comics, graphic novels, and literary criticism in science fiction and fantasy.
Was fantasy always a genre you were interested in writing in? Who were some early favorites for you?
NH: Yes, fantasy and science fiction about equally. Early favourites (I'm Jamaican-Canadian; I use British spelling conventions) include Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Theodore Sturgeon, Terri Windling, Emma Bull.
Tell us about your book, The Salt Roads! What are some of the themes you explore? How would you classify the novel?
NH: In some ways, it's a time travel novel. It's written in four voices in three different times and locations and one timeless place. In some ways, it's the coming-of-age story of an Afro-Caribbean goddess. An exploration of the challenges faced by mixed race Black women throughout history. An honouring of women and men who do sex work, whether by choice or through lack of it. A thank you to the queers and transfolk of colour who fought for freedom during Stonewall. A praise song to Black people's survival despite, oh, everything.
It's really refreshing to hear about something outside the box of typical fantasy. Do you feel like genre fiction is beginning to move away from the Eurocentric, male point of view?
NH: I don't. And it needn't. I lurves me some Neil Gaiman, some China Mieville, some Ian Macdonald. Orson Scott Card should by all means keep writing fiction about smart, misunderstood white boys. He writes them well. (Though I fervently wish he would stop writing irrational and inaccurate hate screeds against queer folk. It's both bad science and a poor way to profess love for one's neighbour.) I don't want fewer white, male voices in the genre. I do want more centrisms, greater inclusion, a larger world view. Fantasy and science fiction are full of good stories. I want more.
Another book of yours coming out on ebook via Open Road is Skin Folk. What are some of your personal favorite short stories from this collection?
NH: You know how many parents don't like to tell you which is their favourite amongst their children? That's how I feel about my stories.
Hah, fair enough! What are you working on these days?
NH: Working on a new novel that my agent is currently shopping around. Collaborating on a short story with Nisi Shawl. If all goes well, it'll appear in a tribute anthology for Samuel R. Delany. Making Black mermaids, boudoir and fantasy dolls in various media: stuffed and painted fabric; plaster; and fabric design. Trying to perfect my skills at macaron-making and baking gluten-free bread. Teaching Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside, which has perhaps the most lovable student body in the world.
Where can people follow you online?
Looking for something a little different to add to your To-Read list? Click through to read an excerpt of the book, and to find out how you can win a copy!
“Dark Sun, Bright Moon describes people isolated in the Andes, without the least notion of outsiders. They evolve an understanding of the universe that is complementary to our own but a great deal wider. The book explores events of a thousand years ago, events which fit with what we know of the region's history,” says author Oliver Sparrow.
In the Andes of a thousand years ago, the Huari empire is sick. Its communities are being eaten from within by a plague, a contagion that is not of the body but of something far deeper, a plague that has taken their collective spirit. Rooting out this parasite is a task that is laid upon Q’ilyasisa, a young woman from an obscure little village on the forgotten borders of the Huari empire.
This impossible mission is imposed on her by a vast mind, a sentience that has ambitions to shape all human life. Her response to this entails confrontations on sacrificial pyramids, long journeys through the Amazonian jungle and the establishment of not just one but two new empires. Her legacy shapes future Andean civilization for the next four hundred years, until the arrival of the Spanish.
Dark Sun, Bright Moon takes the reader on a fascinating adventure that includes human sacrifice, communities eaten from within, a vast mind blazing under the mud of Lake Titicaca, and the rise and fall of empires cruel and kind.Read More
The first time I saw Borderlands was a month or so after I had moved to San Francisco in 2004. I remember walking down Valencia Street and ogling all the stores I could not yet afford to shop in (moving to an expensive city with no job straight out of college will do that to a girl). I was probably with one of the gals I had moved out with, who couldn't comprehend my excitement at finding a store completely devoted to science fiction and fantasy.
It was perfect. It was as though it had sprung fully-formed from within the deepest reaches of my nerdy brain. Rows and rows of books. All my favorite authors, and many more that I didn't even know I loved yet. Dark wood. That delicious book smell. A small, completely hairless cat named Ripley.
Throughout the years I came as much as I could, though I never became the regular I wanted to be. I wanted it to be my Cheers. That place I could go where everyone would know my name and ask me how I liked the most recent Tad Williams or Robin Hobb. In fact, I met Robin there during a book signing, and it was the most nervous I had ever been speaking with another human being in memory. She was wonderful, of course.
But I didn't go enough. Even now, after S&L has been meeting there monthly for our book club, and even after I've been back many, countless times for signings or just to browse the latest releases, I don't know if they'd even know me or know how much that store has meant.
Borderlands is closing. This physical lynchpin of my obsession for SFF is going away, and I don't know if we can save it. San Francisco is expensive enough as it is, but a recent minimum wage increase (which I voted for...) is their real undoing. Not to mention the on-going stress of being a small, niche bookstore in a town obsessed with the digital. There's going to be a meeting next month at the store to discuss options, and I definitely plan on being there.
Mostly, I just needed to write this to vent. I'm sad, and I'm angry, and I regret not doing more. Alan and Jude have worked so hard to keep this beautiful store open for so many years, and so many wonderful authors have come through its doors.
Thank you, Borderlands, for being that place for us. But we're not ready to say goodbye just yet!
I've read the first part of the Imperial Radch series, Ancillary Justice, which I enjoyed very much. It was an excellent introduction to a new world of science fiction, and an interesting arc for a series where an empire would wage a secret war against itself. Therefore, I went into this second entry with a set of expectations about the content of this novel. Expectations that were thoroughly thwarted by the author writing something else.
I had expected more intrigue and action. More surprises and technological horrors that raged through the last third of Ancillary Justice. I guess I had forgotten the first two thirds of quiet introspection and excellent world building that had proceeded all that fun. Instead, Ancillary Sword takes us to new places, but they are small intimate locations that hold none of the galactic level chess game that the end of the first novel had primed me for.
Ancillary Sword follows the same main character as Ancillary Justice. The cybernetic former ship AI turned revenge driven walking corpse Breq takes command of a new ship at the behest of the emperor of the titular Radch. Instead of pursuing the secret war raging at the heart of the empire, Breq decides that personal matters must be seen to, and travels to Athoek station, where the only living relative of his beloved Lieutenant Awn works as a Horticulturalist.
This is an extremely personal story for Breq. The character is trying to come to grips with a new position while also dealing with the ongoing degradation of the empire due to the secret war. On Athoek station this is mostly through the examination of class.
Of course, this being a continuation of the themes of Ancillary Justice, class is explored through an additional layer of what it means to be human. Are you still a worthwhile being if you have been ordered and cataloged by the society around you? Are you even human if you don't speak the language of civilization? This of course all being explored by someone who is decidedly not human. An AI walking around in a stolen body. It's the best quality of the series and Leckie doesn't let us down with her continued examination of our own society through the lens of the one she created. The strength of her vision is evident through every carefully chosen word of the novel, continuing the thought provoking work she started in Ancillary Justice.
Even her "trick" of avoiding the naming of characters specific gender is continued here and used to great effect. The true genius of it is that you grow to simply not care who has what set of genes in their pants. The trick is not to leave you guessing, but to reach the point where you stop guessing, because it just doesn't matter. Her other themes are done with the same deft hand, not getting in the way of the story, but always there and available to be found without a lot of guessing and pretentious philosophizing. It's one of my favorite points of the series is that Leckie doesn't just ask these questions but shows us the path her created empire takes when it tries to answer basic questions about who is human and what it takes to be human.
As impressed as I was by the quality of the writing I still felt that there were missed opportunities by staying with the small personal stories of Athoek station and not going out into the deep problems of the war inside the Imperial Radch. I would probably have less concerns if the ideas and concerns of the war weren't constantly being brought up in the story. If I could have just been left to live in Athoek station I might have come to terms with the breaking of my expectations. The story, though, constantly takes me back to all of the galactic level problems that Breq is actively avoiding and risking by going to Athoek to deal with his own personal issues. Issues that I ultimately just found less interesting the possibilities that existed out in the warring universe that Leckie had crafted for us.
This is still an excellent extremely recommendable book, but it loses a star for me for breaking my expectations and then reminding me over and over about how broken they were. 3 out of 5. (Honestly 3.5 but goodreads don't got half numbers :( )