Tom at BayCon May 23-26

Memorial Day weekend I'll be in San Jose for BayCon 2014! The theme this year is Honor, which is in no small part because the writer guest of honor is creator of Honor Harrington himself, David Weber. There's lots more honor to go around as well with Artist Guest of Honor is Ursula Vernon, and Fan Guest of Honor Sally Woerhle

I'll be succeeding Veronica Belmont as toastmaster. That's some big toast to fill. Her's where I'll be popping up throughout the weekend. 

Friday May 23

1:30 PM Opening Ceremonies, Ballroom A

5:00 PM Doctor Who: Why it is still going strong 50 years later? Camino Real

8:00 PM Meet the Guests,  Ballroom E-F

Saturday May 24

11:30 AM Interview with Writer Guest of Honor David Weber, Ballroom E-F

3:30 PM Internet of Things on Saturday Camino Real

5:00 PM KickStarter and How to use it successfully, Camino Real

Sunday May 25

10:00 AM Interview with Toastmaster Tom Merritt, Ballroom E-F

11:30 AM Battling Creationism and Pseudoscience, Stevens Creek

5:00 PM  BoF: Podcasting BayCon 2015, Lafayette

S&L Podcast - #174 - A Wrap-up of Earthsea

Veronica is traveling in China, so we pre-recorded this episode and took the opportunity to properly wrap-up A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin. We also kick off the rest of The Martian and promise to be better about these sorts of things once Veronica is back. Still, on the bright side, we are putting in practice a ton of great suggestions from the audience. Yay audience!

Download show here!

WRAP-UP WIZARD OF EARTHSEA

The ending

Finished it, loved it, more Earthsea please!

ADDENDUMS

The Sword and Laser Antholgy: You. Can. Buy it NOW!

S&L Video: Author Spotlight -N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin writes fiction that reads like history in the best way. But could it also be romance? We ask N. K. Jemisin that and how she's able to keep a day job and still write amazing fiction. We also find out what trope she'd like to give a rest. It's our season finale and we couldn't think of a better person to help us wrap things up in style!

Download audio here. 

Download video here.

Sword and Laser at the Nebula Awards

The Nebula Awards weekend is coming up in San Jose May 15-18, with the awards themselves announced Saturday night the 17th.

Although Veronica is out of town, Tom will be there with Josh Lawrence to interview as many authors as we can trick into sitting down and chatting with us.

So far we’ve managed to get a few. If you’d like to suggest what we should ask, here are the links to the Goodreads threads where you can post your questions.

Scheduled
Emily Jiang
Ken Liu
Ann Leckie

Tentative
Samuel Delany
Dr. Gregory Benford

FEATURED REVIEW: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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 Carolina Gomez

Freedom, like anything else, is relative.

Why I read this book

Last year (2013) I read my first book from Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman, and loved it. The way she threw fiction elements while making a very impressive critique of society was amazing for me, and so I wanted to keep reading her work. The Handmaid's Tale has been mentioned several times as an iconic part of her work and when I saw it on my recommended on Audible it was a no brainer to get myself a copy.

What the book is about

The book is set in a dystopian future, taking place mostly in what used to be Massachusetts. After a "terrorist" attack, a theocratic, Christian regime has taken over. Women have lost any right they might've had and all "sinners" (homosexuals, people who committed adultery, people of other faiths) have been either killed or "re educated" (are you cringing already?) . The story is told by a woman we learn to know as Offred, this implying that she is a possession of a man with Fred on his surname. Offred has been made a Handmaid which in this new country, more than servant, implies child bearer. It is explained through the book that due to chemical contamination, radiation and other factors, procreation has been in declined in the country, and hence the government have established that officials not only have a wife, but also access to women (the handmaids) that will carry their child, sort off surrogate mothers. After delivery, the child is given to the wife to raise. Offred's destiny depends on her submission and her ability to bear children.

First impressions 

Listening to this book was hard, mostly because of the way women are treated, but also because you feel that this speculative work of fiction could easily take place again (references to other theocratic regimes are easily spotted, particularly Iran). Jumps from present to past are sometimes abrupt, but it carries a good feeling of how train of thought sometimes takes place and, in my case at least, makes the connection with the protagonist even deeper. That type of writing made me feel pain, angst and helplessness as Offred was feeling them too.

Final thoughts

Is hard for me to put into words my final thoughts. See, I have a lot of feelings when I think of this book, but they are not easy to put into paper, simply because they touch so deep. But let's try.

I felt rage as a woman, at to how women were treated. I've read some other reviews saying "well this would never happen; oh our society would never let this happen to women". And yet look at all the contraception legislation in the USA, most of the definitions are being taken by male politicians, and people are going with it.

I felt afraid of this being a plausible thing, maybe not right now where I am, but somewhere in the world there is right now a totalitarian movement, feeding, slowly maybe, and growing and getting more and more powerful. There are things that seem to happen suddenly when you are far away, but is just because you weren't in site to see the tiny changes that carried a big one. And this applies to any type of changes, positive or negative, particularly since this label is so subjective. The critic about how money was not physical anymore hit a stroke in me. I never thought about how I rely on plastic more and more. Not on credit, but I use my debit card most of the time and hence my contact with physical money has been decreasing more and more.

I felt sad at the different situations Offred had to go through, leaving her past behind, having so many memories, so many loved ones that she lost, almost overnight.

I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the book, because I wanted more closure, but at the same time, the way the author rounds the whole thing up, made me "forgive" the not knowing.

I loved Claire Danes as a narrator. At first I thought her tone was a bit flat, but this was at very beginning when the character was just stating facts. As emotions surged, as different characters appeared, so did new tones, new inflictions in her voice that made me get more into the whole story.

Nobody dies of lack of sex, is lack of love we die from 

S&L Video: Author Spotlight - Jim C. Hines

Haven’t you wondered how orcs and goblins and other monsters see the world? Do they feel unfairly vilified? Jim C. Hines can help you walk a mile in their— scaly misshapen feet. Find out why the author of the Goblin Series finds book-cover poses personally painful and whether he’ll give you a fire spider!

Download video here
Download audio here

S&L Video: Author Spotlight - Elizabeth Bear

What kind of mind can write about a faerie war in Shakespearian England and Lovecraftian Nightmares in depression-era Maine? The kind of mind that can also win a Campbell award for best new writer and then go on to notch a couple Hugos. That's the kind of mind that sits inside the cranium of Elizabeth Bear. We got a chance to talk to Ms. Bear and find out her mind on a few issues and ask her some of your questions too!

Download video here
Download audio here.

Veronica's Picks w/ Strong Lady Leads

From Popsugar:

Frozen brides! An espionage finishing school! Time-traveling romances! The Sync Up host Veronica Belmont discusses the most outrageous — but riveting — reads for geek girls and reveals her favorite of the bunch. All Veronica's picks feature strong leading ladies, so needless to say you'll see these titles on our bedside tables. Watch the segment, and find out which five books geek girls should put on their reading lists.

S&L Video: Author Spotlight - Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne was an English teacher who put up with rejection from twenty three agents and five publishers before he finally prevailed. Thank goodness he did! We would have never been able to meet Oberon! Oh, and Atticus too, of course. We ask Kevin many many things including if we can expect a TV or graphic novel adaptation, and why chicken apple sausages? 

Download audio here.
Download video here. 

 

S&L Podcast - #171 - The Martian Influx

We're very excited that James S. A. Corey's 'The Expanse' is being made into a TV series! PLUS we sat down to chat with Andy Weir and Daniel Suarez. We learn you shouldn't go for a publisher, but go for an audience, and why you should NOT tell your friends your stories but make them read what you write instead. 

Download direct link here!

 

WHAT ARE WE DRINKING

Tom: Smithwick's
Veronica: Red wine. Possibly a Pinot Noir.

QUICK BURNS

Syfy Turns James S.A. Corey's Expanse Into "Game Of Thrones In Space"
Locus awards ballot is up
Anthology will launch to public May 1!

CALENDAR

INTERVIEW
Andy Weir
Daniel Suarez

Learn more about SF in SF.

FEATURED REVIEW: The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

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

Since this book is the third in the series, there are mild spoilers for the earlier books in this review! Be warned…

The Low-Down 
The Tyrant’s Law is the third book in the Dagger and the Coin Quintet by Daniel Abraham. The series as a whole follows the emergence of a cult, worshipers of a spider goddess who gives them the ability to tell the difference between spoken lies and spoken truth. As this cult gains prevalence in the political sphere after centuries of exile, the layers of lies and deceit within the court begin to crumble. The regent of the kingdom is a devotee of the new religious order, using its truth-telling abilities to interrogate and weed out dissenters from within the court. But as more and more men and women begin to doubt his motives and his abilities, his death list grows longer and his friends are fewer and far between. New power vacuums lead to chaos and the hungry spider goddess urges her followers to swallow all of the world into her cult of truth and to purge the world of all liars in the process. 

Key Themes
Truth and lies, self-deception, genocide, imperialism, DRAGONS, banking, poisoned swords, MORE DRAGONS

What’s Good 
Like the previous books, Tyrant weaves back and forth between plot-lines and characters, allowing Abraham to show us both sides of the war. Some characters are more interesting and original than others, and this form of narrative allows the reader to avoid boredom with any one story. Furthermore, Abrahams is obviously a darling of the emerging “low fantasy” sub-genre and this allows us a glimpse into multiple layers and classes of life within the kingdom. 

    Ultimately, Tyrant is about conquest and about the nature of deception – deception of the self and deception of others. One character named Kit, an apostate priest who has abandoned the spider goddess, points out the flaws in the human-lie-detectors taking over the country. Their lie detectors are only as reliable as the people they question. That is, priests can determine confidence rather than truth. If they were to ask, “Is it raining outside?” their lie detector would only be triggered if you knew you were giving the wrong answer. If you think it is raining but it’s actually try as a bone outside, their spidey-senses don’t get tripped. This leads to a multilayered understanding of the truths within the novel. It’s not as simple as who is lying, but rather who has the correct information and how are they interpreting it, etc. 

    There are also some real character gems within the novel. The tyrant whom the book is named for, Geder, is one of the most sympathetic and horrifying villains I’ve ever read. While he orders the slaughter of children and rages like a child himself, it is very easy to understand him on his own terms – a man who has always felt powerless and foolish and is now gifted with ultimate power and a gravity that makes his previous enemies shake in their boots. He tries to use his power to protect the young prince and give him a safe kingdom to rule when he comes of age. But he does it with a petty selfishness that leaves others horrified at his actions. 

What’s Less Than Good
I have a real problem with one of the main characters – the gristled captain of the guard, Marcus Wester. He is a man tortured by his own past which has also lead him to develop a savior complex for any young women in peril. I have a hard time connecting with Marcus simply because he feels overdone and a little less than believable to me. Furthermore, his impulsive actions in the book feel forced, almost like a poor plot device to force the narrative forward, rather than authentic expressions of his desperation. Also, I’ve never been one for stoicism.  

    Additionally, Abraham’s general style is slow paced. This is definitely a commitment-level series and a commitment for a novel. Although it is enjoyable, many readers will probably find themselves tapping their fingers waiting for a chapter to be over. Don’t pick this book up expecting a fast paced read; it’s not Tolkien, but it is certainly weighty. 

The Final Verdict
Sticking with Tyrant is not a bad thing; the plot in this novel seems to finally come fully into bloom (about time, after 900+ pages!) and a lot of what has been hinted at in the previous novels is finally developed. As a part of the series, Tyrant definitely represents the rising action. Tensions are boiling over, armies are moving, and characters are in peril. More than anything, this book made me excited for the Abraham’s upcoming release in the series, The Widow’s House. Fans of the series will be excited to finally get some answers (or at least some new questions to chew on until August), and I would recommend the series to anyone with some time on their hands and an affinity for slow-burn fantasy and the up and coming genre of gritty/low fantasy. 

S&L Video: Author Spotlight - Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig has a reputation for cursing. He also has a reputation for being a badass writer of amazing characters in inventive situations, across novels, comics and movies. He also invented cornpunk. Oh wait, he ALSO writes one of the best guides for writers ever made. But what is his favorite word? Well, now you'll just have to watch for that, and to see how many times our editor has to use the bleep button. Spoiler: he uses it more on the hosts than the guest.

Download audio here.
Download video here

S&L Podcast - #169 - Sneaking Peeks and Swapping Sleeves

From a debate on whether we should read early chapters from George R.R. Martin's "Winds of Winter" to the usefulness of Asimov's three laws, to our wrap-up of Altered Carbon, this is an episode that should contain a lot of wisdom. Who knows? It might!
Download audio here!

WHAT ARE WE DRINKING?

Tom and Veronica: Bulleit Bourbon

QUICK BURNS

Amazing Stories relaunches on April 1

Pre-order William Gibson's new far-future novel The Peripheral

A New Novella from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles Series Arrives November 2014!

Excerpt from the Winds of Winter | George R.R. Martin

All Hell Breaks Loose In That New Winds of Winter Chapter

Why Asimov's Three Laws Of Robotics Can't Protect Us

CALENDAR

TV, MOVIES AND VIDEO GAMES

X-Men - Days of Future Past

BOOK CHECK-IN

WRAP-UP Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.

Finished - overall impressions?

When are you a new person?

APRIL PICKS

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

Brand by Bryan Benson

BARE YOUR SWORD

Which real-world companions would accompany you on a fantasy world quest?

SF and Fantasy Anthologies

EMAIL

***

Hey Tom and Veronica!

Listener from Bosnia here. Since you're reading Altered Carbon I'd like to weigh in.

Kovacz which is a transliteration of Kovač. The last letter is read like a "ch" sound like in cheap, chore or champion.

The "a" is more like an "ah" sound rather than "ay". Like the second "a" in "large". And Kovač means "smith". So there you go! Takeshi Kovacz - Warrior Smith!

Not chiding you for the pronunciation btw; I just found that this was an appropriate excuse to contact you!

Love the show and I hope it keeps going strong for years to come.

All the best,

Stefan

P.S.:
I hope (rather arrogantly) that this email gets picked up for the podcast because I would absolutely love hear Veronica mispronounce my name, because I'd find it quite charming!

***

Hey sword and laser!

I need some help. I'm trying to find a book I read once upon a time. It has to do with the the earths rotation stopping, I think because of an asteroid strike, and is an adventure set in what remains of civilization. I want to say it's by Navarro... But can't find any hints of it anywhere. Does this ring a bell?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

Ryan

***

FEATURED REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

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 Dara Heaps

The Martian starts with our protagonist, Mark Watney (a smart Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation to me) getting struck by shrapnel from a communication satellite as he and his crew mates evac on Mars, leaving Watney behind. This premise could be very dry with all of the technical details about oxygenators and CO2 scrubbers and water reclaimers but author Andy Weir  makes it interesting. Watney has such a great voice and he's very funny, pulling the reader into the story and immediately making Watney sympathetic. 

Lucky for Watney, he is a botanist and mechanical engineer, making him well-suited to survive alone on another planet. He's able to fix problems that arise (make water from rocket fuel, build things out of spare parts, repair his home) and grow some food from Earth soil mixed with Martian soil (yay potatoes! Boo human manure. Smelly business). To keep things interesting, (Mark is alone. Things would get boring if things didn't go wrong) bad things sometimes happen. It's fun to see how Mark figures out how to solve these problems with his limited resources.

The book also follows NASA personnel on Earth as they make plans to rescue Mark. We also spend some time with Mark's crew mates aboard the Hermes. These characters aren't as fleshed out as Watney is but that's alright. After all, this is Mark's story. The NASA folks have interesting interactions and plenty of disagreements about the right course of action. I enjoyed the Earth parts as much as Mark's parts.

Not only is the plot to The Martian gripping but the writing is great as well. It's descriptive but not overly technical without sacrificing the emotion. The research that went into this book shows. Everything that happens seems totally plausible. The technology is basically modern day with perhaps a few advanced pieces of hardware but nothing that's space magic. I'm kind of floored that this is Weir's first novel. It completely blew me away. Maybe in a few years, this will be turned into a movie. Gravity meets Moon!