Posts by: Nikki


Review – White As Snow

Posted 27 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of White as Snow by Tanith LeeWhite As Snow, Tanith Lee

There are some beautiful aspects of this book, and then there’s the fact that nearly every female character is raped, often multiple times. The beauty is mostly in some of the writing and descriptions, though some of the ideas are also pretty interesting in theory — Lee blends the story of Snow White with the Greco-Roman myth of Hades and Persephone.

This isn’t either story as you know it, though, and for me it ultimately didn’t work. The two stories didn’t blend very well, because I was spending so much time drawing parallels, and because some of the parallels seemed a little laboured. Some of it is very sensual writing, while during a lot of it the heroines act like pieces of cardboard: I understand that is the reaction of some rape victims, some of whom may never “snap out of it”, but it does unfortunately cut out a lot of the potential feeling of the story.

I did enjoy the introduction, which goes into the background of the story, and introduced me to a glorious poem by Delia Sherman, “Snow White to the Prince”, which ends:

Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair.
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.

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Review – The Incredible Hulk

Posted 26 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Incredible HulkThe Incredible Hulk, Jason Aaron, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio

I haven’t read any Hulk comics before, and I haven’t even seen the MCU movie with Edward Norton. I’ve only seen him in the Avengers movie, and goodness, I love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Just the — the tortured look, and… Anyway.

This is an interesting view of Bruce Banner and Hulk, with Hulk as the calm one and Bruce being the one who is insane. I hope MCU canon doesn’t go this way, but it’s a very interesting look at the character. It does turn into a bit of a smash fest, because it’s the Hulk, and the character of Amanda von Doom is just… I don’t know if she’s elsewhere in the canon or what, but she didn’t work as a character for me. She seemed to be just there for sex appeal and witty one-liners.

It’s a bit of a weird one, really, and I feel very, very sorry for Bruce, but I’m interested to read more when/if the girlfriend picks ’em up.

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The 2014 Sci-fi Experience

Posted 26 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Another readathon type thing readers here might be interested in…

2014sfexp200
At the same time as the Vintage SF reading group thing is going on, and Long Awaited Reads Month, although this starts earlier, we have a challenge/readathon all about reading SF. Again, something I can definitely get behind. I refer you to my Long Awaited Reads post for the books I might be reading…

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Review – Troika

Posted 25 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Troika, by Alastair ReynoldsTroika, Alastair Reynolds

I love the “Big Dumb Object” trope that Reynolds uses here. It just seems so… possible. That something we don’t understand is out there, waiting for us to find it. Some almost unfathomable relic of an alien civilisation. I think Reynolds uses that trope pretty well in Troika: it’s a neatly executed little novella, with a good twist at the end. It may not seem much to look at — it’s quite a slim volume — but Alastair Reynolds writes well, and the structure is well-executed (much as I usually dislike stories where you go back and forth between past and present).

I’m not sure why Reynolds chose the idea of a Second Soviet to frame the story, but it worked well for me. It was a bit of a shock to go from the vague idea that this was Soviet Russia — the first Soviet Russia — to realising that this is a later Russia, post-internet, post-freedom.

I didn’t get the strongly pro-space travel vibes from this that other reviewers seem to have done. To me, the situation in Russia overshadowed the possible touches of commentary on that. If anything, there was maybe a criticism of using space as a means to an end (political, to show superiority, etc) rather than as an end in itself.

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Review – A Princess of Mars

Posted 25 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Who did I see describing this as “old school, pulpy goodness”? I think that works pretty well. I’m not sure how I’m going to relate this to Herland in my SF/F essay, but I’m thinking on it… Obviously there’s a ton of colonial, North American stuff going on here, wherein a white man from Earth comes and suspiciously saves a red-skinned princess and reforms the Martian societies to good American values…

But it’s still sort of fun, and not a chore to read: the prose is straight-forward and not too crammed with infodumps, and I did get sort of fond of one or two characters, mostly Sola (perhaps because she was “civilised” and relateable before the Great White Man’s intervention).

No real surprises here, and I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to read other Barsoom books, but it’s enjoyable in its way.

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Victimless crime: piracy

Posted 25 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

“Piracy is not a victimless crime.”

This was the warning on the Pacific Rim blu-ray my partner and I watched, which couldn’t be skipped, etc. As usual with these DVDs, even though the fact that you’re seeing that makes it pretty damn likely you bought the damn DVD. But it’s not really about DVDs — at least with the music and film industries, the reaction to piracy is more or less taken as read. There’s still a debate, though, in the book industry. With the availability of ebooks, suddenly everyone is afraid of piracy, everyone has an axe to grind — or some people (Cory Doctorow, mainly, Neil Gaiman to some extent, etc) embrace the genre, though there is some serious wrongheadedness on that side of things about the nature of an ebook.

(For my thoughts on the “dead tree books are the be-all and end-all” issue, please see an early post on this blog, RIP print?)

Look. The thing is… piracy is a victimless crime. It can’t be put on the same level as theft, because with theft there is a finite amount of an item which has cost money to produce, and the theft of that item means it can’t be sold for profit. If a shirt is stolen, it can’t also be sold to someone else at the same time. If a book is stolen, you’re out a copy of a book, and can’t sell it. But with ebooks… it’s a whole different ballgame. Okay, you’re being done out of a sale you might have made, but you aren’t losing a finite resource. The bits of code that make up your book aren’t unique. Even if someone takes off the DRM, copies it and sticks it on a torrent site, that does not stop you making a sale in the same way at all.

In fact, as many people who practise piracy will tell you, they use piracy as a way to sample media. Then if they enjoy it, they’ll probably buy it. I’m gonna ‘fess up: I loved Avengers so much that I got a cam of it the minute one was up so I could watch it over and over. I did the same with the first Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. The day the DVDs came out, I bought them. The blu-rays, even. Heck, I bought my blu-ray player so I could see Avengers in blu-ray, and I got the special edition pack with all the MCU movies in blu-ray at once.

Did I mention I also saw Avengers three or four times in the cinema? Same with Sherlock Holmes.

(If they made digital downloads available simultaneously with the theater release, I’d see a lot more films. As it is, pretty much only Marvel and The Hunger Games get my money before the DVD releases. I don’t do illegal downloads unless I’ve already been to the theater an ungodly number of times, but I’d be a heck of a lot more interested in a digital download or even streaming or… Anyway. Yeah. Not about the movie industry.)

I can understand the arguments against about intellectual value and ebooks not being free to produce, I really can, but it puts my back up when people talk about it being theft. Most people who pirate stuff would never buy it if they had to pay for it and couldn’t get it free. Most people who pirate a lot of stuff don’t ever view most of it.

I’m not sure I agree with the idea that piracy equals exposure and any exposure is good exposure. I can get why a bunch of hypothetical sales don’t look like much when it’d be a favour just to get a couple of purchases now. Working for free is never fun. But I do think we need to think carefully about how we define our terms: when it’s just a file full of code that’s been “stolen”, an infinite resource, “theft” seems very much like the wrong word — and accusing people of theft for doing something “everybody does” (which is, I know, not an excuse) isn’t going to win you any fans.

For whatever it’s worth, my suggestion is not to blame the individual fans who download pirated copies of your book (or whatever other media). Take a look at the sellers, see how much they’re jacking up prices or what kind of proprietary software they’re using, and change things. If it’s so essential to your income, you need to put aside a bit of your time each week to figure out who you need to serve take-down notices to. Heck, you can even ask your readers to report any unauthorised sites selling or giving away your book so you can get to it easier.

Don’t start from a place of suspicion. Engage readers in a dialogue, make them want to protect your work, and you’re more than halfway there.

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Long Awaited Reads Month: January

Posted 24 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

LAR Button Final
Came upon this via Lynn. Long Awaited Reads Month is about getting round to books you’ve had for a long time and haven’t got round to reading. This sounds pretty much like my entire life, but hey — getting involved with stuff! That’s supposed to be good for you, right? And it’s being held in January 2014, which also coincides with some other reading challenges.

Now, me being me, if I make a proper reading list I’ll get cranky about it, but I can at least pick out some stuff I think I’m likely to read and natter about it a bit…

-L-J Baker, Lady Knight: I’ve had it on my to-read list for ages, though I only bought the ebook in the last year or so. Basically, lesbian fantasy with a female knight, how could I say no?
-Liliana Brodoc, The Days of the Deer: I know very little about it, but it was compared to Ursula Le Guin’s work and that’s enough for me.
-Gillian Bradshaw, The Bearkeeper’s Daughter: Or possibly a different Bradshaw novel, but this one features Byzantium with Theodora and Justinian, which I loved as re-written by Guy Gavriel Kay in The Sarantine Mosaic, so it’s probably higher on my list.
-Jacqueline Carey, Dark Currents: Because the second book’s out already and Carey’s prose is always a joy to read.
-C.J. Cherryh, Kesrith: Giving Cherryh another chance, though I didn’t enjoy the one book of hers I read ’cause rapey. Also counts for the Vintage Science Fiction one.-John Crowley, Little, Big: It’s a classic and I’ve wanted to read it for ages. It doesn’t quite qualify for Vintage SF…
-Catherine Fisher, Incarceron & Sapphique: Had these on the reading list for yeaaars. It’s about time I got round to them. I can’t even remember what originally made them sound exciting — positive reviews, I think.
-Parke Godwin, Firelord & Beloved Exile: Arthurian stuff with a positive Guinevere. Should’ve read it a few years back for an essay, but ended up changing my topic, and so… never got round to it.
-M.C.A. Hogarth, The Worth of a Shell: Recommended by Lynn, I believe, and it’s been on my to read list for a while, if not for quite as long as some of the others in this list.
-Ira Levin, The Boys from Brazil: Vintage SF, and something one of my teachers always referred to back in high school. So I’ve been meaning to read it for at least six years now. Whoops.
-Seanan Maguire, Rosemary and Rue: Because everyone’s so enthusiastic about it. (Well, nearly everyone.)
-Vonda N. McIntyre, The Moon and the Sun: Veeeery high reviews from people I trust, and I remember getting excited over an excerpt. Some alternate history, I think?
-Maria V. Snyder, Touch of Power: I have no idea why I haven’t got round to this (and the sequel). I don’t think the world of this author, but I’ve always found her work solidly enjoyable.
-Jack Vance, Suldrun’s Garden: And probably the other books too, but I’ll start with Suldrun’s Garden. I’ve meant to read it sometime very soon for… years now? Everytime I think about it (like right now) I want to move it to the front of the queue. Then I get distracted by something younger and prettier.
-David Weber, The Short Victorious War: I read the first Honor Harrington book ages book and loved it. Muuuust get round to reading more.
-Jeanette Winterson, Battle of the Sun: I’ve had this for ages; I usually enjoy Winterson’s work, and I liked her other YA novel, Tanglewreck, best of all. So I’m quite hopeful about this one.

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Announcing Vintage Science Fiction Month!

Posted 23 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I’m definitely up for this! And I’ve offered to do a guest post, too, on Isaac Asimov. Probably on my favourite of his works, The Positronic Man. I read it when I was ten — I had to get that out of the library on my mother’s account, because they wouldn’t believe I was old enough to read it. I kept it so long she had the most epic library fine I can remember accruing ever.

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Review – Herland

Posted 23 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Herland, by Charlotte Perkins GilmanHerland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Herland is… hm. Unfortunately bland, really. Charlotte Perkins Gilman seems to have set out to portray a utopian, perfect society of women that shows up all the faults and contradictions of the contemporary world. Unfortunately, that society seems so flat and lacking in individuality that I wouldn’t want to be there. It also makes motherhood the pinnacle of a woman’s being, something to long for.

I’m female-bodied and apparently possessed of the various bits you’d expect given that. I really, really don’t want children, and I’m not interested in motherhood in any way, let alone some sanctified, deified version of it.

It is, of course, very much of its time. For when she lived, Gilman was pretty liberal, with anti-racist views and so on. But her vision of what could be was limited by that and ends up seeming rather pathetic.

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An interview with Lynn

Posted 22 November, 2013 by Nikki in Interviews / 5 Comments

Hi folks! This is the first author interview post I’m doing here. I hope to do more in future, though I haven’t got any lined up. If you think you’d be interested in being interviewed on this blog, get in touch with me at bibliophibianbreathesbooks@gmail.com and let me know what books you’ve got out there and why I should be interested.

Lynn E. O’Connacht has been mentioned a few times on my blog before. She’s a friend, and she recently has an ebook out on Smashwords, Feather by Feather and Other Stories. (Amazon UK, Amazon US.) She has two short stories available for free, too: The Witch and the Changeling, and The Swan Maiden. I encourage you to check out her work, especially if you find this interview interesting.

So, here we go.

Cover of Feather by Feather and other stories, by Lynn E. O'ConnachtHi, Lynn. What’s the first thing you’d like new readers to know about you? Is there a particular story you’d recommend they start with?

Hi. ^-^ Thank you for having me. You’re a sweetie. The first thing I’d like new readers to know about me… Hmm… You don’t start with easy questions, do you? *laughs* I guess the first thing I’d like readers to know is that I appreciate their taking a chance on my stories and hope they’ll enjoy them and… That’s not really where you were going with that question, was it? *thinks* No, I’m sorry. That’s all I’ve got.

As for a story to start with… I’d suggest either The Swan Maiden or The Witch and the Changeling, actually. They’re both also collected in Feather by Feather, but they’re free and they’ll give readers a good idea whether they’ll like my general style before buying (or sampling) the collection. The first is a short fantasy romance and the second is a brief folktale-esque story about, well, a witch and a changeling.

If you’ve picked up Feather by Feather already then I suggest reading them in order. I’ve tried to mix up the weaker and the stronger stories, so there’s no perpetual low at any point.

You’re self-publishing your work, so I’m wondering: is that a decision that took a long time to come to, or was it a no-brainer? Do you hope one day to go the mainstream route, or are you enjoying your freedom?

It’s a little bit of a mixed bag. I’m actually working on becoming a hybrid author, someone who’s both traditionally published and self/indie-published. I have enjoyed the freedom a lot and I admit that it’s a major factor in my decision, even though it actually makes more financial sense for me to plug away only at traditional venues. I’ll have to see what the future brings, but I doubt I’ll go traditional-only. I wouldn’t able to write all the stories I want to the way I want to.Cover of The Witch and the Changeling by Lynn E. O'Connacht

What’s the most challenging thing about self-publishing your work?

Hmmm… Depending on when you ask me that’s probably hitting the publishing button or getting the word out. (Hitting that button is so, so scary.) But getting the word out is pretty challenging too. One of the best ways to introduce people to your book is by word-of-mouth and bloggers, but a lot of bloggers, especially the bigger names, won’t accept self-published titles for review at all. The last time I was active in the book blogging community I didn’t accept self-published titles either. Part of that is because I didn’t have a way to read ebooks at the time and sending print books overseas is very prohibitive, but I admit that another part of it was the stigma about the quality of self-published works. I’ve had several absolutely wonderful experiences with indie authors since then, though, and I hope I’ll be like that for other readers out there too.

There are some stories that come easy, and some that really don’t. What was the hardest story to write? Do you love it more or less because of the effort?

The hardest story to write in Feather by Feather? That’s probably a toss-up between the peeweww stories or The Passage of Pearl. Every story, easy or hard, comes with its own set of challenges, so they were all difficult for their own reasons. Those two are just the ones I suspect were the hardest.

The peeweww stories were hard because I’m a non-visual writer and every aspect of those stories rely on visuals. There are no humans, or even humanoid characters, in the peeweww pieces, so the narrative needs to be heavier on the description to get the world across. Not only that, but peeweww communicate through imagery.

With The Passage of Pearl I just struggled a lot to get balance right and there were a fair amount of external things that kept going wrong and undermining my confidence in the piece as a whole. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, though! It’s a very quiet novelette.

What was the first fantasy book world you remember getting lost in? Does it still seem so exciting to you today?

I’m going to say The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t remember getting lost in it, exactly, but it’s the first fantasy book world I remember that wasn’t a fairytale. I always call it the book that sold me on fantasy. ^-^

My dad read it me when I was a teeny tiny Lynn and couldn’t read by myself and it was the only book he ever did read to me. He’s dyslectic and doesn’t like reading because it’s really hard for him to do, so it holds some very special memories and it always crops up when I’m asked a question like this.

I’ll be honest and admit that it actually doesn’t seem so exciting to me today, but that’s largely because someone read the book to me that first time and ever after I read it on my own, in silence. Tolkien’s books are meant to be heard and listened to. A couple of years ago I got a chance to snap up a cd with Tolkien reading excerpts of his own works and… it was magical. One of the most beautiful bookish experiences I’ve ever had. Having the books read to me just brings the world to life in a way that reading it doesn’t. (It’s odd because I normally can’t stand listening audiobooks. They’re so slow compared to my own reading speed.)

Cover of The Swan Maiden by Lynn E. O'ConnachtQuite early in our acquaintance, we had a conversation about narrators which changed my viewpoint on it entirely. Would you like to ramble a little bit about that here? Do you have any suggestions of authors who do it right?

I can certainly try to ramble a bit about it! I think first person narratives are the most difficult to write well. What I look for in a first person narrative is relatively simple from a reader’s perspective: I want a story that convinces me the narrator would be telling this story to reader (or writing it down) and I want the narrative voice to fall apart, more or less, when I’m substituting the pronouns with third person ones. Failing that I’ll settle for a story or set of characters that’s at least compelling enough to ignore the issues I’m having with the narrative.

From a writer’s perspective, what I want is really, really hard. They’re extremely high standards and I’ll freely admit that I don’t meet them either. Most authors don’t. Those that do tend to have written an epistolary (such as Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley), made the narration a central part of the structure (Chime by Franny Billingsley), or have a very clear and defined voice (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon).

So those are three examples of first person narratives I find well-done for various reasons. I’ve actually had to lower my standards a little since we had that conversation, since I had a fairly long streak of books that were in first person, failed to do what I wanted them to do, and still didn’t make me want to throw them against a wall in frustration. I’m still trying to work out what those authors are doing differently, so I haven’t quite refined what I’ve learned into words yet.

I also really appreciated the first person narration in The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford works. It’s one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator that I’ve read. And, of course, Jo Walton’s first person narratives. I have a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with her works, but I do appreciate the way she tackles first person.

And here’s a silly one to finish on: if you had the opportunity to have dinner with an author (living, dead, it’s all possible for our purposes here), and no issues of shyness would get in the way, who would you pick?

I like the circular nature of the difficulty of these questions. I know that’s not intentional, but still. It amuses me and I’m a silly. I think… Charles de Lint or Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve loved almost every book I’ve read by them and I think if shyness wasn’t an issue I’d find talking about writing and whatever else we’d drift onto absolutely fascinating and quite educational.

Thanks for answering my questions! It’s lovely having you here on my blog.

You’re welcome! Thank you again for having me and asking the questions. I had fun answering them. If readers have any other questions for me, I’ll try and answer them in the comments if that’s all right with you. ^-^

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