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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Review: Ultimate Spider-man vol.1: Power and Responsibility

Posted 22 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ultimate Spider-manUltimate Spider-man vol.1: Power and Responsibility, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley

I think I used to watch Spider-man cartoons, or certainly I had Spider-man somewhere in my consciousness, but I haven’t seen the films (although I got a free download of the latest one for my PS Vita when I bought it, I should look into that) and I wasn’t entirely clear on Spider-man lore. So the Ultimates collection seems to be a good choice for me, given that they update and clarify the origin stories as a start. And lucky me, my girlfriend has a whole stack of them.

(I hear Ultimate Cap is a dick, though. Bluh.)

Peter is a fun hero — snarky and sassy, but not cocksure. He’s sassy because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he doesn’t know what’s happening. This volume establishes the way he gets his powers, and why he becomes a superhero. Definitely enjoyed it, and I recommend it. It’s not bogged down by extraneous details, there are no other heroes muddying the waters (i.e. Young Avengers style: they’re somewhat hampered by nursemaid!Cap and Iron Man), and the art is clear with all characters easily distinguishable. Peter’s an adorable dork, and I’d like to see a lot more of Mary Jane.

I won’t post reviews of all twenty-two volumes here, but I might post reviews of my favourites as I go along.

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Nothing says I love you like a book

Posted 22 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

No matter what the occasion, I try to buy people a book. It means some adaptation, and buying books I don’t normally buy — paranormal romance for my sister, certain types of non-fiction for my dad, violent crime fiction for one of my ex-housemates — but I do like to think about it, to pick out something that just fits. (I have one major failure: my best friend since childhood, Laura. Craft books, yes, but anything you could settle down and read… she doesn’t have the time/patience for it unless she’s on holiday, and then her taste is for chick lit type stuff. Hm, an idea strikes…) Luckily, a lot of people around me share my taste: Amy, my partner, my mum, to a great extent my sister.

So yeah, you know I love you when I come home from the charity shop glowing with glee and a stack of books carefully picked out just to suit your taste. My former housemates should be pretty familiar with this situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my happily united book couple successes — and then, if you like, you can comment with a book and some facts about someone, and see whether I can think of something.

For Dad: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Because whether he likes it or not, some of it is very relevant to things he believes about himself. Granted, he probably didn’t see it that way, but he did carry the book around with him from Christmas to the New Year. He’s a non-fiction reader, gave up on fiction a long time ago, but his knowledge tends to be widespread and general, so I always try to aim for something like this, rather than something super-technical.

For Mum: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry and Tigana came first, I think, but it was Lions that had her texting me at three in the morning from Italy or Spain or whatever fancy conference she was at. (This is reciprocal more than any other book-giving relationship I have: she introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others.)

For Squirt (my sister): The most memorable occasion was when I handed over her first Alastair Reynolds book, Century Rain. She’s been a fan ever since, and it actually kickstarted her into doing a lot more reading. I think her trust for my taste began at that moment. We actually went to a reading/signing by Alastair Reynolds, and her knees were practically knocking with nerves — my fierce little sister’s knees were knocking!

For the girlfriend: Occasionally I try and break her heart with stuff like Civil War: Iron Man, but mostly I’m nice and push books like The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge) her way. One of our oldest literary successes was The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper). There was also Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, and more recently Jo Walton’s work you can see we share very similar taste in books. On the other hand, Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent bored her to death, where I love love love loved them, so it’s not all perfect.

For Amy (former housemate): The biggest hit was Garth Nix’s work. It’s now become a yearly Christmas tradition: a Garth Nix book or series, every year. He’ll need to write more, soon, or I’m doomed. Given that Amy’s dyslexic, Spellwright by Blake Charlton could’ve gone either way, but she ended up liking it.

For Ruth (former housemate): This was a lucky one. She mentioned being interested in the Tudors and particularly Lady Jane Grey. I found Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor a couple of days later in a charity shop.

For Lynn E. O’Connacht: I can’t actually remember anything specific here, but we’ve traded books fairly frequently, starting with her sending me King Arthur’s Death (trans. Brian Stone), which contains the alliterative and stanzaic Morte Arthure poems. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon is another Lynn sent me.

So… yeah. If I love you, expect a book this Christmas (if I can get you anything at all, which is a different matter).

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 20 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Let’s see… mostly comics. The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells, was the last novel — read it for my SF/F class, though I discovered I hadn’t actually read it before anyway. Comics-wise, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, Avengers vs X-men: VS., and Young Avengers Presents. All Marvel comics.

What are you currently reading?
Actively, P.G. Wodehouse’s The Small Bachelor, Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland; the latter, is once again, for my SF/F class.

What do you think you’ll read next?
The plan is to read Captain America: Winter Soldier, I think. Then maybe I’ll get round to the acclaimed Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie).

Books acquired:
Last book before I came here was Nicola Griffith’s Hild, I think. Then there was a little shopping spree in Brussels and Leuven: Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation (Ruby Blondell), The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (Caspar Henderson), The Prisoner (Thomas M. Disch), The Song of Troy (Colleen McCullough), In Search of Shakespeare (Michael Wood), The Folding Knife (K.J. Parker) and Alphabet of Thorn (Patricia A. McKillip). Some bought for me by my partner, eee. Also I bought her Fly By Night (Frances Hardinge).

There was also a library trip. I have to report that the library in Leuven is pretty good for English-language books. So my haul from there was Mockingbird (Walter Tevis), The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, The Lover’s Dictionary (David Levithan), and White as Snow (Tanith Lee).

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Review – Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

Posted 19 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Avengers: The Children's Crusade, a Marvel comicAvengers: The Children’s Crusade, Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Olivier Coipel, Alan Davis

Children’s Crusade is pretty awesome. It’s not exactly a pure Young Avengers comic — it’s definitely a crossover comic — but it does feature quite a lot of Billy being awesome, supported by the other Young Avengers, and a fair bit of Teddy being awesome. It also features their first (I think) on-page kiss, and is generally more blatant about their relationship than the other comics so far. There’s some awesome dialogue, and some lovely funny geeky bits about Billy and Teddy.

It also pulls in the X-Men, the Avengers, backlash from House of M, and features quite a few characters we know and love (or hate).

It’s also not without consequences, as even the Young Avengers lose people from their line-up.

On the other hand, I can see some other people’s problems with it: it seems to go back on some previous Marvel events and erase their consequences, and it really is one gigantic squabble between various superhero groups, with the teenage Young Avengers coming out as maybe the most mature.

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Competition winner

Posted 15 November, 2013 by Nikki in Giveaways / 2 Comments

The winner was Rachel, who guessed that I’d be bringing seven books with me to Belgium. I actually brought six books with me (along with my ereaders and a bunch of comic books to share with Lisa). Rachel picked the author — Guy Gavriel Kay — and left the choice of the exact book up to me. I picked Tigana, which I will be sending her as soon as finances allow!

For the curious, the six books that came with me:

-Rose Tremain, Restoration
-Katharine Beutner, Alcestis
John Williams, Augustus
-P.G. Wodehouse, The Small Bachelor
-Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
-Robert Llewellyn, News from Gardenia

This surprised pretty much everyone, including myself.

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Review – Fun Home

Posted 15 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison BechdelFun Home, Alison Bechdel

I first heard of Alison Bechdel through fandom and the Bechdel test. This is a simple way of evaluating the gender bias of a film:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.

Because it’s simple, it’s not always true. (Do Natasha Romanov, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill talk to each other in Avengers? No. Are they all female characters worth watching and identifying with? Yes.) But quite often, it is. (Sorry, Supernatural, but really. Really.)

I actually came round to reading anything of Alison Bechdel’s — beyond that simple strip that gave us those rules — through my comics and graphic novels course. I was only very vaguely aware that Alison Bechdel identifies as a lesbian, and not at all aware of her family story. Fun Home is essentially a memoir in comic form, though.

I enjoyed the literary allusions quite a lot, and I liked the art style as well. It’s not immensely ornate or anything like that, but it has feeling and personality. To say it has warmth is a bit of a stretch when you’re talking something that deals with such heavy topics and which has such an emotionally distant family at its heart, but you can feel for the characters. Fun Home feels like it was a catharsis for Bechdel, putting into words and images things she’d always felt and not voiced, making parallels that were helpful for her, figuring out links — even engaging in a bit of wishful thinking.

It’s interesting how, in my experience of reading this book, there were three levels of acceptance of gay people: not at all (Bruce Bechdel), as part of the women’s movement (Alison Bechdel) and as part of life (me). It opens a little window on what might have been my life. Not everything that Bruce Bechdel did could be excused, and I don’t want to assume too much about Alison Bechdel’s feelings, but I do feel lucky not to be trapped like Bruce and even Alison.

My coming out experiences with my parents…

ME: Mum, I’m bisexual and I’m dating Lisa.
MUM: Don’t cut your hair! You know sexuality is a continuum, right? I don’t want you to label yourself just because of something you’re feeling right now.

[Some years later]

ME: Dad, if you haven’t noticed that me and Lisa are dating, you’re possibly a bit stupid.
DAD: I didn’t.
ME: Oh. Well, we are.
DAD: Okay.

I do still needle my mum about the stereotyping behind “don’t cut your hair” (it was my pride and joy at the time, waist length and thick and a little bit curly — and I’ve since cut my hair pretty short, and she likes it), but… thank goodness for my family and the fact that there was no one walking in front of a bread truck.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The last thing I finished reading was David Levithan’s The Realm of Possibility, which is a prose-poetry novel/collection of short stories. Ultimately I liked it a lot more than I expected to when I realised about the format. Before that, it was short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, for my SF/F class — and they are really, really boring (to me). Bah.

What are you currently reading?
More homework from my counsellor: Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman. And I started Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany today. Other than that, still reading The Holders by Julianna Scott — not sure I’ve even touched it in the last week, oops — and various other ARCs and novels I’ve been partway through for Far Too Long.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I should probably just focus on what I’m already reading… but knowing me, that won’t happen. Right now I’m thinking Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, for a start, and then I should probably catch up with Apex and Beneath Ceaseless Skies…

Books acquired:
Well, today me, Mum and my sister had a bit of a shopping spree, so… Shadowmarch (Tad Williams), Augustus (John Williams), Fun Home (Alison Bechdel), The Algebraist & The State of the Art (Iain M. Banks), A Dance of Cloaks (David Dalglish) and The Ghost Hunters (Neil Spring). Recent ARCs include Poets Translate Poets (ed. Paula Dietz) and Signal to Noise (Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean).

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