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March 25, 2022

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Michael Cain, I understand your reasoning. If you still occasionally dip in, and for anybody else interested, I highly recommend the follow-ups in the world of the First Law (listed below), I think they got better and better. However, and further to nous's mention of YA fiction, since I liked Joe Abercrombie so much I read his Shattered Sea trilogy, which is YA (no problem for me, I have always read in most categories including children's books), and found it rather disappointing, so don't recommend.

The first trilogy is:

The Blade Itself
Before they are Hanged
Last Argument of Kings

Then, standalone but in the same world and with references to characters etc:

Best Served Cold
The Heroes
Red Country

Then following on from the original and the standalones, The Age of Madness trilogy:

A Little Hatred
The Trouble with Peace
The Wisdom of Crowds

There's also a companion book of short stories called Sharp Ends.

I've enjoyed his books more than most others in the last year or two. Also Becky Chambers Wayfarers. Any other recommendations very gratefully received; I feel very insecure when in the middle of a series (as I now am in the Expanse) with no obvious one to follow! SciFi or (non-sappy) Fantasy seem to be the genres in which I can most easily lose myself these days, and that (I regret to say) is the aim. And, FWIW, in SciFi, it is not the battles/armaments stuff I am particularly interested in, it is characters, teams/family groups, politics and, where the science is concerned, only to the extent that it enables thought experiments. What a list of requirements!


nous: thanks for Planetside recommendation. It looks interesting, even though thrillers are usually not exactly my jam, so is now on the list.

YA is a fraught category that is shaped as much by the structure of publishing as it is by literary conventions and readerships. If an author has a book with a young adult as the protagonist, then the author (with the input of their agent if they have one) has to decide which editors to send the manuscript to, and YA editors tend to have a much more market driven view of their acquisitions than do editors that work in the adult market.

So if the manuscript has a difficult narrative style, or has an adult character as a narrative POV, or any one of a bunch of other tics that might turn off or challenge a younger reader, then it's probably going to have to go through an editor and house that works in the adult market.

Of course once the book is picked up and hits the pre-publication marketing cycle that book with a YA protagonist and an adult publisher could get favorable reviews in a library journal and catch the eye of YA librarians, and find its way into the hands of YA readers that way.

So I'd say that YA is a sometimes-complex amalgam of genre, marketing, and mode. There are YA writers that work the genre/marketing side of things quite well (a lot of them have screenwriting or comics experience) and others who happen to tell a story that resonates with young adults and others who enjoy stories set in young adult environments. Think The Hunger Games vs. The Princess Bride.

YA = non-erotic fantasy works by female author.

Unfortunately, differences between serious fantasy work and young adult novel is often gender of author.

Unfortunately, differences between serious fantasy work and young adult novel is often gender of author.

Would that be personal gender or nom de plume gender? I wonder because my impression is that editors/publishers (as opposed to agents) generally don't actually meet the authors.

Not a book recommendation, but this was a classic episode of DS-9

https://labornotes.org/blogs/2022/03/tv-review-workers-deep-space-unite

wj - editors often haven't met the author if it is a first-time, unagented submission, but there is usually going to be some form of personal contact as soon as the editor acquires that work. If the author has an agent, then the agent may act as an intermediary, but it's still common for the authors to meet the editors (especially in SF).

We met my wife's current editor and had dinner with her (along with the other editors from the house and several of their authors). Pretty common for a SFF con.

My impression is that young adult authors are at greater risk of being the targets of "How dare you!" mobs.

Since I apparently started this, or at least contributed, I suppose I should write something. This is probably too long.

I started reading the Honor Harrington novels fairly soon after they were out. I had to do a fair amount of business travel and they satisfied all the conditions that "airplane novels" were supposed to meet: interesting but not too-interesting characters, action, the plot moved along at a reasonable pace, thick. The science part of the science fiction was geared to match the general plot: Napoleonic navy transit and communications times, wormholes to take the place of strategic choke points. Cruise missiles rather than cannons. Standard scifi political tropes.

It became broadly known that David Weber had plotted out a series of sane length in considerable detail. But then the publishers told him not to kill off Harrington, and then other authors wanted to write in that universe and the timing of some of the villains was changed drastically. The books got longer as Weber became "too famous to edit". Even after I was no longer traveling, I had a lot of time invested and read to see how things were going to work out. Then Weber had serious health issues and rather abruptly wrapped up the Honor Harrington story line. By then the Crown of Slaves spinoff actually had more interesting characters, but Eric Flint has not shown any particular hurry to work on that. (As a side note, at least from my perspective, Weber's Safehold series got the same abrupt windup treatment at very nearly the same time.)

Somewhere along the way, though, two aspects of the technology caught my attention. One, the spaceships became weapons platforms rather than weapons themselves. The purpose of building a bigger battleship was so that it could launch and control more missiles. This is now happening in lots of places. Eg, the F-35's dogfight performance is immaterial. If an F-35 gets into a dogfight, the pilot has done something horribly wrong. The pilot's job is to deliver ever-smarter munitions into a general area. Two, it's one of the few space opera universes where they have artificial gravity and actually do something with it. Dirt-cheap transport to orbit. 400G acceleration while stuck in normal space. Non-material warship armor. Buildings no longer dependent on strength of materials. Faster than light communication over solar system sorts of distance. The last one is probably wrong. OTOH, we don't have any theories that allow for artificial gravity, so who knows?

I can't really recommend the series to someone just starting out. The pace becomes glacial, then the main story abruptly ends. It's just too much work for the overall reward. YMMV.

I started out early on Honor Harrington, too. But it lost interest, probably around the time that, as Michael put it, the author got "too famous to edit." On the other hand, Weber's Oath of Swords fantasy series, is quite amusing. And his Mutineer's Moon trilogy isn't half bad either.

Yeah, you're right about the abrupt Honor wind-up, but I am now semi-invested in Crown of Slaves. I haven't bothered with Saganami Island or Manticore Ascendant.

Donald, that was a good DS-9 episode, I remember it well.

I don't remember the N K Jemisin flap that ral mentioned. What was it about? I read the Broken Earth trilogy, and thought it clever, but it didn't emotionally engage me, or even narratively engross me. That's stopped me reading more, but I might go back to her in desperation, when I run out of other things.

GftNC - What I most appreciated about Planetside was the way that Mammay writes that messy interface between an occupying military force and the place being occupied from the POV of someone who is boots-on-the-ground. It has the right feel for that based on everything I’ve heard from the veterans and embedded journalists I’ve talked to over the years. It’s SF in the “cognitive estrangement” school of real world experience made just enough alien to provide critical distance.

I liked the first two Honor books ( didn’t care for the political subtext much, but usually don’t let that bother me). I then read the summary of the series on Wikipedia ( yes, I d look to see how things end), decided I probably wouldn’t like it that much and stopped reading it.

But I did enjoy the first two.

I need to get the last Expanse book and also finish watching the TV version.

The last season of The Expanse feels rushed, but it’s well worth finishing.

I like the series (books and tv) well enough, but like Cherryh’s Union/Alliance books better overall.

Gtnfc-

I have been rewatching DS 9. It had its clunky episodes like all of the Star Trek series but overall it was my favorite Star Trek series. I haven’t watched any of the new shows out now. The JJ Abrams movies were horrible, unless one is simply in the mood to watch Spock and Khan have a fistfight. Even their starship battles are boring.

On the related fantasy front, I ended up being revolted in several ways by the debacle of the final season of Game of Thrones but was also bored and disgusted by books 4 and 5 and ended up having a reaction against all the “ grimdark” version of fantasy. Fantasy has to have at least some aspect of a happy ending for me or there is no point. If I want darkness I can read some parts of history, almost anything about foreign policy, or else some truly great piece of literature. ( Never cared much for King Lear either but at least that Shakespeare guy could write.)

Tried to read Jemisen but quickly got bored. I wouldn’t say I gave her a fair chance, but it doesn’t matter much— it’s not like her reputation depends on my opinion.

Donald,

I did enjoy DS-9, particularly the Bajoran-Cardassian thread. I also loved Jadziah, and the whole Dax symbiont thing. But the later series of TNG were probably my faves. And for some reason, I too have not even tried the new shows out now.

I read the first three or four books of GOT, but never watched any of the series, and lost interest in the books while waiting.

Yes, Fantasy (and actually SciFi too) for me has to have some kind of (even if complicated and compromised) happiness. Real life is hard enough. But Jesus, there is a lot of tripe published in the SciFi and Fantasy genres, and I'm sure in Romance too. Clearly, the demand outstrips the decent supply.

I used to value Doc Science's recommendations from the Hugos (I think it was through her I got into the Ancillary series), but in her absence I have been checking several previous years' nominees and ordering them, as well as lists from the NYT etc. A girl (from the NC) has to get her recommendations where she can!

GftNC, the flap I referred to was the opposition by "sad puppies" to her Hugo wins. I only mention it because there was some discussion here at ObWi, that was all I knew about it. I see Vox has a write-up: https://www.vox.com/2018/8/21/17763260/n-k-jemisin-hugo-awards-broken-earth-sad-puppies

Probably you have already read the Jao Empire books (only 3), but just in case: https://www.baen.com/the-course-of-empire.html

Fairly military but with a considerable twist.

ral,

thanks, I remember the Sad Puppies. I had forgotten Jemisin's connection.

But I don't know the Jao Empire books (three will just have to do), so I'm on to AbeBooks as we speak/write!

Cheaper on Kindle, so done.

It's so interesting what really hits the spot and what doesn't. I'm unsure if it's literary merit (kind of unlikely in the case of my non-love for the Jemisin trilogy, because I trust the general appreciation/love for it), or some aspect of personal affinity. I wasn't crazy about the Daevabad trilogy either, although again it was good enough that I did read the whole thing.

The last season of The Expanse feels rushed, but it’s well worth finishing.

I read the last book when it first came out, and have watched all of the series except the last one. I don't see how the last season could be anything else but rushed if it's going to wind up anywhere close to where the last book went.

In today's era of Weber and Martin and Abercrombie and others' massive fantasy series, I always encourage people who haven't done so to read Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber five-book series. Authors wrote on a different scale then. It was the first series where I recall worrying about whether the author would die before finishing it. (I've given up on Martin, he'll never finish, and the less said about the last season of the TV series the better. This is not the only blog I visit where I think the collective commentariate could have done a better job.) I recall when I realized somewhere in the third or fourth of the Amber books that there were small forward references in the earlier ones that indicated Zelazny knew exactly where it was going when he started.

On fantasy, if you want lighthearted but good, then T Kingfisher is an antidote to the GRR Martin style. I have read most of her books, including one or two in the YA realm, like The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking,

I like some of Bujold, but the Penric series got too cute for me. The Sharing Knife series seems just a bit creepy to me, because the heroine is a teenager married to someone much older. That happened in the novel based on medieval Spain ( forgot the name but it is in the Penric universe) ) but it didn’t seem creepy there, probably because the young woman in that one seemed e mature and sophisticated and because in a medieval setting it seems different somehow. Or anyway, I didn’t get a weird vibe.

On military SF I am hooked on Joel Shepherd’s space opera. The characters are likable, even the ruthless AI queen, and I dread what sort of betrayal might be coming up. Might be wrong.

The Spiral Wars is the Shepherd series I liked. Just visited Amazon and it looks like there might be another SF series there. I started his fantasy series but wasn’t that fascinated by it.

I remember the Nine Princes in Amber from a former life, probably four decades ago! That was my previous SciFi/Fantasy period. I should probably read them again, I have completely forgotten everything. I also remember loving Lord of Light.

On Bujold, I loved the Vorkosigans, but didn't much like The Sharing Knife (although again, I think I read it all. I have an addiction to feed, you know). I don't mind Penric, which is a development of her World of the Five Gods series (containing your medieval Spain one I think), but none of it is as good as the SciFi.

I've read a bunch of T Kingfisher: I'm keenest on the Paladins books and the Clocktaur War stuff. I think she's talented, and readable, and I love the gnoles.

I did think Ann Leckie's Ancillary trilogy was terrific, and I also liked the standalone in the same universe, Provenance. But I must admit, I wasn't particularly keen on her foray into fantasy, The Raven Tower.

I hadn't heard of Joel Shepherd. He seems to have written a lot (a very good sign from my POV), and also fantasy. I'll look into him. Anybody else familiar who can give a steer on which of his books are best etc, that'd be great too.

Anyone feeling either curious enough or masochistic enough to wade through the Sad Puppies history again, I'd recommend Camestros Felapton's "The Puppy Kerfuffle Timeline," "The Puppy Kerfuffle Map,"and his "Hugosauriad" 4.5 to 4.7 entries on his blog:

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/the-puppy-kerfuffle-timeline/

And as far as mind bending SF goes, Blindsight by Peter Watts, which is available on his old rifters.com website as a CC ebook. The notes and references section of the book terrify my far beyond the damage that the novel did to my sense of self and of reality. ::shudder::

Thanks, Donald. His other fantasy series appears to be called Cassandra Kresnov, and from a quick look also seems interesting.

This has (so far, and I hope it continues) been a very fruitful thread for me. I have already ordered 7 books on Kindle, and there's still all the Joel Shepherd to check out. Hallelujah!

Ahhh, Zelazny. Yes indeed. Amber, Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Jack of Shadows, on and on.

I only discovered Psychoshop (in collaboration with Alfred Bester!) recently. Not the best but worth a read.

Blindsight is great, but it is grimdark SF, so to speak. And yeah it is free online. Somebody said Watts is the person you want to reads if you think life is worth living and you want to be cured of that delusion. A little unfair, but not by much.

Echopraxia the sequel was good but not quite as good. And not free, afaik.

The Honorverse prequel novels are pretty good YA fiction.

I preferred DS 9 over the other series. Part of its advantage, like other "hotel" series with fixed venues, was that it didn't have to use as much time setting up the plot for each episode.

Oh, I should mention that I recently read Arkady Martine's two-book (so far, don't know if there's more to come) Teixcalaan series: A Memory Called Empire, and A Desolation Called Peace. They were very good, I thought, and pretty thought-provoking.

I also recently read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Elder Race. It wasn't bad at all, and he too is prolific, so I imagine that I'll be delving deeper into his oeuvre in due course.

Tchaikovsky's Children of Time is a delight, and Martine's work is excellent (my wife reports, part of her Nebula's homework).

And also (as I said)...Murderbot. Murderbot. Murderbot.

Did I mention Murderbot?

Somewhere here, between actual notes in a computer and random thoughts when I am trying to get to sleep, are the beginnings of a half-dozen short first-person fantasy stories. In the first one, working title Companion, the character mutters, "You know what a companion is? He's the character who, when the hero reaches back blindly and says 'Rope!' has not only survived all the dangers the hero did but remembered that a bit of rope might be useful, lugged the damned stuff all the way, and has it right at hand."

The Murderbot books are light amusement. Yeah, a murderous robot might seem dark. But one which has broken free (in part, as I read it, to get out of further murdering) is a different kettle of fish.

Murderbot, like a lot of "light" SF, has deeper things going on than many might notice. It's not Big Ideas SF, more small and subversive philosophy of science fiction.

nous,

I didn't get round to it til today, but I hear you loud and clear: Murderbot. I'm on it. Thanks.

I read the first murderbot novella ( iirc it was short) and it was good, but haven’t read further.

The last two books I read were

Monica Ali
Love Marriage

https://www.virago.co.uk/titles/monica-ali/love-marriage/9780349015484/

About immigration, class, culture clashes, the NHS, love, sex, family... Very readable, quite funny at times, a bit soapy and too much exposition sometimes, but also heartfelt and not shying away from the big issues.

Annie Ernaux
A Man's Place

https://fitzcarraldoeditions.com/books/a-mans-place

The writer's memoir about her father, who lived a working-class to petty bourgeois life, while his daughter became a teacher and later a famous writer. I liked it a lot, there are few who combine brutal honesty with sensitivity as Ernaux does. ("The Years" is amazing).

I have been reading Grohl's The Storyteller at night for the last couple weeks, which has me feeling weirdly connected to the moment of Taylor Hawkins' passing. It's the way that that passage from it about Grohl's and Hawkins' personal connection keeps getting quoted in the news stories, and how it went from being a story about healing from grief to a story that is deeply embedded in grief in the space of a week.

Reading is such a weird act of empathy and entanglement.

Yeah I love Murderbot too.

I well and truly love the Jack Campbell Lost Fleet series and its followups. A friend of mine, an Army vet who also worked for one of the federal agencies that carries guns, would give the first book in the series to people in his section and tell them to read it as a leadership manual.

I will also say that the only thing that has made me break my Amazon boycott in the last ten years are Elliot Kay's books. Especially the _Poor Man's Fight_ series.

I haven't been into the Foo Fighters until recently, and that only tangentially, but it's been clear to me for a while that Dave Grohl is a perfectly lovely man, and seeing them recently let that little girl Nandi Bushell play with them, and in particular how absolutely sweet Hawkins was with her, taking her to the front of the stage to show her how to acknowledge the crowd, and throw her drumsticks to them, I realised that they were something really special as people. Experience tells me this is not true of all rock n roll gods. I am sad for them all.

I also always liked Dave Grohl for what he said, when asked why Nirvana never recorded the songs that he had written and that made up so much of the Foo Fighters' early catalogue. As I recall it was something like: "When you're in a band with someone like Kurt Cobain, you don't get in the way of his songs."

Oh, and I wanted to add, since it's been on my mind lately as I have been dipping into mysteries again, I still tend to read them (or toss them aside with forceful contempt) according to Dr. Science's John Donne Test. (https://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2016/05/the-john-donne-test.html)

JakeB,

No sooner received than acted upon. Many thanks!

JakeB,

My 06.58 was in reply to your 06.33. Also, your link above about the John Donne test is not working. I'll try to find it using the date...

Succeeded, but my attempt to link was identical to yours.

GftNC— well, I suppose if anyone wants to read it they’ll have to copy and paste. It’s a good metric I think, unless you like your mysteries like a very rare steak.

Here is a working link to the John Donne test

I manually entered the HTML with an <a href> tag

The original John Donne link includes the closing parenthesis as part of the link, so it doesn't match.

The John Donne test reminds me of this Ursula LeGuin quote

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.”

Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему

All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Lev, you treasonous bastard.

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