Thursday, April 30, 2009

new old Wild Cards

Thursday, April 30, 2009 0
Now that's news I like!

According to George R. R. Martin the first three Wild Cards volumes will be reprinted by Tor. Given that the early volumes can be a pain to find, this is great news. I'd totally buy that.

To make it more interesting, the first volume will be a Director's Cut, with three new stories (including one from Carrie Vaughn). Now, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. I thought the volume was fine as is and I don't know how these will blend into the volume. That said - cool!

Either way, we'll have some new old Wild Cards. Hopefully they do well and Tor reprints the full set.

Graphic Novels: Fables


The third (and final, for now) series I want to talk about is Fables, written by Bill Willingham.

This is my favorite series running, right now, surpassing any retroactive geek-love I have for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8.

Fables is a currently ongoing series which focuses on Fables, the characters from our fairytales and various fables. The Fables, as they have named themselves, originally lived in their various worlds of fairytale until their Homelands were invaded by The Adversary. As of the third issue, that’s about all we really know of the Big Bad of Fables. The Adversary. Many lives were lost, the Homelands taken over, and over hundreds of years the Fables have made their way to our world. There is a community in New York City known as Fabletown. That’s where the human-looking Fables live. The animals (such as the Three Little Pigs) who cannot fit into Mundy (i.e. human, or mundane) society live up at “The Farm” in upstate New York. That’s the setting, though I believe other Fables live elsewhere in the world. I think that’ll be borne out in future issues. I’ve only read the first three collections.

Snow White is the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown. Old King Cole is the Mayor, but Snow runs things. She’s divorced from Prince Charming after she caught him in bed with her sister, Rose Red. Major characters in the early issues include Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf, now able to take human form, reformed, and the Sheriff of Fabletown), Blue Beard, Rose Red (Snow’s sister), The Three Little Pigs, Bluebeard, Goldilocks, Prince Charming, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and Little Boy Blue. Among other smaller characters who may (or may not) get larger starring roles later.

What works so well about Fables is that Bill Willingham tells the story straight. Assuming that all of the background stuff occurred (the Adversary and such), what would the characters do if put into our world and wished to hide their identity? There would be relationships, squabbles, fueds, revolution, wistfulness, getting on with it, and everything that is all tied together in the larger story called Fables.

Oh, it’s good. I knew midway through the first collection that this was going to be a favorite of mine. The first three collections have borne this out. Fables is damn good with an ever broadening and evolving story. Even through the first three collections there are a number of story arcs, small one offs, and the over-reaching arc of Fables vs Adversary. Just because the Fables have left their Homelands, it doesn’t mean that war is over. What happens if the Adversary turns to our world? Is he / it only after Fables or is he / it after everything? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m hoping Willingham gets to it.

There’s just so much going on here.

There are 11 collections currently in print, with volume 12 due in August 2009. I don’t know how far they are at in single issues. I prefer collections. There are two spin offs - Jack of Fables, a series dealing with Jack (obviously), and a single prequel collection 1001 Nights of Snowfall. There are rumors / suggestions of other spin-offs / one-shots touching on other aspects of the Fable Universe.

All I know is that this is good stuff. I’ve got Volume 4 at home and the fifth on its way from the library.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Graphic Novels: Girl Genius

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After Queen & Country, the second series I would like to talk about is Girl Genius. Nominated this year for a Hugo Award, Girl Genius is an online comic which has also been collected in book form*. The cover of each volume tells us this is a story about “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!”, and that’s exactly right. This is steampunk (of sorts), though Foglios describe it as Gaslamp fantasy – whatever that means.

This is the story of Agatha Clay, the last living scion of the Heterodyne family, a family of inventors (called Sparks – it’s a serious and rare talent of mechanical creation) with a mixed reputation. Bill and Barry Heterodyne were heroes, but there is a dark history to the family. Agatha is one of the good guys and spends much of the series on the run from Baron Wulfenbach – a very powerful Spark who rules with an iron fist. Baron Wulfenbach appears to be a simple maniac dictator, but the longer the series goes the more interesting he becomes. There’s more to this character. Actually, there’s more to everybody than is first let on.

There are airships, robots, weird violent monster-people with sharp teeth and German accents (Jagermonsters), a talking cat (awesome!), and a whole lotta adventure and action and snappy dialogue.

Girl Genius is brightly drawn (excluding the first issue) and is just a whole lotta fun to read. This really is a grand adventure of alternate history (though most cities / locations are not recognizable, Girl Genius is set in continental Europe. I’m not sure what the time period is because the existence of Sparks has seriously changed the political landscape. I think.


*To be accurate, the first four collections are of the original print comic. The Foglios later switched Girl Genius to the internet and Volume 5 begins the collections of the webcomic).

There are seven volumes currently in print, with an eighth coming out this summer.

The picture is for the third volume, just in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Graphic Novels: Queen & Country

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 0

The other day I noticed that graphic novels have taken over my reading habits for the month of April. Seriously. They’re piling up. I figure this is as good of a time as any to acknowledge what I’ve been reading.

Queen & Country, written by Greg Rucka. The short version is that it is about a team of British spies in Operations (not Intelligence). The primary character Queen & Country focuses on is Tara Chance, one of three operatives (codenamed Minders) Each volume covers a different operation. Operation Broken Ground (Volume 1) introduces readers to Tara and the Minders and features Tara assassinating a former Russian General who provides arms to terrorists – and the fallout of that action. The second volume, Operation Morningstar, is a new operation and is recovering documents in Afghanistan before the Taliban can get them.

The interesting thing about Operation Morningstar, pointed out in the introduction, is the threat given to the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Tara, in a therapy session, explains why she wanted to be in on this mission – about the human rights / gender rights issues of the Taliban, the danger posed by this government, and Osama Bin Ladin. The issues of Operation Morningstar were published in the wake of 9/11 when this was on everybody’s lips. What the introduction points out is that these issues were written Summer 2001, before the attacks. Extremely good work by Greg Rucka in his writing of this set and well thought out to come up with it before Afghanistan / Taliban takes the world stage.

Solid writing here. I like it. A lot.

Queen & Country is a completed series, I believe. There is discussion that Rucka will launch a new Queen & Country series, but we can rest assured that this first sequence is complete. There are eight collections in the main series, plus three Declassified collections that tie into the main series. 32 issues + Declassified.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

what folks actually buy

Sunday, April 26, 2009 1
Andrew Wheeler has put together a list (from Publisher's Weekly) of the best selling genre books of 2008.

So, if you want to know what people are actually buying, check it out.

As an alternative, I'd be quite curious to see what readers might have considered the "bestselling" SFF books to be and how those sales figures stack up. I suspect the won't stack up well at all.

107,000 copies of Ender in Exile.

Sigh.

Nebula Award Winners 2009

(Via Science Fiction Awards Watch)

Novel: Powers - Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, Sep07)

Novella: “The Spacetime Pool” - Catherine Asaro (Analog, Mar08)

Novelette: “Pride and Prometheus” - John Kessel (F&SF, Jan08)

Short Story: “Trophy Wives” - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, Daw Jan08)

Script: “WALL-E” Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter (Walt Disney June 2008)

Andre Norton Award: Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) - Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt, Sep08)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More Red Ink

Saturday, April 25, 2009 0
I just stumbled across a blog entry asking whether it should be okay for writers and editors to engage reviewers.

The blog belongs to Marty Halpern, former editor of Golden Gryphon Press. More Red Ink.

I commented on Marty's post and I pretty much agree that it should be. I think there should be a conversation between writers and reviewers. Assuming, of course, that it is in fact a conversation. It's worth having. It's worth discussing what the hell it is that I've missed.

I do mean that. I'm sure I miss rather important points that might change my reading of a novel or a story and I'd like to know about it. It may not change that particular review (actually, it will not change that particular review), but it can help me on future reviews.

The flip side, of course, is that the conversation could turn into sniping and spamming. In that case, nobody comes out looking good.

Still. I think it's a good idea.

Thoughts on Nebula Nominees 2009: Novelettes

If Angels Fight” - Richard Bowes (F&SF, Feb08)
The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” - James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s, Feb08)
Dark Rooms” - Lisa Goldstein (Asimov’s, Oct/Nov 07)
Pride and Prometheus” - John Kessel (F&SF, Jan08)
“Night Wind” - Mary Rosenblum (Lace and Blade, ed. Deborah J. Ross, Norilana Books, Feb08)
Baby Doll” - Johanna Sinisalo (The SFWA European Hall of Fame, ed. James Morrow & Kathryn Morrow, Tor, Jun07 [trans. from the Finnish by David Hackston])
Kaleidoscope” - K.D. Wentworth (F&SF, May07)


Since I have no intention of attempting to read through the full novel nomination list in the next twelve hours, this will be my last post on the Nebula Nominees. Winners are announced tonight, I believe.


Once again I'll start with the story I did not have the opportunity to read. I was unable to find "Night Wind" online, at my library, or anywhere in a library system in the state of Minnesota. I'm sure it is a delightful story, but I didn't have a chance to read it. If "Night Wind" wins the Nebula I'll try harder to track down the story.

Out of the stories I have read I have to say that "If Angels Fight" is probably the weakest story of the nominees. The story consists of the search for Mark Bannon, a long dead scion of a major political family...a man who the narrator has been able to find over the years, even though Mark really is dead. That would be impossible to explain. My main problem, though, is that every step of the search results in long digressions about that new person meeting Mark. It becomes tedious because there is no core story, just digressions. For me, the digressions don't work.

My thoughts on "Kaleidoscope": "Will “Kaleidoscope” remain this mishmash of different possibilities all converging on Ally? That’s what makes the story interesting and why we keep reading, but is also ultimately why the story is unsatisfying. This is the central conceit of the story, but the lack of a grounding reality means that the longer the story goes on, the less I care about Ally and what is going on because while we root for happiness and a living dog, this may not have been the reality."

My thoughts on "Dark Rooms": "It’s an intellectually and emotionally interesting story that is never overwhelmed by technical details. “Dark Rooms” is about the people. I question whether this is, in fact, a SFF story or whether it should have garnered a SFF nomination, but beyond that – decent story."

My thoughts on "Pride of Prometheus": Kessel’s story is well written and there is a strong aspect of intellectual interest to the chronology of the story and working out the little clues as to what is going on. John Kessel works in the inherent horror of the situation perfectly. The main problem here is simply that because I am not a fan of the original source material, I am not the ideal reader for “Pride and Prometheus”. For me, the story only works on the “hey, Kessel’s doing something kind of cool here” level.

A counterpoint to "Pride and Prometheus" would come from a person who I recommended this story to. She is a fan of Jane Austen's work and is very familiar with the characters / setting. She loved the story. I can only appreciate the story on an intellectual level.

It's almost been too long since I read "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" to write about it. Here's what I recall: The story delighted me. It's a story that features a ray-gun from outer space (because where else do ray guns come from?), but as much as anything else is about the on-and-off romance between Jack and Kristin and the role of the ray gun in that romance. Yeah, you can get all that from the title. But just imagine that you found a ray gun like this and how it would change your life. James Alan Gardner has written a very good story about a ray gun, but really about people.

My thoughts on "Baby Doll": "Baby Doll" is a stronger story, a more shocking story because of the young age of Annette and her almost-friends. There is a scene late in the story, a boy pressuring a girl for sex. He asks if she is "planning to hold out till you're fourteen or something?" That's the world of "Baby Doll". That's the horrific nature of the story, that such a world could feasibly be only a decade away from now. The scarier thing is that this does not seem as unreasonable as it might have.


If I had a vote I would go either way between "The Ray-Gun" and "Baby Doll", but I think that the horror of "Baby Doll" is so striking that my vote would go to "Baby Doll". It is the most memorable of the nominated novelettes.


Previous Nebula Thoughts
Novellas
Short Stories

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mind Meld: Best Women Writers

Friday, April 24, 2009 0
SF Signal has another Mind Meld up, this time on the Best Women Writers...a topic which bothers me to a certain extent.

On the other hand it lets me talk about some of my favorite writers...who happen to be female.

Participating this round are luminaries such as Jeff VanderMeer, Gene Wolfe, Mike Resnick, Me, Rich Horton, Ian McDonald, and Lucius Shepard.

Oh, and fellow bloggers Jay Tomio and Kristin Murphy from Fantasy Cafe.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hugo Award Nominee: "Exhalation"

Thursday, April 23, 2009 1
"Exhalation"
Ted Chiang
Nominated for the Hugo Award: Short Story

This time I agree with Abigail Nussbaum. This is a cold, clinical story, but is also so damned interesting. In particular, the self-surgery on the narrator’s metallic brain is…well, an impressive piece of imagination. I don’t know how to talk about this. I recommend reading Abigail's Hugo post and Torque Control's wrap-up. I don't really have anything useful to say about it.

I’m not sure exactly in what I regard I hold Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation”. It’s quite good, but the cold, clinical nature does prevent me from fully getting behind the story.

Hmm.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wild Cards!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 3
Oh. My. God.

While the details are still in the bag for whatever is going to happen in the future for Wild Cards, George R. R. Martin has announced who some of the new writers joining the world are.

David D. Levine
Cherie Priest
Mary Anne Mohanraj
David Anthony Durham
Paul Cornell

I'm sure some will have different reactions to this, but Cherie Priest AND David Anthony Durham? My fanboy heart just skipped a beat.

I knew about Priest already, but Durham is news to me. Welcome news, if you couldn't tell.

Hoo, can't wait to see what they bring us next.

Which reminds me to get cracking. I've read the first four, have Down and Dirty at home, and I'm debating also jumping in on the new breed with Inside Straight (since I have a review copy of Busted Flush sitting on my shelf). I've heard that Inside Straight is a good point to enter the series because it doesn't require prior knowledge (though it doesn't hurt)

Thoughts on Nebula Nominees 2009: Novellas

The Spacetime Pool” - Catherine Asaro (Analog, Mar08)
“Dark Heaven” - Gregory Benford (Alien Crimes, ed. Mike Resnick, SFBC, Jan07)
Dangerous Space” - Kelley Eskridge (Dangerous Space, Aqueduct Press, Jun07)
The Political Prisoner” - Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF, Aug08)
“The Duke in His Castle” - Vera Nazarian (Norilana Books, Jun08)


Sadly, I am just not going to be able to finish this category off before the Award is presented this coming weekend. As such, I’ve only been able to read two of the stories nominated.

Actually, I’ve read a previous story from Charles Coleman Finlay (“The Political Officer”) which featured Maxim Nikomedes and I don’t remember being too excited / impressed by it. Given that “The Political Prisoner” is set in the same world as that earlier story, I’d be surprised if I’d liked the new one. Unless “The Political Prisoner” wins the Nebula, I don’t plan to read it. I DO, however, want to read “The Spacetime Pool”. I don’t think I’ve read anything published in Analog before (unless reprinted in an anthology I’ve read).


My thoughts on "Dark Heaven": It conveys information without being flashy and kicks the story along without getting bogged down with jargon or aliens. "Dark Heaven" is science fiction, don't get me wrong, but it is science fiction about an investigation - about a possible murder. The story is key here and that's what makes it work.

My Thoughts on "Dangerous Space"
: This is a story to get excited about. It's just good, in the sense that Eskridge has skill enough to make the characters, setting, music, everything real. Readers will want to know more about Mars and Duncan and the band, and will get it. "Dangerous Space" starts out interesting and then just gets really good.


In this two horse race the clear winner is “Dangerous Space”. If I had a vote, I Eskridge would get it. Quite honestly, I would not expect any of the three stories I haven't read to be as good as what Kelley Eskridge wrote.


Previous Nebula Thoughts
Short Stories

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pulitzer Prizes Announced

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 0
Credit to Omnivoracious for the link, but here are some of the Pulitzer Prize winning works.

* Fiction: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Finalists: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich and All Souls by Christine Schutt)

* History: The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed (Finalists: This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust and The Liberal Hour by G. Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot)

* Biography/Autobiography: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Finalists: Traitor to His Class by H.W. Brands and The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll)

* General Nonfiction: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Finalists: Gandhi and Churchill by Arthur Herman and The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe by William I. Hitchcock)

* Poetry: The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Finalists: Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart and What Love Comes To by Ruth Stone)

* Drama: Ruined by Lynn Nottage (Finalists: Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo and In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes)


Well, that adds another novel to my reading list. I've got this slow moving and insane quest to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning novels. I've read 33 of the now 83 winners. I'd have loved to see Louise Erdrich win the Prize. Erdrich has long been one of my favorite novelists, ever since I first read Love Medicine a decade ago in college. That opening sequence with June Morrissey walking out into the snow still moves me.

Otherwise, I love Presidential biographies, so I'll be sure to check out American Lion.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Kaleidoscope"

Monday, April 20, 2009 0
Kaleidoscope
K. D. Wentworth
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette


“Kaleidoscope” is madness. The story is exactly what the title suggest, a story told through the lens of a kaleidoscope. Ally Coelho begins to remember multiple versions of the same event, with different results. One time she found a dog and returned her to the owner. A different time the missing dog ran out into the street and was hit by a car. Her friend got married, split with the guy, no, caught the guy cheating, no – something else. As “Kaleidoscope” progresses Ally is less and less sure as to what real life is. Or who this guy Barry is that her friend set her up with.

Sigh.

It’s a great idea. I’m sure of it. The execution is, for the most part, interesting enough. Will there be resolution to the story? Will “Kaleidoscope” remain this mishmash of different possibilities all converging on Ally? That’s what makes the story interesting and why we keep reading, but is also ultimately why the story is unsatisfying. This is the central conceit of the story, but the lack of a grounding reality means that the longer the story goes on, the less I care about Ally and what is going on because while we root for happiness and a living dog, this may not have been the reality. There is nothing Ally is struggling to get back. As far as the reader knows for most of the story, this is just something happening to Ally.

It’s tiring.

So, I wanted to like “Kaleidoscope”, and I can appreciate the effort and attempt of the story, but in the end it doesn’t work.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Last Question

Saturday, April 18, 2009 0
Some weekend reading for you: "The Last Question", by Isaac Asimov

I think about this story every couple of years and the only conclusion I have is that this is probably my favorite story ever. Even when I can't remember it.

When I was in high school I had two mammoth volumes of Asimov's short stories and this one charmed the pants off of me, though not quite literally, because that would be weird.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Patronage

Friday, April 17, 2009 2
On my ride up to see my parents for Easter I had some time to think. What crossed my mind was the idea of patronage in the arts. I’m sure I have most of this wrong, but back in the ye-olde-days some rich person would commission art for his (or her) personal collection. With any luck that same rich person would commission multiple works and would be considered the patron of the artist. Some of the details may be not entirely accurate, but I think that’s at least part of how it worked back-in-the-day.

I thought about how this could work today. Recently Tobias Buckell explained why he is changing the focus of his fiction, and then Sarah Monette announced that her publisher was not going to offer her a new contract. Then I thought about Elizabeth Bear and her Promethean Age novels and how, so far, she has no publisher for future volumes. I’m sure we can come up with dozens if similar examples.

So, patronage.

What would happen if I were filthy rich and wanted to throw money at my favorite writers? Now, John Scalzi has said in the past (though I can't find his post) that he has been offered a very healthy rate to write a story just for one person but has declined because he wants his stuff to be distributed. That makes sense to me. I’d love to be fabulously wealthy and in a position to through a pile of money at Elizabeth Bear so that she could write Promethean Age novels to her heart’s content. She’d get to eat and pay her bills, I’d get to read the good stuff.

But, would she write for an audience of one? Should she?

If I’m being honest, while I’d love to be the first person to read Posthumous Johnson or Unsuitable Metal, I don’t want to be the only person to read it. I want to be able to talk to other people about it. I want to share!

This makes a modern patronage model different than the ye-olde one. I don’t want a novel written just for me and not enjoyed by the relative masses. It’s not a painting to hang in my parlor (because I’d have to have a parlor if I was filthy rich).

What’s the distribution method for this? Do I build a website and give away copies? I could do electronic copies, but I know I’d want to hold the book in my hand and shelve it next to the four previous Promethean Age books. So, besides giving Bear a bunch of money, I’d have to print up copies. Naturally I’d want it to look nice and shiny so I’d have to find a good printer. I’d want art, so I’d have to commission an artist for the cover.

Then another problem hits me.

Editing.

I’m not so naïve to think that even work done by fabulously awesome writers doesn’t need an editor’s professional eye. I’d have to hire a good editor.

I also wonder if I’m distributing the books on a small production run, do I sell them or just give them away? Maybe I charge enough to recoup production costs and the work of the artist / editor, but not the author.

This all begs the question – do I just want to be Subterranean Press, only without the profit?

Wouldn’t it be awesome to be so rich that you could be the patron of your favorite authors? Contract their novels without any real concern about sales? They’d still be free to also contract elsewhere if they wanted to write something that wasn’t part of the commission and that I didn’t want to buy, but how great would that be? Not sure how or if this would change the publishing world because authors still would need to find someone willing to buy their work and they can only sell what people want to buy. Patronage offers some extra $$ beyond traditional publishing. No royalties, though. I’d pay enough up front and do smaller print runs that would never earn out. Besides, I’d pay far more than other publishers (unless you’re already a bestselling author, in which case you don’t need me) First North American rights only, and rights to reprint via another publisher after a year or two (tops) would revert to the author. This should be very author friendly.

I’m going to think on who all I’d want to commission novels from. I would tend to lean to stuff that I know the writers actually want to write. Bear’s Promethean Age novels, Cherie Priest and her Clockwork Century (though she does have two under contract with Tor), Tobias Buckell’s Xenowealth. Paul Kearney is good example, though I haven’t read any of his stuff. I’ll have to think about it and come up with a list.

Who would you commission work from and what would you commission? I’m talking about stuff that isn’t currently under contract, another novel from GRRM like The Armageddon Rag would be a great one to commission. There would probably be a bidding war for commissions on A Dance With Dragons or Republic of Thieves, but that wouldn’t get either volume out any faster (given that both are currently under contract).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment", by M. Rickert

Thursday, April 16, 2009 0
Provide links to Abigail Nussbaum and Niall Harrison

I first became aware of "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account" sometime last year through the commentary of Abigail Nussbaum and Niall Harrison. Since F&SF has made the story available to read on their website, and because this is an M. Rickert story, it was time to see what the fuss was about.

The story opens with the following:

IT TOOK A LONG TIME TO deduce that many of the missing women could not be accounted for. Executions were a matter of public record then and it was still fairly easy to keep track of them. They were on every night at seven o'clock, filmed from the various execution centers. It was policy back then to name the criminal as the camera lingered over her face. Yet women went missing who never appeared on execution.

Then, the narrator mentions that her mother went missing and that her father could not find out where she went, or if she had been admitted to a hospital. Her mother was a criminal, one who would have been executed. At this time we do not know what the crime was, except that it is only women. No men.

M. Rickert hints early on about what the crime is, but the opening quote from the founder of Operation Rescue should leave little question: abortion.

Sometime in the future, perhaps the near future, America has outlawed abortion and ex post facto has criminalized those women who had abortions while it was legal. That's the basis for "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment".

Logically, the premise of the story feels like a stretch, like it is an extreme reaction to Operation Rescue and uber-Conservative thought. So, that's my main issue with M. Rickert's story. I question how plausible it is.

Of course, I quite enjoy and appreciate the Marq'ssan novels from L. Timmel Duchamp, and that also presents a radical change in American (and World) society. From the perspective of accepting the premise of this story (suspension of disbelief), "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" is a solid story. If such a world could exist, and if the reader can buy into the basic premise, it is plausible that the narrating daughter of this story would react as she has. Disgust that her mother is a murderer of an innocent, shame that she (daughter) will be viewed as being tainted because of her mother's actions, still missing her mother.

Actually, the part of the story that still stretches credulity is that women are once again reduced to thinking about their marital options. Status determines her possibility. The father mentions that if she were lucky the daughter could still become a "breeder".

Seriously? Even granting the concept of such a complete and utter reversal of abortion law in the United States...to the point that prior legal abortions would be criminalized to death...that the "options" of women would be flipped again so far is a stretch...and that's in a story that has quite a stretch as a premise.

Despite all of that, "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" remains a compelling story due to the strength of M. Rickert's writing. Dystopian futures (such as the similar The Handmaid's Tale) are curiously compelling. Even when they don't make sense. Perhaps because they don't make sense.

Does "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" serve as a warning, that if we take seriously the concerns of Operation Rescue and pander to that organization, this is a future that we could face? So, take action?

I don't know.

Outside of the implausible premise, this is an otherwise well crafted story that drew me in early on. That I didn't believe for a moment that was a possible future did not matter. Sometimes the implausible is what makes a good story. It's just that when I stop to think about the story that the questions begin to jump out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Boneshaker Cover

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 0
Since the cover has been leaking, Cherie Priest has unveiled the cover to her new novel Boneshaker.

Cover is here.

I don't say this often, but...holy shit that's a beautiful cover.

This isn't the final / final cover, but presumably is damn close.

Art by Jon Foster. Well done, Mr. Foster.

Good God, that's stunning.

Nebula Award Nominee: "Pride or Prometheus"

Pride and Prometheus
John Kessel
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette


John Kessel blends the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with that of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Set sometime after Elizabeth Bennet marries Mr. Darcy, “Pride and Prometheus” begins at a ball at Grosvenor Square. Mary Bennet, already set on spinsterhood and otherwise out of place in society, meets Dr. Victor Frankenstein at the ball and feels immediate connection due to their shared interest in the natural sciences. “Pride and Prometheus” would be placed somewhere on the Frankenstein chronology after the death of Dr. Frankenstein’s brother, but before he marries cousin Elizabeth. The events of the novel have not yet taken place at the beginning of this story. Normally when a story takes place is not worth mentioning, but given that “Pride and Prometheus” ties together two classic novels, it is worth mentioning.

Clerval chuckled. "Victor has been purchasing equipment at every stop along our tour—glassware, bottles of chemicals, lead and copper disks. The coachmen threaten to leave us behind if he does not ship these things separately."

Because we know when the story is set in relation to the novels, we know what this means, why Dr. Frankenstein purchases materials. Later comments of graverobbing should be understood. Not long after the above passage the reader learns exactly where in the Frankenstein chronology this story is set.

Kessel’s story requires, or assumes, at least a passing knowledge of Pride and Prejudice in order to know who the characters are. A deeper understanding of Jane Austen’s novel adds layers of richness to “Pride and Prometheus” as smaller characters in the story automatically have all this back story that Jane Austen readers will be familiar with.

Typically, this is the sort of story I would avoid like the plague. I am not a fan of Jane Austen’s fiction and while I can appreciate its place in literary history, it doesn’t work for me. So, any story (except for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) taking Austen’s characters is to be avoided. The curiosity, however, of Austen with Shelley, of Dr. Frankenstein, brings an intellectual interest to “Pride and Prometheus” which might not have otherwise been there.

That’s about as far as my interest in “Pride and Prometheus” goes, however. Kessel’s story is well written and there is a strong aspect of intellectual interest to the chronology of the story and working out the little clues as to what is going on. John Kessel works in the inherent horror of the situation perfectly.

The main problem here is simply that because I am not a fan of the original source material, I am not the ideal reader for “Pride and Prometheus”. For me, the story only works on the “hey, Kessel’s doing something kind of cool here” level. “Pride and Prometheus” does not work on the emotional level that I require to truly acclaim a work as being exceptional. The blending of manners and horror is interesting, and I would venture to say that I appreciated Kessel’s story far more than I do that of Jane Austen. It is just not enough.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hugo Award Nominee: "Evil Robot Monkey"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 0
Evil Robot Monkey
Mary Robinette Kowal
Nominated for the Hugo Award: Short Story


“Evil Robot Monkey” is a heartbreaking and surprising story. The title might suggest a little robot monkey being destructive and nasty, but Mary Kowal tells a different and unexpected story. The titular monkey is introduced working a potter’s wheel, making a vase. Then…

Someone banged on the window of his pen. Sly jumped and then screamed as the vase collapsed under its own weight. He spun and hurled it at the picture window like feces. The clay spattered against the Plexiglas, sliding down the window.


Though the monkey sometimes gives into his more animal urges and rages, Sly can think and express emotion like a human. Sly can speak.

Sly scowled and yanked his hands free. “I’m not like the other chimps.” He pointed to the implant in his head. “Maybe Delilah should have one of these. Seems like she needs help thinking.”


Oh, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. In fewer than 1000 words Mary Robinette Kowal just killed me. The opening paragraphs paints a picture of a monkey in a pen trying to do nothing more than make pottery but because Sly is a monkey, people think it is okay to hit the glass walls of his pen. The pottery brings the monkey peace. The other aspect of the story that wrecks me is the conversation between Sly and Vern, the handler, about what happened and why and what the consequences are.

Damn, “Evil Robot Monkey” is good. It’s so short, but the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. The story lingers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Dangerous Space"

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"Dangerous Space" (PDF format)
Kelley Eskridge
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novella


"Dangerous Space" reminds me of George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag, though this is probably simply because they are both stories about (among other things) rock music and that they get to the soul of the music rather than being superficial about musicians. That's about where the comparison ends, though one final comparison is that both are really, really good.

Mars is one of the best sound engineers in the music industry. She has a talent for getting into the heart of a song, of a band, and perfecting the sound so that it'll hit inside the audience and make them feel everything the band has put into the music. Mars can take a band with potential and make them great (relatively speaking). Mars's latest project is a band called Noir, a rock band with rough edges and a magnetic frontman in Duncan Black.

Through the first person perspective of Mars, Kelley Eskridge tells a story about music, sex, love, and obsession. While Eskridge does not show Noir on stage often, she does present a realistic portrait of a band who has spent years together. They know each other and are comfortable with each other and Kelley Eskridge is able to make that come across on the page.

"Dangerous Space" is near future. There is a bit of technology that is referenced early and comes into the story late which is not currently possible in 20(09. It's like an advanced virtual reality, though not exactly. The point of "Dangerous Space" is not the technology or the science fiction aspect. "Dangerous Space" is about the relationship between Mars, the band, and the music.

This is a story to get excited about. It's just good, in the sense that Eskridge has skill enough to make the characters, setting, music, everything real. Readers will want to know more about Mars and Duncan and the band, and will get it. "Dangerous Space" starts out interesting and then just gets really good. Yeah, it's nominated for a Nebula and thus one would expect a higher SF quotient, but damn it, this is just a really good story.

The only negative here is what feels like a little epilogue. Up until that point "Dangerous Space" is made of awesomeness. The epilogue (last two pages) doesn't quite work in the same way that the rest of the story does. The story works on the sexual tension between Mars and Duncan (among other things), and while the ending fits the story, it doesn't quite deliver. With that said, "Dangerous Space" is still an outstanding story. Not only may it be one of the best stories nominated for a Nebula this year, it is good enough that I want to read more from Kelley Eskridge.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Asimov's Hugo Fiction 2009

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Asimov's has all of their Hugo nominated fiction available to read for free up on their website.

Novellas
"The Erdmann Nexus", by Nancy Kress
"Truth", by Robert Reed

Novelette
"Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders", by Mike Resnick
"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", by James Alan Gardner
"Shoggoths in Bloom", by Elizabeth Bear

Short Story
"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss", by Kij Johnson
"From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled", by Michael Swanwick


My list of nominees has also been updated. This makes all the shorter fiction available for free (except for "The Tear" - but I have a library copy of Galactic Empires on hand and the story is being reprinted by both Gardner Dozois and Rich Horton), and one novel. Well, two novels if you count Neil Gaiman reading The Graveyard Book. Except I don't.

(some of this was already available for the Nebulas, and elsewhere...but some of it wasn't)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

Honest Abe fighting vampires?

I'll admit it. I'm intrigued.


(on reflection, this sounds sorta similar to what Mike Resnick did with The Other Teddy Roosevelts)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

stuff i've paid for

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In the last couple of months I’ve actually spent a little bit of money on stuff just for me. Yes, you may consider this as part of a shift in fiscal policy (but the fundamentals of my economy are sound!)

While I generally don’t post much about what I receive until I read and post a review, I’m more than comfortable sharing what I’m buying. I figure the purchase itself is an endorsement.

So.

Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Paolo was in Minneapolis a couple of months ago to visit some friends and he hooked up with Dreamhaven Books to give a reading. I went. The reading was fantastic. Mr. Bacigalupi did a great job reading and hooked me on the story. He didn’t finish the story and I wanted to know more. So I bought it on the spot. That’s how you sell


Seven for a Secret, by Elizabeth Bear. Well, y’all know how I feel about Bear. This is the follow up to New Amsterdam. I picked up the limited / numbered edition which comes with a bonus chapbook containing the story “The Tricks of London”. Gotta have more Bear. I now own just about everything she has published, except for the Jenny Casey trilogy and A Companion to Wolves.



Unwelcome Bodies, by Jennifer Pelland. After reading “Captive Girl” last year I’ve been a fan of Pelland’s work. I’ve read a handful of her stories and have been delighted / horrified each time. I meant to purchase this a year ago but I only got around to it this past week. Amazon tells me it shipped out earlier today.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, by Carrie Vaughn

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Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
Carrie Vaughn
Grand Central Publishing: 2009


Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand opens with Kitty Norville in a good place in her life. For a change. She, along with her boyfriend / fiancé Ben, are the alpha pack-leaders of Denver’s werewolf pack. Kitty runs things differently than her predecessor. She has a good thing going with Ben. Her radio show continues to be a success.

Kitty’s original plan was to eschew the big wedding that her mother might have wanted and just elope to Vegas. This is where the complications begin. The vampire Master of Denver requests that Kitty deliver a letter to the Master of Las Vegas. Kitty’s boss at the radio station comes up with the grand idea of doing a live / televised radio show direct from Vegas. All while she is supposed to get married. To make matters worse there is a gun show in town, in the same hotel Kitty and Ben are staying at. They run into bounty hunters (like Cormac is / was), vampires, a magician who might just do real magic, and a stage show which might just be lycanthropic in nature. Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand is chock full of fantastical goodness.

Carrie Vaughn
is not content to rest on her laurels with this series and just tell the same story over and over. Thus far she continually shakes things up and puts Kitty into situations she can barely handle on her own. That’s the thing about Kitty Norville – she is not a one woman wrecking crew. She struggles and gets in over her head. But, she is loyal to her friends and tries to do the best she can. There are also generally consequences to Kitty’s actions which affect and shape the world around her. Despite her lycanthropic nature Kitty isn't Supergirl. The series in general and Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand is stronger because of it.

What is really important, though, is that Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand is another fast paced novel which keeps the reader interested from the word "go". "Go", in this case, is Kitty looking at wedding dresses. Okay. Yeah. Not normally something that would interest me, but this is Kitty freaking Norville and it isn't like even looking at wedding dresses would possibly go smoothly. That's what I come back for. Things not running smoothly. If our heroine had things easy the reader would have a boring book.

The reader has anything but a boring book. The reader has another solid effort from Carrie Vaughn and in a series which maintains a high standard of excellence while taking risks. The threats here are varied and increase in scope.

Thus far in the series the scope of the danger has been fairly small and personal. There are threats to Kitty, her family, her friends. The stakes are big for Kitty, but would otherwise be considered small. This begins to change in Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand. Near the end of the novel the stakes are quite dramatically increased as Carry Vaughn introduces something much bigger than anything in the previous four novels. A character asks Kitty if she's read any Lovecraft. It's not a casual question, though it is played off as such at the time.

I suspect the next volume, Kitty Raises Hell, will raise the stakes even farther. If the previous five volumes are any gauge (and they should be), it should be a good one. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand sure was. It's a book you don't want to put down.

I'll confess it. I'm a fan of this series and of Miss Vaughn's work.


Reading copy provided courtesy of the Hatchette Book Group.

Previous Reviews
Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Kitty Goes to Washington
Kitty Takes a Holiday
Kitty and the Silver Bullet

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Dark Heaven"

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"Dark Heaven"
Gregory Benford
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novella

Originally published in Mike Resnisck's Alien Crimes anthology and reprinted in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, "Dark Heaven" is Gregory Benford's deep South detective story. A body was discovered. An apparent drowning victim, except for some strange puncture wounds that have no obvious cause. Detective McKenna follows the case from the discovery of the body all the way through to resolution, a case which features illegal immigrants, dingy bars, and aliens - all wrapped together in an authentic package.

This was my first chance (I think) to read Gregory Benford and though the solid (yet somewhat weary) eyes of McKenna, "Dark Heaven" is a very grounded story. It's about the investigation. The aliens, though they play an important role late in the story, are discussed as if semi-commonplace. They don't fit into the lives of most of the hardscrabble people McKenna has to deal with. They're almost besides the point.

That's what I liked about "Dark Heaven. Benford's prose is to the point. It conveys information without being flashy and kicks the story along without getting bogged down with jargon or aliens. "Dark Heaven" is science fiction, don't get me wrong, but it is science fiction about an investigation - about a possible murder. The story is key here and that's what makes it work.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Baby Doll"

Monday, April 06, 2009 0
"Baby Doll" (also here)
Johanna Sinisalo
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette


"Baby Doll" was originally published in 2002 in Sinisalo's native Finnish. It was translated to English for the publication of 2007's SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James and Kathryn Morrow. The James Morrow writes, in the story introduction,
Writing within the venerable tradition of the SF dystopia, Sinisalo takes us into a nightmare world of assembly-line Lolitas who, unaware of their exploitation by addled commerce and craven adults, can imagine no other way of being in the world.
This is where the story begins, with Annette lamenting that she "wrecked her tights" while attempting to remove her boots. The opening presents Annette as a girl focused on image and the status of image. Her older sister is a model and Annette doesn't quite measure up. At school the popular girls (of which Annette is trying to become) are all dressed skimpy and "sexy".

Typical teenage stuff.

We get the first clue that something is off when a reference is made to a present for Ninotska. A "nine-yo present". It's easy to overlook the first time. Maybe it doesn't mean quite what it sounds like. But, Annette's younger brother is referred to as being "five-yo" and the context suggests that means Five Years Old.

It's easy to overlook. Everything else is so hyper-sexualized and faux-adult, like one would expect from young high school. Kids trying too hard.

The horror of "Baby Doll" is the sexualization of children. Not even thirteen and fourteen year olds. Younger. Ninotska really did turn nine in the story, and she's presented as being "worldly". Younger even than the Morrow referenced Lolita.

In all other ways "Baby Doll" comes across as a near-future (set in 2015) story played straight. The sexualization is heightened in a way that reads like a reflection of the "real world", or whatever the real world means to a fairly straight laced 30 year old male. There are echoes of a world twisted slightly like Anthony Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange, though any similarities end there. It's our world, only more so.

"Baby Doll" is a stronger story, a more shocking story because of the young age of Annette and her almost-friends. There is a scene late in the story, a boy pressuring a girl for sex. He asks if she is "planning to hold out till you're fourteen or something?" That's the world of "Baby Doll". That's the horrific nature of the story, that such a world could feasibly be only a decade away from now. The scarier thing is that this does not seem as unreasonable as it might have.


Sinisalo's novel Troll: A Love Story has been translated to English and has been published in the United States. After "Baby Doll" I'm interested enough to check it out if / when I get the chance.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Shadow Unit: "Sugar" - aired.

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The second episode of Shadow Unit's second season is live: "Sugar", written by Leah Bobet.

That is all. Go read now.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

March 2009: Short Stories Read

Saturday, April 04, 2009 0
My continuing list of stories read, links to reviews / commentary.

24. “Lucky Day”, by Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull (Shadow Unit, March 2009) (link to story)
25. “Clone Barbecue”, by Jennifer Pelland (Apex Digest, April 2006) (link to story)
26. “The Fantastical Acquisition of the Sword of General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna”, by Angeline Hawkes (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
27. “Outside the Box”, by Lynne Jamneck (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
28. “Little Black Dress”, by Carrie Vaughn (Spicy Slipstream Storeis, 2008)
29. “Catherine Drewe”, by Paul Cornell (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
30. “Proof of Zero”, by David Schwartz (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
31. “Cyto Couture”, by Kay Kenyon (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
32. “The Sun Also Explodes”, by Chris Nakashima-Brown (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
33. “The Kindness of Strangers”, by Nancy Kress (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
34. “Revolt of the Ultraists!”, by Richard Becker (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
35. “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide”, by Ruth Nestvold (F&SF, Jan 2008) (link to story)
36. “Alone with an Inconvenient Companion”, by Jack Skillingstead (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
37. “My Polymorphic Lover”, by Mike Philbin (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
38. “The Button Bin”, by Mike Allen (Helix, Oct 2007) (link to story)
39. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, July 2008) (link to story)
40. “True Names”, by Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2, 2008) (link to story)
41. “Molly’s Kids”, by Jack McDevitt (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
42. “Adventure”, by Paul McAuley (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
43. “Not Quite Alone in the Dream Quarter”, by Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
44. “An Eligible Boy”, by Ian McDonald (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
45. “Seniorsource”, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
46. “Mitigation”, by Karl Schroeder and Tobias S. Buckell (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
47. “The Tomb Wife”, by Gwyneth Jones (F&SF, August 2007) (link to story)
48. “Long Eyes”, by Jeff Carlson (Fast Forward 2, 2008)
49. “The Gambler”, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2, 2008) (link to story)
50. “Dark Rooms”, by Lisa Goldstein (Asimov’s, Oct / Nov 2007) (link to story)

Friday, April 03, 2009

free Federations fiction

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So - John Joseph Adams has another anthology coming out. Federations. It's about interstellar civilizations and stuff.

Three of the stories are available to read now, for free
. Fiction from James Alan Gardner (he of the award nominated "The Ray Gun"), Jeremiah Tolbert, and Genevieve Valentine (yay!).

The stories that JJA isn't giving away for free are from writers like George R. R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, Alastair Reynolds, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert Sawyer, Catherynne Valente, Robert Silverberg, and Harry Turtledove.

Among others.

Check it out. I'll be picking this one up when it comes out.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April SBR

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The April issue of Sacramento Book Review is out now. I've two reviews in this one: Hand of Isis and Blue Diablo.

Here's a link to the issue.

My review of Hand of Isis is also available online on its own. Blue Diablo should be available in the next week or so.

free METAtropolis

Now, everyone reads (or should read) Scalzi's blog, but if you don't then you might not be aware that Audible.com is offering free downloads of the Hugo nominated METAtropolis. That's nine hours of free fiction, professionally written and narrated. Seriously.

METAtroplis, of course, is the audio project featuring original fiction from John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, and Karl Schroeder. And featuring voice talent of Michael Hogan (aka Saul Tigh from BSG), Kandyse McClure (aka Dualla from BSG), Alessandro Juiliani (aka Gaeta from BSG), Scott Brick, and Stefan Rudnicki.

It took a while to download, but I've got it and I can't wait to listen to it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Thirteenth Depository, Aginor

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 0
Not sure how many folks know about The Thirteenth Depository yet, but this is an excellent Wheel of Time centric blog. It is already a solid reference site, but new content is being added all the time.

The newest / best entry: Aginor in a Nutshell.

It is an overview of all the known details of the Forsaken Aginor. It's a great refresher of the character and I look forward to the rest of the Nutshell entries. And everything else that we get from this blog. Beyond my re-read of the series (mid Lord of Chaos at the moment), this blog will help refresh my memory of particular events and themes running through the series that I may still miss on my re-read.

A Memory of Light - and then there was three

Press Release

Brandon's Response.

An Interview with Harriet.

Joe Says: When I first read the rumors of A Memory of Light being split into three volumes I thought "bullshit, that'll never happen". I mean Mr. Jordan promised us one volume, no matter how large. Now, I fully understand that right now there are limits to the thickness of the volume, so I expected two. No biggie.

Reading through Bloglines yesterday morning I noticed a post about three volumes and I sighed.

But before I ever got to Brandon's response I came to acceptance. If it is being split into three volumes it is just that damn big. And I said, out loud, "okay".

Then I read Brandon's reasoned and measured explanation. I've actually moved beyond anything where I like the idea or don't like the idea of three volumes. I'm at the point where I understand why from a publishing perspective and trust the integrity of everyone involved and I think it's the right call.

And we're still getting some 800,000 words of fiction in the next two years.

It'll be good. It'll be worth the wait and worth the split.
 
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