Dec 21 2014

YA not just for YA’s: Scott Westerfeld




Scott Westerfeld writes YA — that is, books for “young adults” as the term is used in publishing today. That officially means ages 12 through 18; but in fact it means anyone smart enough to read it, however young. Or, for that matter, however old.

You know perfectly well that lots of adults read YA.   If it’s a good book, it’s a good book.

Westerfeld writes the YA that I wish existed back when I was in middle school. So, I’m reading them now, to make up for the previous lack.

I’m especially fond of the Leviathan trilogy (Leviathan, Goliath, Behemoth), a steampunk/bio-hacking-punk alternate universe series with the coolest tech and really engaging characters. I listened to it in the audiobook versions during workouts at the gym, which I highly recommend as inspiration for sticking to your exercise plan: get a great audiobook that you only allow yourself to listen to at the gym. More than once I kept pushing on, just to reach the end of the chapter. (I did the same with Ellen & Delia’s The Fall of the Kings, actually.) Of course, the audiobook versions didn’t have the excellent illustrations by Keith Thompson in the printed books.

In fact, there’s a boxed set that would be perfect for the young reader on your list.

And you know that cliche about how boys don’t read? Well, we know different, of course — but if you happen to have reluctant young male readers on your list, Leviathan might be just the thing to lead them into the wider reading world. Another good one for that: Westerfeld’s Peeps. And yet another good one for that, but with less of an SF/F slant: So Yesterday.

I haven’t read his latest yet (Afterworlds), but it sounds perfect for that voracious reader who also wants to be a writer. And don’t miss Westerfeld’s blog, which is full of writing advice.


Scott Westerfeld’s website and blog

Scott Westerfeld’s books on Amazon

Writing advice from Scott Westerfeld


Dec 20 2014

Next: you knew I was going to mention Ellen Kushner, right?


Of course you knew.

kushner thomas


Back in September I posted about the Audible audiobook The Swords of Riverside, which combined Ellen’s Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword with The Fall of the Kings (written in collaboration with Delia Sherman). I’m reminding you of it again, because besides each of these books being excellent in its own right, the combination is a particularly great deal, very frugal for gift-giving.  ( Over 45 hours immersed in the city of Riverside!)

But I also want to remind you of Ellen’s Thomas the Rhymer, and that’s my official recommendation today.  I feel that the Swordspoint books get all the attention — but Thomas the Rhymer  won both the World Fantasy Award, and the Mythopoeic Award, and should not be overlooked.  It’s a lovely book, transforming the famous ballad into an absorbing  tale.   Magic, music, great prose, great characters, romance — what’s not to love?

You’ve heard me enthuse about Ellen Kushner before (lots), and Thomas the Rhymer is a good place to start reading her; it’s where I started, having read it well before I read Swordspoint.  And it’s currently out in mass-market paperback.  Perfect size for a stocking-stuffer.

(Oh, and did you know about Sound and Spirit, the radio show Ellen wrote and hosted on public radio?  It’s over now, but thanks to our pal the Internet, there are lots of episodes available to  hear for free.  At this very moment, I’m revisiting the episode on bells. I thought it might feel Christmassy, and I was right.)

Ellen Kushner’s books on Amazon

Ellen’s own website

And here’s an episode of the Diana Rehm Show, where Ellen, Maria Tatar and Marina Warner discuss the history and modern relevance of fairy tales.

The Sound and Spirit archive


Dec 19 2014

There’s still time to spend your holiday shopping bucks on books by: Jo Walton



Back in 2002, Jo Walton won the Campbell Award for best new writer, and it’s as if she hit the ground running. There seems to be no stopping her — not that we’d want to. Since then she’s added the Mythopoeic Award (for Lifelode, a favorite of mine); the World Fantasy Award (for Tooth and Claw — another favorite); and both the Hugo and the Nebula (for Among Others, another fav — okay, this is getting silly).

I suppose that it’s for Among Others that she is best known. It’s a book about what happens after the villian is defeated and life goes on — and also a book about loving books. If she had never written anything but that, I’d still love her forever for just that book…

But (like Daryl Gregory) one of the remarkable things about her is her range. She seems able to do it all. And put her own twist on it, too.

She’s written a novel of manners; but her novel of manners is a novel of manners in a society of dragons (Tooth and Claw). It sounds like it should be a joke –but damn if she doesn’t make it work, and work well.

And the Small Change series (Farthing, Ha’penny, and Half a Crown), either puts a spin on the traditional “cozy” murder mystery by making it happen in an alternate universe, or puts a spin on the alternate universe story by making it a murder mystery.

Her latest is My Real Children, which is as close as she’s gotten to mainstream fiction — and you know what? If you have someone on your holiday list who only reads mainstream, but who you want to seduce toward the SF/F side, My Real Children might be a nicely subversive move on your part. You should think about it.

She’s got something perfect for every other person on your list too, actually. For the voracious readers, it’s Among Others; for those who like time-twisty tales, it’s Lifelode (alas, not available as an ebook, so order fast!); if they love Jane Austen, it’s Tooth and Claw; and for the lovers of epic fantasy, there’s the Sulien series (The King’s Peace, The King’s Name, and The Prize in the Game).

But for my personal recommendation this time around, I’m going into left field a bit and suggest What Makes this Book So Great.

It’s a collection of short book reviews, and reading it is like having a fascinating conversation with a really intelligent person who knows a whole lot about the kind of books you love. She’ll give you some great insights on books that you’ve already read, while directing you toward lots of books that you might have missed when they first came out. She’s mostly talking about books she likes — so reading it is actually a very glad sort of experience. Enthusiasm and intelligence — all you need is a fireplace and a glass of wine, and it’s the perfect evening’s diversion.

(Please note:  there’s another writer named Jo Walton out there — namely, Jo L. Walton,  aka Jo Lindsay Walton.  Although I wish him well, this is not about him.)

Our Jo Walton’s website

Jo Walton’s books on Amazon


Dec 19 2014

Time is running out!


I thought I’d get lots more recommendations up –  but man, that day-job puts a crimp in all my plans.

We’re running out of Christmas shopping days, aren’t we?

More later….

Dec 17 2014

Next up: Daryl Gregory




I first encountered Daryl Gregory’s work when I served as one of the judges for the Philip K Dick Awards. His book Pandemonium was one of the many that were dumped on me. (Many. Many, so many. Of, shall we say, varying levels of skill.)

But unlike most of the others offered for consideration, this book grabbed me from the start, and immediately proved itself “unputdownable” as we say nowadays. It certainly had my vote for the PKD award — but alas, it ended up being disqualified as being fantasy and not SF.   (An argument could be made for it being SF, and I did make that argument. My fellow judges were not convinced – even though that argument was actually present in the book itself, and uttered by Philip K Dick.)

Regardless — on the basis of Pandemonium I started seeking out everything I could find by Daryl Gregory, and I was not disappointed.

He’s not just good — he’s good enough that I will now read anything by him, even things I wouldn’t normally read, because I know he’ll deliver.

Horror novel? I generally dislike horror, but when I went to a live reading of his at Readercon last year, he read from We Are All Completely Fine, and I instantly pre-ordered it.

Zombies? I hate zombies. Raising Stony Mayhall? Snatched it up.

There’s something especially engaging about Gregory’s characters. I think that (like Robert Charles Wilson, another favorite of mine), he’s particularly good at giving the reader a strong sense of how remarkable and shattering events effect the real people stuck in the middle of it all, the ground-level experience.   And he’s able to make me love his characters — possibly in part because he so clearly loves them himself.

His most recent is Afterparty (in which there is a drug that makes you think you see God), but I think that if you’re new to his work, Pandemonium is a good place to start. It’s charming, and eerie, unpredictable and heartbreaking. And I do so love the two brothers, Del and Lew, who seem so perfectly real to me, with such true-to-life adult sibling interaction, the kind that has a wealth of history behind it.

Another good place to start is with his short story collection, Unpossible. You’ll get a real sense of his range from that.

(Okay, I admit that I have not looked at his series of graphic novels for the Planet of the Apes.   A guy’s gotta make a living, I suppose.  But maybe I should check them out… since he can make enjoy a book about zombies, maybe he can sell me on tie-ins, too? Hm.)

Daryl Gregory’s books on Amazon

Daryl Gregory’s website


Dec 15 2014

True Fact


If you put the word “gift” or “shopping” in the title of your blog post…


… you will get SO MANY spam comments.  So, so many.


Dec 12 2014

Next Suggestion: Young Woman in a Garden, by Delia Sherman


ywiag delia


You know what they say about writers: Once you turn pro, it really cuts into your reading time.  Nowadays I’m not always free to settle down and give my full attention to the entire sweep of a novel.

So, I like it that Young Woman in a Garden   is a collection of short stories.  They are bite-sized, manageable in a sitting, and a wonderful way to leave the mundane world behind in favor of a world less mundane, but — admit it — no less true.

Some of these stories are familiar to me — I read them in various iterations when I was part of Delia’s writer’s group.   Others, I’ve heard in part during readings she’s done at conventions.

But others are completely new to me, and those are the ones about which I’m rubbing my hands together in greedy anticipation.

Make no mistake about it, Delia is a true adept, a genuine master of the form.  She writes with grace, and depth, with nimbleness and charm (when called for).   She has a sure hand with style and language, and the breadth of her cultural and historical knowledge allows her to pull in exactly the right details to add richness and realism to her fantastic tales.

If you don’t want this book for yourself, you know someone else who would love it.  Yes you do; you know it.

Perfect gift for that person.

Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman on Amazon

Young Woman in a Garden from the publisher, Small Beer Press

You can read a story from the collection , “Miss Carstairs and the Merman,” for free online.

Or another, “Walpurgis Afternoon,” also free online

And here’s Delia Sherman’s website and blog

Dec 8 2014

Next gift suggestion: Chad Orzel’s EUREKA!




Another book that I jumped right up and ordered as soon as I knew it existed: Eureka! Discovering Your Inner Scientist, by physicist Chad Orzel.

Chad has been making a name for himself lately as a science communicator, as well as being  an actual working scientist. And this, by me, is good. As much as I love science, it’s through the science journalists that I find out what is going on.

His previous books were How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, and How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog. In them he revives the grand tradition (going all the way back to the Greek philosophers) of presenting ideas by means of a conversation between two parties. In this case it’s especially useful, as Emmy is a very practical, focused and pragmatic dog.   It’s a good idea to stay grounded, when you’re discussing something like quantum physics…

Chad and Enmy

I haven’t yet received my copy of Eureka. I pre-ordered it so that it will pop up on my Kindle on December 9th, the instant it’s released (I’m writing this post on December 8th).

But I couldn’t wait, so I went exploring through the book on Amazon, using the “Look Inside” feature. I was able to look at a lot, possibly because I was on record as having bought the book. And I found much to love.

The moment that made me sit up straight and say “YES!” was when he first expresses the scientific process as taking place in four stages: looking, thinking, testing, and telling.

Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s what the Steerswomen do.

Chad works out those four stages in the rest of the book  — and his point in Eureka! is that the scientific process is not some mysterious activity engaged in only by hyper-intelligent (and socially clumsy) braniacs.    In fact, we use scientific thinking every day, and have done so ever since we were us.

“For as long as there have been humans, then, there have been humans doing science. The process of looking at the world, figuring out how things work, testing that knowledge, and sharing it with others ought to be taken as one of the defining traits of our species. The process of science is not some incidental offshoot of more general human activity; it’s the very thing that makes us who we are.”

Eureka! Discovering Your Inner Scientist, on Amazon

Here’s a video of Chad Orzel explaining what playing bridge has to do with the discovery of dark matter.

And here’s a video of Chad explaining what stamp collecting has to do with Darwin and the theory of evolution through natural selection.

And here’s Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel’s blog.

And, oh, look: Yet another little article of mine from the misty depths of antiquity, coincidentally discussing a closely-related topic.

(As Cecil said on the very first episode of Welcome to Night Vale: “We have all been scientists at one point or another in our lives.”)

Dec 6 2014

Laurie J. Marks : Elemental Logic and more




The new world of ebooks has benefitted a lot of writers.  I’m one, as you know.   (My ebook sales this year will exceed my writing income from any previous year.)

It looks like Laurie J. Marks might turn out be another.

Laurie is best known for her Elemental Logic series (originally from Tor Books).   The first two volumes are out of print… But now all three books have been released as ebooks by her current publisher, Small Beer Press.

This makes me glad.  I just now went and bought them.  (I now have them in two forms…)

Also making me glad:  I know there won’t be a long wait for the fourth volume.   In fact, I have a pre-final-edit copy right here…

Well, I won’t gloat too much.  But it helps to know the author.

I especially like the design of Laurie’s magical system, and how it operates through the citizens of the land of Shaftal.  You can (sometimes) work magic. But more often magic is working you — and not at your convenience.   The land has its own plans and needs.

Years and years ago, I wrote a review of the first book in the Elemental Logic series, Fire Logic.   I actually can’t now recall where it was published (online somewhere).   I thought I’d just link to it, but after searching the Internet assiduously, I find I can’t locate it anywhere…

Fortunately, I have a copy,  and I’ve put it here for you to read in its original oddly stilted and slightly turgid entirety. 

Well, I wrote it ages ago, as I said.. but I still stand by it!

Here are some cogent quotes from it:

“Marks delivers her story in prose that is rich, graceful, and often stunning.   I have far too often read authors whose prose merely gets the job done, gets the character from point A to point B by relating the events between: prose so colorless that it is often referred to as “invisible”, as if that were a virtue.   But life itself is not like that; events vibrate with connection and connotation. Marks’ skill with the language allows her to gift us with a fuller experience. Her characters feel deeply, think fiercely, love sharply.”


“In designing her system of magic, Marks displays both literary skill and psychological wisdom. The traits of each element are personality traits that we recognize, representing categories of people that we can identify in our own world. We know these people; we’ve met them all our lives.   Marks gives us a name for them and their ways, and this real-world link makes it easy and natural for us to take one more step and accept, for the story’s sake, the possibilities of Shaftali magic.”

Oh, and you know who else wrote a glowing review?  James Davis Nicoll, who has titled it his review: “Someone whose books I need to obsessively collect”

(One thing you should note: if you are a person who is put off by same-sex romance in a novel, this is not a book for you.)

Laurie’s other books are also hard to find, and out of print — but she has plans to put them up as ebooks, too.  So, you might soon have a lot of Laurie J. Marks books to add to your ebook library.

Laurie J. Marks’ ebooks from Small Beer Press (epub and mobi)

Laurie J. Marks’ Water Logic trade paperback from Small Beer Press

Laurie J. Marks’ books and ebooks on Amazon

The audiobook version of Fire Logic

And here’s where you can hear me sing “The Loyal General”,  a song from Shaftal, with words by Laurie and music by me (contains spoilers for Water Logic)

James Davis Nicoll’s review of Fire Logic

Laurie’s own website, (including Elemental Profile Quiz)


Dec 2 2014

Let’s make your holiday shopping easier, shall we?


Well, I would be remiss and actually unkind if I did not offer a few suggestions…

Like, the Steerwoman Series:

From Amazon…

From iBooks…

From Barnes & Noble…

 From Kobo…

From Smashwords — they have every format imaginable.

But it’s not just about me, folks.   So, in the days to come, I’ll be posting about authors who, in my opinon, deserve some of your hard-earned holiday disposable income.

I probably won’t do full-on in-depth reviews, because…  well, day-job, book(s) I’m currently working on, Christmas run-up duties of my own, slew of medical tests all wanting to take place in December.  But I’ll have something to say about each of the authors, for certain.

If you want to make some suggestions of your own in the comments, feel free!  (But ANYTHING RACIST,  SEXIST, SLEAZOID, OR SPAMMY WILL BE DELETED! You have been warned.)