Best of 2018 – Novels and novellas

It’s so hard to pick my favorite books. 

I mean, you read so many, right? Or, well, I read so many. If there were a monster that could only fill the deep gullet of its belly with words, then I would be that monster. I read a LOT. It’s like breathing.

So every year I try to keep a list of the books that make me smile or laugh out loud or weep uncontrollably and every year I doubtless fail. I know there are things that I will miss, books I really loved but that I can’t quite bring myself to put on my best of list and books that touched me despite not being my favorite and really, who am I kidding? I love all the books, unless I don’t. I’m not really a halfway kind of person when it comes to the written word, and so when I read a book I either love it or, more rarely, hate it. If it makes me feel sort of meh, I don’t finish.

Anyway, the point is that these books are happy, good, glowing things that are worth your time. There’s probably something on this list for everyone and if there is something you’ve read and liked and you want to know about stories like it, I can probably point you in the right direction. It’s a talent of mine.

Without further ado, my 2018 list for novels and novellas: 

In Other Lands

Urban Fantasy, Portal Story, Coming of Age, LGBTQ. This book has a lot going on. The pacing is good for the scope of the time that is taken up in this novel. It’s also a standalone, so don’t worry about getting into this and having to commit to some long series. Everything you need is contained within its cover from the beginning. 

I read this book early in the year and it read, for me, like a balm. It’s the story of a boy who is used to not being loved, and all the problems that he makes for himself because of that habit. And it’s the story of his friends, who stand by him despite his best efforts, and of the magical world they call home.  I hope you read it and love it and feel comfort.

The City of Lost Fortunes

I’ve mentioned this book before, but since it technically came out this year I need to mention it again. I met Bryan Camp at WFC in November of 2017, devoured his book, can’t wait for more. Also he’s a cool guy. This book is set in New Orleans, but unlike most of the similar books mining such a rich setting, The City of Lost Fortunes feels real and lived in. That’s probably because Bryan is a native, and a native with good attention to detail and a love for the city he calls home in all of its chaotic glory. Urban Fantasy.

The Stone in the Skull

Epic Fantasy. This book takes place in the same secondary world that Bear previously created for The Range of Ghosts. Because of that, it is easy to see just how far she has come as a writer. Range of Ghosts and the ensuing novels are solid, well-written, and inventive. The prose in The Stone in the Skull, however, practically leaps of the page. It nonetheless loses none of the excellent elements of the original world, expanding on them in ways that feel natural.

Some of my favorite books in secondary world fantasy have been written by this author. Her skill in research in writing is something I aspire towards. Also she’s a gem and she liked my dress at Futurescapes. It is one of the highlights of my life. So I hope you will read this book and enjoy it as much as I did.

Iron and Magic

You may remember a few years back when I discovered Ilona Andrews. This husband and wife team write the most excellent romance and magical action. This year I have read several of their works, since I’ve been in the mood for romance recently, but since I do love the world of Magic Shifts I decided to recommend this one. It is the start of a trilogy that can be read alone, but I wouldn’t waste the chance to read the recently completed Kate Daniels series, of which this story-line is a spin off. Romance, Urban Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic.

Glory’s Teeth

This is the only novella that made my list this year. I did read a few, mind, and there were some exceptional ones. But there is only so much space on this list and I’m kind of pushing it as it is with seven titles instead of my usual five or so. Luckily, you can read Glory’s Teeth as a standalone, though the author has other works in this world if you can’t get enough.

This book was an unexpected find. I actually saw the author post about it through someone else I follow on Twitter, proving that, occasionally, social media does sell books. The story made me absolutely sob. It’s about a girl who also happens to be a wolf destined to consume the world, the torment of feeling empty and alone, and the hunger to be alive. And it is so very, very delicious.  Urban Fantasy, Norse Mythology.

Trail of Lightning

Gritty, inventive, excellent – these are all words one might use to describe Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut release. And it is definitely gritty. The gore in this book is not to be underestimated. Nor is the refreshing approach to the world. Roanhorse uses her own Native heritage as inspiration in creating a dynamic, grungy world where myths come alive, and not always for the better. While it’s not necessarily a hopeful book, it is a solidly vengeful one, and it sets up nicely for future sequels. Action, Urban Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic.

Space Opera

Last but definitely not least, for those of you who haven’t heard of this wonderful book, we have Space Opera. Ambitious it may be, but this book sticks the landing, as Valente is wont to do. In a story reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide but definitely it’s own, with aliens and absurdity and tongue-twisting prose, Valente takes us on a journey that seems to be about what makes good music but is actually about what makes someone human. Above all, this is a hopeful read. It’s the story you didn’t know you needed in 2018, the longest and shortest year on record, and I have it last so that you will remember it best. Science Fiction, Weird, Eurovision.

I hope you enjoy these reads, folks! Don’t forget to let me know if you’ve read one of these, I’d love to hear how you liked it.


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Escaping the Matrix: On “Nanette”

I spend a lot of time referring to movies and analyzing them in part because they are so accessible. Movies take a much shorter amount of time to consume than books or television shows, and often are more widely viewed. And in the science fiction community, there are few movies more widely viewed than The Matrix.

But the story of the Matrix is a story of speaking truth to power, and it’s a sort of insidious one. The morals of the first movie are very different from the morals of the series when taken as a whole. Most people are only familiar with the first of the films, but very few stuck through the mess that was the second film to find out the ending. Despite this it is, arguably, one of the greatest metaphors for systems of hegemony in our world that exists.

I began to compose this blogpost in my head after watching Nanette late one weeknight. The Netflix original begins as a comedy routine and becomes something more. It is a clear example of speaking truth to power, of the raw perseverance and loss that such a path requires. Hannah Gadsby thoroughly examines the illusion of choice in one memorable moment in this show, when she says: “There’s only been two options for a little girl to grow up into, a virgin or a whore. We’re always given a choice.”

nanette.jpg

At what point does a choice within a system that allows only two outcomes cease to become a choice?

In the Matrix, Neo is given two options. The blue pill allows him to live compliantly in the system set up to contain him. The red pill, however, requires awareness, requires the loss of safety for freedom.

(If I speak nicely, if I am quiet and soft and sweet, then I can stay safely in this role that society has created for me and never need question. But if I become aware, if I speak out, if I take up space, if I am myself, I give up my safety.)

The safety of the blue pill is an illusion. We know that, in the Matrix, the blue pill means that our bodies are being farmed for energy, for meat, for whatever our overlords require. The things that ruin us happen at a whim, and it’s not ours. We have no control over them.

But there is no safety in freedom, either. Less of it. Now the machines target you. Now they fight against you. We know, because the Matrix tells us, that we are a danger to the system. Our existence, once we have swallowed this red pill, becomes a threat. That’s a good thing, though, right? If we are a threat, we can change, we can resist.

The reason the Matrix is so insidious as a narrative, however, is that if you watch that third movie, there was never any hope at all.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. Neo was nearly all-powerful in the first movie. How could he lose? But he does, he loses everything. He was a product of the Matrix all along. All of the red pill society is wiped out, to start again at some predetermined time, when the Matrix decides it needs to release the pressure of those rebellious members of its population. The Chosen One was an illusion. He could never lead those like him to a new life. The only path for those taking the red pill was to die.

There is a disturbing trend, amongst holders of power, to point to freedom and say that it looks a certain way. There have been many writers who discussed the nature of power and the many flavors it can take, but there is only one narrative where certain kinds of power are concerned. Absolutist systems construct choice on their terms. The dichotomy is a loaded one. As in the Matrix, there is no safety in it even when you are being told otherwise.

In Nanette, we learn the truth of that choice for those who cannot fit into either option is violence, but if you’ve been paying attention you should realize that the truth of that choice is always violence, no matter who you are. Whether it’s the violence against the “pure” woman who submits entirely to her partner, who is quiet and demure and voiceless even if he beats her, or the violence of the “sullied” woman whose rape and abuse are justified by her choices, the choice is merely how you want to negotiate your own subjugation. Whether it’s the option of living life as a withered shell addicted to dreams of possibility or as a starving, dirty refugee in the bowels of the world, your options aren’t glorious. As long as the Matrix exists, you have to live with its power over you.

And that’s a lie.

Oh it may be true for individuals. It may be true for Neo. But one day, the Matrix crumbles. One day, the machines fail. It may not be forever. It may not be soon. But all things end. As Ursula Le Guin said so memorably:

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

Those who hold power would like for you to believe that there are only two options: to submit, and to be ostracized. But we can change the options on the table. Indeed, change is the only constant. Until you believe that, there is no hope.

Once you believe that, there is no chance of failure.


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The Lady Astronaut and an expert class in writing

Friends, I have just finished The Calculating Stars, and it blew me away. I would compare this book most closely in voice and style to A Natural History of Dragons, but with a depth of urgency that, for all my love of Brennan’s work, exceeds that series. Buckle up, my friends. This is going to be a long ride.

[Spoilers for The Lady Astronaut of Mars and for The Calculating Stars]

Continue reading “The Lady Astronaut and an expert class in writing”

Launch

Hello everyone!

This is the first post of the blog I will be keeping on my official author website! I cannot promise that posts will be the most regular (I also post on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, so for more regular information please check those out). However, I hope to document major events in the writing process. Subscribe to keep in the loop with current projects, new reviews, and other fun information about my books.

I first published in February 2013, so this website is a long time coming. Following the publishing of my initial standalone novel, Child of Brii, I enrolled in a graduate school program. This put a bit of a damper in my productivity. My second book, Mother of Creation, came out during this two year program. You can find out about both books here. They are available on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, and you can also read Part I of Child of Brii on Wattpad.

The website itself is likely to go through some changes in the next few months. As a preliminary design I feel good about it, but I would like to personalize some aspects of it more. Don’t be surprised if you come back to a face-lift of the site sometime this winter! I’m looking forward to having a more concrete home for my material on the internet.

Until the next post!

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