Interviews with fantasy/sci-fi authors

 

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An excellent part of reviewing books is meeting the authors.   What’s even better, is when authors agree to participate in interviews — not as a means for book promotion, but as a means of helping out another writer with her research.  In the coming days, interviews will be posted by authors who have agreed to help me with my book on the genre of Fantasy, especially on the dark side of that spectrum.

To date, Linda North, author of Deep Merge  and SY Thompson, author of Fractured Futures and Destination Alara have agreed to participate.   The interviews, along with links to their books and reviews thereof, will be posted next week, beginning Monday, 7/14.2014 with an interview with Linda North.

 

 

 

If I Die Before I Wake, debut novel by Liz McMullen

 

 

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If I Die Before I Wake, debut novel by Liz McMullen

Rarely does a novel captivate me, grab my attention within the first few chapters, and keep me spellbound from beginning to end.   Liz McMullen’s novel,  If I Die Before I Wake,  did just that.   For a book to have the capacity to touch this writer on such a deeply personal level seems remarkable enough; however, given that the novel possesses a paranormal nature, makes that connection quite eerie.   Perhaps Liz McMullen has a touch of witchcraft in her writing.    Needless to say, before even reviewing the plot, I admit that I absolutely love the book.   It will be on my shelf to be reread, with a few other novels that strike a personal chord.

Certainly If I Die Before I Wake contains all the elements of a good paranormal horror novel: death of a beloved grandparent, an heirloom that bridges the real world and the world in-between, ghosts, witches, darkness. These elements are well crafted into a storyline that reaches beyond the standard paranormal horror tale, not just with the addition of an extremely sexy lesbian romance, but in how McMullen links the pieces together.   McMullen develops a highly symbolic tale beginning with the title, (the main line of a prayer that many children recite in order to ward off nightmares,) to the names of the characters, which symbolically connect to that prayer, as well as to the necessity for uttering such words.   In doing so, a magical sense of continuity evolves. In this writer’s opinion, the ability to create such a sense of connectivity, not as allusion, but in such a subtle manner that one wouldn’t even notice unless struck by it, goes beyond simply being good authorship, but wonderful story-telling.

While Liz McMullen may already have a great following in her blog, The Liz McMullen Show, she should continue writing novels. Her following will continue exponentially if she does so.   She definitely had a fan in me.

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Review: Surviving Reagan

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Just the title, Surviving Reagan, provoked emotion in this reader. Perhaps, my age set the stage for a host of thoughts about those extremely homophobic years, the ultra conservatism, and the growing apocalyptic view within a militaristic framework, not even touching upon the economic issues fraught within that administration. Certainly, this romance doesn’t precisely touch upon such things, per se, although the unsettled Middle East, a present day context of extreme misogyny and a war machine does work well as a setting to maintain my initial reactions.   Additionally, the events that occur to the protagonists, Chad and Reagan, bespeak of a world still battling with these issues.   However, Surviving Reagan is a romance tale, one that reaches readers on a variety of levels. If one seeks a well-written romance story filled with the emotional turmoil extant between lovers whose love has destiny wrapped around it, intrigue and adventure, then Isabella’s writing fills that bill.   Alternatively, if one seeks a novel that raises provocative issues, social issues that beset every lesbian, while cast within a love story, issues that are at once humorous and devastating, then this novel can serve that purpose as well.   Isabella delivers a deeply intense novel that is well written, filled with dynamic dialogue, compelling on a multitude of levels, and highly evocative.  

 

 

Reading on The Dark Side: The Compiled List of Series Devoured in 18 Months

Queerly Reading Fantasy and the Dark Side of Things

Women Authors of Series (Only That I Have Read In the Last 18 Months)

Notes and Caveats:

  1.  While I did rate each series, I refrained from reviewing , giving only a quick snippet of the elements/themes focused on within the series.   The series was rated as a complete series, not via individual book.
  2. This list includes anthologies, within which many of the authors are contained.  I did not rate the anthologies.
  3. Included in the list are series & authors that I merely skimmed over or read one book only.   These remain unrated,  as insufficient information available for a fair rating.
  4. Excluded from this list: authors of multiple, single novels which may be connected by theme or genre, but are not series per se.
  5. Male authors are purposely excluded.   Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Terry Goodkind, George R.R. Martin specifically

 

Armstrong, Kelley            …

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Review: SY Thompson, Destination Alara

 

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Destination Alara, SY Thompson

 

SY Thompson’s newest novel, Destination Alara, transports readers to a science fiction plot replete with nearly everything for which an aficionado of such books could: the creation of a unique galactic world with its own historical backstory unique to this story, strong female protagonists, a romance which enhances the plot rather than overwhelming it, sophisticated political intrigue, and a vivid, descriptive settings which are richly sensory in nature. It isn’t supervising that Thompson delivers a novel in the tradition of Ursula Le Guin, with a bit of Elizabeth Lynn, and Mercedes Lackey, tossed in for good measure. Thompson creates a unique world, with incredibly nuanced characters, and a view of a matriarchal social structure that is not overly simplified or stereotypical, but possible. Needless to say, I loved this book. Thompson brought a bit of glee to my sci-fi soul.

 

Thompson creates a rather post-apocalyptic setting with its own historical backstory (not just a few years prior, but layers/generations of societies prior, not completely unlike that of Star Trek or Star Wars, but unique unto itself). That history is useful in that it helps stage the current a political struggle, cast, (aptly), with gender, class, imperialist issues. If Thompson had simply inserted a matriarchal society in place of the patriarchal one in which we live, the tale would be simplistic. Instead, the use of matriarchy allows for a tension between the antagonists in such a way that demonstrates the oppressive nature of male centered culture toward women; particularly with respect to women in power, the means that rape culture would attempt to strip the power from any woman, as well as the disdain patriarchal societies hold for lesbians. These themes play out well in the dynamic character of Admiral Meryan as a daughter of the ruling family and the circumstances in which she is placed within the plot, as well as how Van, the other protagonist, military hero, and love interest works within that dynamic.

 

Certainly, I could go on for pages about the themes at work in Destination Alara, it seems more appropriate for this review to clue the reader into the incredibly, no, sensuously vivid descriptions that Thompson provides the reader.   Each scene can be felt, heard, visualized completely, as if the reader is along side the character. If one has ever watched an episode of Star Trek, then take that visualization and double it – that’s how visually intense the descriptors are written. With respect to dialogue, each character has a unique phrasing, accent, emotional range that comes out each time, even with respect to minor characters. Thompson renders such a rich complexity to each moment of the plot, that it seems genuine – an excellent rendering of a possible world.

 

All in all, SY Thompson delivers outstanding science fiction with a lesbian fiction focus.   The lesbian focal aspect should not dissuade non-lesbians from picking up this book, because it is outstanding and transcends gender identity. It is simply put, wonderfully written science fiction. I highly recommend this book.

Review: Deep Merge, Linda North

Two women, from different worlds, will join together in a profound and unique way that will herald the start of a new path for their planets and a promising future for themselves.
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Linda North, in her novel, Deep Merge, transcends the mundane aspects of many works of science fiction by adeptly exploring the relationship between technology, society, and the individual. In doing so, social issues extant within modern, techno focal culture became both fundamental and integral to the plot.   In doing so,  Linda North created an intricately crafted, excellent science fiction novel.
Deep Merge is a captivating work of contemporary science fiction reminiscent of the styles of Heinlein, Le Guin or, perhaps even Orson Scott Card.  Certainly each of the aforementioned classic authors fall into varied waves of the sci-fi tradition, yet they each bring attention to the atrophy of the individual within an overly technological, centralized government, the plausibility of scientific and biological changes set within the plot, while also presenting characters possessing a high level of scientific sophistication.  North achieved this feat as well.
Deep Merge managages to avoid the obliqueness often associated with poor science fiction writing.  Such obliqueness manifests whenever ignoring the of imperative requisite of plausibility: the plausibility of the science and of the human condition.  In those works, the “science” in science fiction is anything but plausible, rendering the tale facile or childish.  In Deep Merge, North completely  avoids such pitfalls by developing a space technological backdrop, compleat with discription, that is meaningful, intellectually consistent, and relevant.  It not only makes sense, but it works with rather than against the characters.
North successfully integrates the best aspects of the second and third wave of science fiction themes by weaving contemporary struggles of homophobia, bigotry, and xenophobia harmoniously into her fictional setting.  Ultimately, North presents an engaging sci-fi tale which hits many of this reader’s favorite chords, space travel, genetics, and strong female characters in loving, exciting relationships.
I’m ready to find other of North’s books The dream-scape that she creates for the reader is vibrant, multi-faceted, and extremely intriguing.   I look forward to reading more of works in the future.

 

Review: Fractured Futures, by S.Y. Thompson

Fractured Futures Cover

As a hard-core Dark Urban Fantasy fan, it takes a clever plot to surprise me any more. More often than not, it seems as though every story harkens back to one prior, often as just shy of plagiarism, or as accidental homage. So, when I opened Fractured Futures, I was prepared to for disappointment. Happily, what I discovered was a strong dark urban fantasy, complete with intense female protagonists and romance that was rich, inviting, and sexy (oh, and between woman!) SY Thompson takes a futuristic landscape, reminiscent of a blending of Orwell and Ridley Scott, dark, centralized, and fraught with layers of discord and corruption, yet she reaches further into that realm, casting a glance at the oppression of women service workers via the near cyborg effect cast upon Ronan as a police officer, serves as tool both owned and employed by the state.  This reductionism becomes further enhanced by her connection to technology, especially intriguing as the technological component leads to an even darker and complex plot line. Further, Thompson explores sexuality, via intense dialogue and an inter-play of provocative themes of class — within both regime and intimacy. Additionally, as the plot revolves around serial killing, violence against women provides another important social element. It is the complexity of this interplay that ultimately strengthens the romantic relationship.

Certainly, I could easily say that I loved the book and call it a day. However, Thompson deserves recognition for how well she fused aspects of social justice into a police drama cum DUF cum lesbian fiction book. I highly recommend it. Hand down, this book will be re-read multiple times.

 

Reading on the Dark Side and the Realm in Between

18 months of reading only series by female authors of the darker side of fantasy

Women authors, particularly in mainstream fiction genres, tend to be ignored, under-rated, or cast into the category of “chick lit” (which implies fit for female consumption only and thereby of lesser quality.) Certainly, books intended for a female focal or exclusively female audience have unique specificity, yet any presumption that books written by a woman author is either intended for women’s eyes only or simply not worthy of a larger audience.

At certain points in my life, I admit to being somewhat of a literary snob. Certain forms of literature, particularly from the late 18th century, 19th century and early 20th Anglo-European culture, filled both my mind and bookshelves with what “ought” to be read. These works,largely, are written by males with females authors proving glorious exceptions. That was the range of my focus. Of course, ancient classic works within the Greco-Roman tradition were necessary, along with Dante, and any foray outside of Europe or the United States fell within Hindu, Chinese, or Japanese philosophical spectrum. Hence, fiction reading had a classical education taint to it. Modern works by lauded authors, mostly White, more often male rounded out (obliquely) the rest of the collection.

By the time I reached my teens and then college, a larger world of reading material opened for me: not just exposure to writers of color (a conversation that demands more space and attention), but genres previously avoided for their “lack of depth”. Case in point: science fiction and fantasy. Literature classes ignored these broad genres and I was clueless. The first time that I read modern science fiction (believe it was either Heinlein or Asimov) I thought that I had gone to heaven — or the heaven’s. Then when I read, The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, my world went completely a tilt, since my love of things Arthurian and fairy became an adult reading journey. For decades, I read the genres within the scope of Fantasy on the sly. Anne Rice, Ursula LeGuin, William Gibson, Piers Anthony, and so many others filled my nightstand with reading material but not my office bookshelves — somewhat like eating forbidden candy. This proved a continuation of the legacy of hegemonic education. While that legacy is filled with discussion worthy aspects, what is germane here is that the older I get, the more that I embrace my love of fantasy.
Not just fantasy — dark worlds fraught with allusions to past mythology, present techno-focal thinking, and the realism of a scio-political landscape built on alienation, conflict, xenophobia, and designed oppression cum oppositional forces.

[Of course, this book snobbery in no way carried over to my predilection for sci-fi and paranormal television and movies. Perhaps that too, is indicative of hegemonic snobbery — television and film are not “literary” or something. Or maybe I’m simply contrary that way. The television and film discussion seems to be another, necessary, long discussion for another time.]

Given that the definitions for Fantasy and it’s sub-genres vary, my parameters for categorization follow along these lines, loosely, and there is tremendous overlap

Fantasy Fantasy as a genre, commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Setting often takes place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures exist, generally gaining inspiration from mythology and folklore. Within such a structure, any location of the fantastical element is possible: it may be hidden in, or leak into the apparently real world setting, it may draw the characters into a world with such elements, or it may occur entirely in a fantasy world setting, where such elements are part of the world.[

Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. Here the fantasy cast within the real world by means of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence between humans and paranormal beings, conflicts between humans and paranormals.

3. Dark Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre of UF replete with themes of a darker nature.
Darkness, death, violence, sex, and blood permeate stories dealing with paranormal characters and their urban landscape. A struggle typically exists as characters cope with latent magic and it’s effect on humanity or a notion of fallen as in-between the good versus evil dynamic or the this world/other world distinction.

4. Science Fiction, overly simplified, is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginative content such as futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. Authors commonly use science fiction as a framework to explore politics, identity, desire, morality, social structure, and other literary themes. A couple of important elements, which overlap into UF, DUF, etc.

alternative timelines, or in a historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archaeological record.
other worlds, or on subterranean earth.
Characters that include aliens, mutants, androids, or humanoid robots and other types of characters arising from a future human evolution.
Scientific principles that are new or that contradict accepted physical laws, for example time travel, wormholes, or faster-than-light travel or communication.
New and different political or social systems, e.g. dystopian, post-scarcity, or post-apocalyptic.
Paranormal abilities such as mind control, telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation.
Other universes or dimensions and travel between them.

5. Paranormal: Paranormal fiction is a genre of fiction whose storylines revolve around the paranormal. The most prevalent themes involving vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, or time travel, paranormal romances can also include books featuring characters with psychic abilities, like telekinesis or telepathy.

6. SteamPunk. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American West, set within in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.

7. CyberPunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future with plots centering on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations. The setting tends to be cast in a near-future Earth, rather than the far-future settings or galaxies. The settings are usually post-industrial dystopias but tend to be marked by extraordinary cultural ferment and the use of technology in ways never anticipated by its creators. Very reminiscent of film noir aesthetic.

Review: Syncopated Rhythm, Erik Schuback

A Perfect Title for a Clever Novella
     Without hesitation this work receives a 5 star rating
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As a geeky, nerdy, often too much into my head woman,  I found myself intensely connected to the main character of Syncopated Rhythm.   Perhaps the clue that this book was going to work for me was that I was wearing the same t-shirt that the main character had on during the first pages!   Serenpididous, to say the least.
Within the span of a two word title Syncopated Rhythm, Erik Schubach managed to convey both the essence and the complexity of the novella’ s plot.   In music, syncopation contains an interruption to the regular flow of rhythm often by an insertion of an unexpected tempo that renders the entire tune “off-beat.”  In Schubach’s story, the over arching theme centers on quirkiness; a quirkiness bedeviled by navigating change, both in setting and in the characters themselves.
Everything and everyone conveys the off-beat, all the while being funny, engaging, and relatable.
Kylee, the main character, comes alive on the page as the uber achiever in school that takes a while to find her way once college ends.   She is that clever woman, absolutely a “super gamer geek girl” who responds within conversation by using obscure allusions to cartoons, song lyrics, and Shakespeare.   Even her clothing and car name identified her as a sci-fi loving brainiac.  This disposition as a brainiac belies her social awkwardness, which draws in nicely the other characters of the plot.  Such awkward quirkiness necessitates others who get that unique personality and can take her, as she is, into the larger social strata and, ultimately blossom.   Schubach describes this aptly, believably, and creates an even clearer view of the each characters’ mindset, not just Kylee’s, by means of fantastic use of both internal and external dialogue.   At one point, Kylee mulls over attention given to her by Amber, the like/lust/love interest.  Schubach creates the perfect scene of confusion.  How many of us, as awkward geeky girls, have not worried whether the hot girl is laughing with us or at us?
The setting and the plot seem ripe with complexity, but not over wrought in the least.  Each layer of complexity works well: developed by employment of other characters, their interaction, multiple perspectives on situations within the plot line.  Actually, it adds more depth to the story, or in keeping with the allusion set forth by the title, adds a richness to the tune.
I enjoyed every aspect of this book.   I loved the small facets that help to build believable characters, their families, past, insecurities.  More than that, I found the richness of the weaving of the characters into a tune that indeed had a rhythm to it that changed, moved in different directions, all the while making sense in its over all off-beat tempo of quirky, yet memorable.
My wardrobe while reading:

JL Gaynor, Drive

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January 13, 2014

Publishers Blurb:  Kate and Susan were best friends until they became something much more. Keeping their relationship a secret from their families and friends, they promised each other a future together, bright and full of possibilities. All of it comes to an end as their secret is discovered and a devastating ultimatum drives them apart.
J.L. Gaynor takes the reader on a wonderful ride in her novel, Drive. Gaynor’s title so aptly captures the rhythm, internal nuances of the characters’ personality, and the actual events.   It pacing of the plot flows as if the reader was on a journey with the characters, along for a ride filled with emotional ups and downs and the wrenching realism that often besets lovers.  The characters instantly capitivate, particularly as Gaynor has a wonderful ability to capture voice, to the point that clearly each character speaks distinctly, articulating her own essence with her own choice of words. Gaynor’s use of dialogue, both internal and conversationally, fills the imagination with the sincerity of emotional presence; so much, in fact, I felt as though I was with them. I loved Drive.  I look forward to checking out Gaynor’s other books as soon as possible.  Gaynor’s emergence on the scene of lesbian fiction is a wonderful addition to a growing group of authors who able to create exciting works of fiction using lesbian characters richly, deeply, and with the dexterity that any fictional reader would enjoy, not just the niche set of lesbian readers.