Posted by Rachel

Over at Fantasy Book Cafe, a post by Megan Whelen Turner, writing about the problem of discoverability.

I believe that Discovery, the process of finding books and authors that are new, is the most important aspect of increasing diversity in publishing. Some people find their new books by reading reviews regularly and getting newsletters in their inbox, but the vast majority of readers pick up the thing that’s on the endcap at Barnes and Noble.

Probably true, although in fact when I lived within 10 miles of a bookstore, I found most books and authors via the library. Physical bookstores are still really important for my sales, though. So I think that bit about tables at B&N is still basically true.

Here’s the bit I found most interesting:

I fall into reading ruts pretty easily. When I was a kid, I read all the Black Stallion books, all the Susan Cooper books, all the Alistair MacLean books. It took effort and sometimes blind luck to get me out of my comfort zones. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite books and I only read it because it was on the shelf in a small apartment where I was trapped as a nanny to a sleeping baby. I love Iain Banks and I am not sure I would have if his books hadn’t constituted 40% of all books in English in the Oslo Public Library the year I lived there.

… This is interesting because I really don’t think “reading all of x books” can be called a rut. I mean, I totally did that too as a kid, and still do as an adult. All the Black Stallion books, check, all of Alistair MacLean, check. Also everything by Dorothy Dunnett, say. Or everything by CJ Cherryh. Or much more recently: all of Martha Wells’ books, all of Andrea K Höst’s books.

But how can that be called a rut? Unless you read them and then re-read them and then read them yet again, rather than going on to something else. Does anybody ever do that? Because that’s a little hard for me to imagine.

If you read all of Martha Wells’ books, that’s only, what, fifteen or so novels. Then you’d go on to something else, right? So, that doesn’t sound like enough novels in a row to really count as getting into a rut.

Which of course does not derail the main point, which is that Discoverability Is Really Important and Really Hard.

MWT says: As more and more of my purchases are made online, as more of my reading is online, I worry about the algorithms that are used to put books in front of my eyeballs. Amazon’s whole imperative is to show me books just like ones I’ve read already. Even as I am trying to diversify, I can I see myself going down a narrower and narrower tunnel.

Which also makes me wonder, do any of you pay a significant amount of attention to Amazon’s suggestions? Or do you, like me, get nearly all your reading recommendations from bloggers? In that case, since no one’s taste overlaps perfectly, you should find yourself being pushed toward books you wouldn’t ordinarily notice, right? Chachic got me reading romances. Charlotte got me reading more MG. Brandy and Maureen got me reading contemporary YA. And I have no idea how many books on my TBR pile were recommended by commenters here, but lots.

Discoverability is still really hard, obviously. Bloggers don’t use algorithms to suggest similar titles, but on the other hand some titles come with a LOT of buzz and hype and every. single. blogger. in the entire universe reviews those books while a thousand others fall under the radar. I see no solution to that, basically.

But to do my tiny bit about the issue: in the comments, please mention one under-the-radar novel or series that you read recently (or semi-recently) and really loved.

I’ll start, obviously.

My pick: Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman

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Good News Tuesday

Apr. 25th, 2017 02:07 pm[syndicated profile] rachel_neumeier_feed

Posted by Rachel

Forgot about these good news posts last week — that happens when I happen to take Monday off; Tuesday just doesn’t feel like Tuesday. But that means several links piled up.

Like this one, for example:

Possible new treatment for neuroinflammation in stroke

Researchers have identified a potential new treatment to reduce the effects of intracerebral hemorrhage, or ICH, a severe form of stroke causing blood vessels to burst and bleed into the brain, which can lead to life-threatening edema and neuroinflammation.

I expect like every other treatment for stroke, timing is important. But anything that reduces the damage from strokes is definitely good news.

Here’s another, even better:

Scientists Halt Growth of Colon, Stomach Cancers

Australian researchers have discovered a “revolutionary” new way to stop the growth of colon and stomach cancers, which could lead to a new cancer-fighting drug within three years. … When researchers used a drug-like molecule to inhibit the protein in animal tests, existing colon and stomach cancers stopped growing. The appearance of new cancers was also reduced.

I expect we all know someone who has died of gastrointestinal cancer. I certainly do. Plus the rate of these cancers in younger people has been spiking, I believe. So this is very good news.

Here’s hoping this next one pans out:

After Decades of Work, a Malaria Vaccine Is Here

Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi will begin piloting the injectable vaccine next year with young children. The vaccine, which has partial effectiveness, has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives if used with existing measures. … Malaria infects more than 200 million people worldwide every year and kills about half a million, most of them children in Africa.

Well, even a partial vaccine would be a great thing. Good luck to those trying it!

Here’s a very cool one:

South Indian frog oozes molecule that inexplicably decimates flu viruses

A compound in the frog’s mucus—long known to have germ-killing properties—can latch onto flu virus particles and cause them to burst apart, researchers report in Immunity. The peptide is a potent and precise killer, able to demolish a whole class of flu viruses while leaving other viruses and cells unharmed. But scientists don’t know exactly how it pulls off the viral eviscerations. No other antiviral peptide of its ilk seems to work the same way….

Click through and read the whole mysterious thing.

Here’s a somewhat misleading headline:

Elon Musk Outlines His Mission to Link Human Brains With Computers in 4 Years

This instantly makes one think of real SF computer-brain interfaces, as is shown particularly well in the Touchstone trilogy, for example. But the immediate intention is to use these little devices in a medical capacity:

Tesla founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk said his latest company Neuralink Corp is working to link the human brain with a machine interface by creating micron-sized devices.
Neuralink is aiming to bring to the market a product that helps with certain severe brain injuries due to stroke, cancer lesion, etc, in about four years.

A bit creepy in its potential! But we’ll see.

Now, this last one is just cool:

Strange new ‘superfluid’ boggles the mind

Physicists have developed a fluid which has “negative mass” — meaning it accelerates toward you when it is pushed away.

Well, that sounds totally crazy. Maybe those of you who are more into physics than I am will understand better how this is even remotely possible. Very cool thing to use as SF handwavey magic technology, though.

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Books read in 2017

Apr. 25th, 2017 12:35 pm[syndicated profile] sharonlee_feed

Posted by Sharon

23. Convergence, C. J. Cherryh, (read aloud with Steve)
22. Rock Addiction, Nalini Singh (e)
21. The Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel
20. Etched in Bone, Anne Bishop (e)
19. Rider at the Gate, CJ Cherryh (re-read)
18. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett (read aloud w/Steve)
17. Silence Fallen, Patricia Briggs (e)
16. The Cold Eye, Laura Anne Gilman
15. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, Lillian Jackson Braun (read aloud w/Steve)
14. Memory, Linda Nagata (e)
13.  Bonita Faye, Margaret Moseley (e)
12.  Burn for Me, Ilona Andrews (e)
11. Snuff, Terry Pratchett (read aloud w/Steve)
10. A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (e)
9.  Some Danger Involved, Will Thomas
8.  Thud!, Terry Pratchett (read aloud w/Steve)
7.  White Tiger, Kylie Chan
6.  The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch
5.  Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon (e)
4.  The Wolf in the Attic, Paul Kearney (e)
3.  The Cat Who Saw Red, Lillian Jackson Braun (read aloud w/Steve)
2.  Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse, Jayme Lynn Blaschke (e)
1. Sand of Bone, Blair MacGregor (e)

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Books read in 2017

Apr. 24th, 2017 08:46 pm[syndicated profile] sharonlee_feed

Posted by Sharon

22. Rock Addiction, Nalini Singh (e)
21. The Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel
20. Etched in Bone, Anne Bishop (e)
19. Rider at the Gate, CJ Cherryh (re-read)
18. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett (read aloud w/Steve)
17. Silence Fallen, Patricia Briggs (e)
16. The Cold Eye, Laura Anne Gilman
15. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, Lillian Jackson Braun (read aloud w/Steve)
14. Memory, Linda Nagata (e)
13.  Bonita Faye, Margaret Moseley (e)
12.  Burn for Me, Ilona Andrews (e)
11. Snuff, Terry Pratchett (read aloud w/Steve)
10. A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (e)
9.  Some Danger Involved, Will Thomas
8.  Thud!, Terry Pratchett (read aloud w/Steve)
7.  White Tiger, Kylie Chan
6.  The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch
5.  Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon (e)
4.  The Wolf in the Attic, Paul Kearney (e)
3.  The Cat Who Saw Red, Lillian Jackson Braun (read aloud w/Steve)
2.  Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse, Jayme Lynn Blaschke (e)
1. Sand of Bone, Blair MacGregor (e)

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Posted by Rachel

Frans de Waal posted this on Facebook recently and I finally remembered to go find it. I may make it the background on my computer forever.

This image, by Ben Hall Photography, shows flamingos soaring through the Chilean Andes.

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Posted by Rachel

Here’s an interesting post that I gather was pulled together from a reddit thread: These Books Were Once Considered “Classics” But Are Now Largely Forgotten

Neat idea for a post! Let’s see what’s on the list:

Telemachus by Francois de Fenelon — evidently a retelling of Ulysses from Telemachus’ point of view. That is an interesting idea, but I don’t know that I would rush right out.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. That one I’ve heard of. Doesn’t sound like my kind of thing at all. “follows orphan Philip on a bildungsroman through Europe.” — yeah, no, not a very appealing description.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, “follows the decline of the superrich Ambersons in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.” Ugh.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Now, that one I actually have on my TBR pile. I will have to overcome my ingrained distrust of anything labeled a “classic” in order to read it, and so far that hasn’t happened. The first line is almost as famous as “It is a truth universally acknowledged” or “Call me Ishmael.” Probably you know it, right? “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I faintly remember having heard of this one, which actually sounds quite inviting. “One would think, in creating what is believed to be the first modern English detective novel, you would solidify your place among the literary greats; that seemingly is not the case for Wilkie Collins, whose 1868 epistolary novel The Moonstone pioneered a new genre.” I like English detective novels and I like epistolary novels, so I guess I should look into getting this one. … Yes, it seems to be free for Kindle. Okay then, added to the TBR pile.

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. Well, well. That one I’ve not only heard of, I think I read it. A while ago, though. I don’t remember it well, but yeah. I don’t really like the “blending into the cosmic mind” type of outcome.

Rope by Patrick Hamilton. Well, that is certainly a forgettable title that probably did not do the book any favors. Looks like it was a play, and it is described thus: “[a] Dickensian” portrayal of British street culture amid the World Wars.” Hmm. I think I would rather just read something by Dickens.

Okay, that’s it on the list. Anything you would like to add? I’ll include one that may never have been a classic, but should have been: An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden, published in 1956.

Practically any of Godden’s work ought to have been a classic, and should still be read today. My personal favorite is actually In This House of Brede.

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We have a winner!

Apr. 23rd, 2017 10:30 pm[syndicated profile] sharonlee_feed

Posted by Sharon

For Patreon folks — the poll is now closed and we have a winner.  I will be reading “The Gift of Music,” as the second patron goody, scheduled for release on April 29. Thank you all for helping me decide what to read.

Remember that patrons will have exclusive access to the story for one month, after which it will be moved to Splinter Universe and made public.

 

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Posted by Rachel

So, on Facebook, I followed a link to a post titled I ATE THREE EGGS EVERY SINGLE MORNING FOR A WEEK – HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED.

The resulting post started in a predictable fashion:

It’s the offseason around these parts, and one of the essential things we do every offseason is revisit our diet and exercise. Healthy living and careful planning in April helps us balance out those fall Saturdays, where we often wake up covered in Taki crumbs and high-ABV craft beer cans at 3am, having fallen asleep during an Oregon State late game.

One of my biggest problems in the morning is eating a quick, healthy breakfast that doesn’t leave me starving and raiding the candy jar by 10am. The solution might be a familiar one: inexpensive, easy-to-prepare, protein-packed eggs! I decided to commit to eating them every single morning for a week, forgoing my usual oatmeal, smoothie, or gas station burrito.

Here’s what happened!

MONDAY

Over the weekend, I picked up some farm-fresh eggs from the stand at the local market. Sure, they’re a little more expensive than the grocery store, but the bright yellow yolks have a richer, delicious flavor, and it’s nice to know they’re sustainably raised.

I started simple, and cooked them over-medium, with just a sprinkling of black pepper and minced chives, serving it over sprouted bread with half an avocado.

Bored yet? Don’t be fooled! Click through and keep going, trust me on this. The situation escalates quickly after Monday.

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Posted by Rachel

Here’s a post that I just stumbled across, though it’s from a couple years ago, by the well-known agent Donald Maass.

In manuscripts I meet many protagonists who are sour, snarky, bemused, self-pitying, singly-focused, disconnected or, frankly, just plain dull. This would seem to fit the framework which says that protagonists should be yearning, obsessed, suffering, isolated and in need of change.

It also means spending time with people who are a drag. Even more, these authors are promising their readers that their every new title will be a slog. The spirit of their fiction is negative. Many would say “redemptive”, since everything comes out great at the end, but the far off outcome isn’t the point. It’s the experience of reading that can either be burdensome or inspiring. It can engage readers’ hearts or turn them off.

The solution isn’t necessarily creating characters who are relentlessly chipper and nothing but fun, though that might be a relief. Yearning, need, struggle and change are essential to good story, yet all of that can be accomplished in a spirit that invites us in more than makes us run screaming. The difference lies in how you, the author, feel about your characters, the story world and everything in general, and how that finds expression on the page. You are what you eat. In the same way what you write is you.

I think this is an interesting and possibly useful restatement of the “likable character” argument. It gets at why that term, “likable,” doesn’t work for me — and I know doesn’t work for many other people as well. It’s interesting to me that Maass says it’s not necessary to create characters who are relentlessly chipper — as far as I’m concerned, relentlessly chipper is not implied in any way by “not a slog to be around.”

Think of . . . of course . . . Tremaine from Martha Wells’ Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. She is introspective, suffering, and isolated, but she is not a drag for the reader to be around because she is also witty, practical, competent, generous, and ruthless — a wonderful and unusual spectrum of characteristics that make her unique. Also, likable even though she is not chipper or stereotypically nice or whatever it is that critics mean when they use the word “likable.”

I think that this idea that the author’s general worldview infuses her work . . . yeah, that seems inevitable, doesn’t it? It’s true, I think. That’s why there are certain authors whose fiction I avoid because their every blog post seems like a scream of primal rage. I don’t want to spend time in an anger-soaked world, or with characters born from that world and that worldview.

Maass offers suggestions for, as he says, helping your magnanimous self shine on the page. It’s a longish list, but I will excerpt one little bit:

Who in the story can rise above a situation? Who can forgive when forgiveness isn’t earned? Who is high who can show humility? Who is low who can muster dignity? Who can open their home? Who can impose tough love? Who can sacrifice? Who can inspire? Who can admit wrong? Who can show love when damnation is deserved?

Okay, and one more:

Pick any page in your manuscript. What’s happening? Who in this scene can act more noble, strong, just, fine, generous, loyal, or principled?

As you might guess, I would be drawn to stories written by an author who asked these questions while writing; far more so than to fiction suffused in nihilism, despair, hopelessness, or so on. I get that some authors find that bleakness in the real world and pour it into their stories. I sort of understand that. I also know that some readers enjoy the resulting stories. That, I don’t understand at all.

Click through to read the whole post if you’ve got a minute.

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Asteroid 2014 JO25

Apr. 21st, 2017 04:30 am[syndicated profile] apod_feed

A day before its closest approach, asteroid 2014 JO25 A day before its closest approach, asteroid 2014 JO25


Posted by Rachel

Here’s a recent post at Fantasy Book Cafe: Old Houses and New Beginnings by Yangsze Choo.

Yangsze Choo wrote The Ghost Bride, which I haven’t read because it sounds like it is probably tragic in a sloooow motion everything slowly goes terribly wrong kind of way, which is a very difficult sort of thing for me to read. The cover is lovely, though:

Here’s what is says about this book on Goodreads:

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

I don’t know, maybe this doesn’t sound like a slow-motion tragedy after all. Actually, it sounds like a Gothic, where we expect all the haunting parts to lead to a satisfying outcome for the protagonist. Has anyone read this? I think I actually have it on my TBR pile, but should I shuffle it more toward the top?

Anyway, old houses. In this post, Choo says:

I’m planning a research trip to Dalian, a city in the part of northern China previously known as Manchuria. “What will you do there?” asked a friend. I had to reply that I wasn’t quite sure, but my main purpose was to wander around and look at old buildings from the early 1900s. … Old houses hint at stories and secrets; their rooms capture the fleeting impressions of feet that have worn down wooden stairs and hands that have polished banisters. When I wrote my first book, The Ghost Bride, I was inspired by a Chinese house in Penang, Malaysia, that had fallen into disrepair. Built by a wealthy Chinese merchant to house his extended family and consisting of courtyards and rooms upon rooms, it was like a tightly constrained world. I could almost feel the weight of family obligation—very helpful when writing the tale of a young woman who is asked to marry a dead man! The decay of the house also suggested the parts of the book which take place in the Chinese world of the dead.

I have to say, Choo is doing a wonderful job at capturing atmosphere in this post. The whole thing is worth reading. Plus, this:

My second novel, The Night Tiger, is about an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy who suspects that his master is actually a man-eating tiger.

Wow. My first impulse is to grab the book and my second is to back away from it slowly. My third (which I will follow when the book comes out) is to look it up on Goodreads and read some reviews. These do sound very much like Chinese Gothics, if there is such a category. I can really get into a creepy, haunted, atmospheric Gothic story … if it is not also a grim story where the protagonist slowly descends into inescapable tragedy.

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Posted by Sharon

Things have been happening here at the Confusion Factory.  Also, things are about to happen.  Here’s your handy guide to our Official Goin’s-ons.

  1.  “Cutting Corners,” a Liaden Universe® short story including but not limited to: norbears, pirates, and piloting re-certs is now live and ready for you — yes, you! — to read it.  Here’s the link.
  2. The first Patreon goody has been posted — Steve reading “A Night at the Opera,” by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  This may be accessed by Patreon folks only.  After May 15, it will migrate to Splinter Universe for everyone’s listening pleasure.  Here’s your link.
  3. The second Patreon goody will be posted on or about Saturday April 29, and it will be my turn.  There’s a poll open right now, to help me figure out which story I ought to read.  Here’s a link to the poll.
  4. On May 1 at 12 noon Eastern Daylight Time, Steve and I will be hosting a pre-release A(sk) M(e) A(nything) at Reddit.  We hope you’ll be able to join us.  You do need to register with Reddit in order to take part in the AMA.  You can register here.
  5. On Tuesday, May 2, The Gathering Edge, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the twentieth novel-length adventure in the Liaden Universe®, will be published, in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.
  6. On Saturday, May 13, from 1-3, Steve and I will be at the Barnes and Noble in the Augusta Marketplace in Augusta, Maine, hosting a meet and greet and a book signing, and we hope to see you there!

And now? You’re all caught up.

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Posted by Rachel

Via File 770, I see that Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven King quadrilogy has been picked up for a tv series.

I do think this comment, by River, is on point:

Maggie Stiefvater’s writing style was essential to the tone of the series. I can’t see that translating well on television.

Personally, though I enjoyed Cabeswater immensely, it is the characters I think about when anyone brings up the series. They are so precious to me that any cast will inevitably disappoint me.

I feel like I am being a Negative Nancy here but I can’t stress enough how big a role the author’s particular writing played in why the series is so loved.

It is indeed Stiefvater’s beautiful writing that hooked me. No question about it. And she puts us in the heads of her characters, always a challenge for visual media. Also, I have a really clear picture of Ronan. Not so much of the others. But I could see casting either working for me or totally not working for me depending on the actor cast as Ronan.

Still, I will be very interested to see how a miniseries is handled.

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