“Billy Moon” by Douglas Lain

billymoonBilly Moon is Douglas Lain’s debut novel, and it’s one of the most original fantasies I’ve read recently. We follow an alternate version of the grown Christopher Robin Milne, who is still coping with the fame thrust upon him by the success of Winnie the Pooh. Things aren’t helped by the fact that he occasionally runs into things that are just plain impossible, and his son has been diagnosed with autism. As he struggles to connect with his son and make sense of his life in, he receives an invitation to Paris from student Gerrard Hand to join the May 1968 protests. The ensuing events form the meat of this book.

I had the constant feeling that I was missing something while reading Billy Moon, but I also had the suspicion that this feeling was what the author intended me to feel. The themes of the book make sense, the prose is lyrical and flows beautifully, the magical realism is expertly done – sometimes delighting, but often frightening. If you’re expecting a linear story where you know exactly what’s going on, or even which reality you’re on… this is not the book for you. I was left with a whole bunch of confusion at the end, but even though I was confused, at no point did I actually want to stop reading the book.

I wasn’t quite sure whether I should even attempt a review of Billy Moon, since I don’t really have a clear verdict on it. I hope that posting my honest reaction qualifies, even if it’s not in the traditional review format. I did read other reviews, and they seem universally glowing (I was tempted to write a similarly glowing one myself rather than admit to not quite getting everything in it), so I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot (which is easy to do because I’m giving a copy away!).

I plan to do a reread in a few months to see if I can get more from it, though, and I’ll update this post when I do!


You might also be interested in my Billy Moon giveaway and interview with author, Douglas Lain. Keep an eye out for that post!

“The Magicians” by Lev Grossman

Cover_TheMagiciansI’ve been wary of reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’d heard a lot of great things about the book, but I don’t usually like fantasy stories where the protagonists are older teens/adults from our world who discover a fantasy world; it tends to dampen the sense of wonder and discovery that usually accompanies the exploration of a new world. However, the Lev Grossman’s short story set in the Magicians universe in Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology (which I still need to review at some point) persuaded me to finally buy myself a copy, and I’m glad I did!

I’ve heard The Magicians described as Harry Potter meets Narnia, and that’s not a bad description. We follow Quentin, a fairly nerdy and very smart teenager who’s obsessed with the Narnia-like magical land of Fillory. He’s close to graduating from high school when he has a “you’re a wizard, Harry!” moment and gets the opportunity to go to a magical college and soon has more exciting things to worry about than Fillory. But Fillory is not as imaginary as Quentin thinks…

I enjoyed this book tremendously because it works excellently in two very different genres – high fantasy, and contemporary coming of age. Fantasy often comes with a coming of age story, but it’s generally of the type where the protagonist needs to accept his destiny and become the hero he was meant to be. The Magicians has none of this – most of it is the story of Quentin growing up, making real friends, realising the unimportance of high school priorities, coping with the real world after college… all very familiar. Magic is almost secondary until the last quarter of the book where they find Fillory. And even then, Quentin and his friends act exactly how you’d expect regular twenty somethings to act, but Grossman spins it into a great fantasy story, managing to make the same situations both mesmerisingly wondrous and infuriatingly realistic.

On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous book. The protagonist is generally unlikeable, the settings are very similar to books you’ve probably read, and nothing really happens for more than half of the book. Don’t be scared, though, because all of this enables Lev Grossman to tell an entirely new type of fantasy story that’s very much grounded in reality. Read it!

Interview with SFWA Grand Master James Gunn

I was honoured to be able to interview SFWA Grand Master James Gunn about his newest novel Transcendental (here’s my review!) and more. I don’t think my questions even scratch the surface of the experience that Prof. Gunn has had, but there are still lots of fascinating details in there.


www.daileyimages.comFor those readers that haven’t read TRANSCENDENTAL, could you tell us a little about it?

TRANSCENDENTAL is set about 1,000 years in the future when humanity has emerged into the galaxy to find it controlled by aliens who resent the intruders. After a destructive ten-year war, the uneasy peace is threatened by rumors of a transcendental machine in an unknown part of the galaxy. TRANSCENDENTAL tells the story of a group of assorted aliens and humans who set out in a shabby wartime spaceship to find the machine if it exists, as each of them tells his/her/its own story of why they are on this pilgrimage and what they hope to gain from it, for themselves and their species. But lies, betrayals, and death make the spaceship Geoffrey a battleground of hidden forces and motives before it reaches its destination.

What makes TRANSCENDENTAL unique when compared to your other books? What inspired you to write it?

TRANSCENDENTAL is my return to the genre known as the “space epic” with which I started my novel-writing career in 1955 with STAR BRIDGE and THIS FORTRESS WORLD. Now I have returned to it with, I hope, more wisdom and skill to tell a different (and perhaps more human) story.

As for its inspiration, I was thinking about a big topic when I thought of Cory and Alexei Panshin’s THE WORLD BEYOND THE HILL and its suggestion that the preoccupation of Golden Age science fiction was transcendence, and I thought what if there were a machine that could confer transcendence (or the realization of the full potential of the individual), and from there I developed the idea of a pilgrimage to find such a machine and all the motivations for discovering and using (or destroying) it, and the model of another pilgrimage and the stories told by the pilgrims, the “Canterbury Tales.”

This is my standard question for genre writers – how do you approach world building? How do you come up with a plausible universe and how do you make your aliens seem truly alien?

For me the world building (or galaxy or universe building) emerges out of the story premise (unlike Hal Clement, for instance, who invented the world of Mesklin and MISSION OF GRAVITY grew out of that). My premise of a transcendental machine needed a world of the future, a technology of jumps through hyperspace and needing maps of coordinates, a galaxy separated into different spiral arms by gulfs difficult to cross, a galactic confederation of aliens who have developed their own hierarchies and relationships, and a history to support all these and provide substance for the central concerns of the novel.

My aliens are all different because I wanted to show the universality of sapience and the desire for fulfillment of potential that is at the heart of the evolutionary force. And in the stories I gave them an opportunity to tell, I tried to reveal how their cultures differed while their goals (except for my intelligent flowers) were similar, and gave them an opportunity to tell their own stories and show how their home worlds and environments shaped them.

TRANSCENDENTAL is the first book by you that I’ve read (I will be remedying this soon!) Could you tell me a little bit about your previous work? Is it mostly stand alone books, or do many of your books share a universe? Which book would you consider best exemplifies your work?

Like many writers, I started with short stories that grew longer as I continued to write, until I produced the two novels I mentioned above. Though they eventually sold very well in reprint here and abroad (STAR BRIDGE, which I wrote in collaboration with Jack Williamson, will be reprinted next year by Tor Books), they didn’t provide much income at the time, and I decided to get my novel-length ideas published as short fiction before I brought them together as books (which resulted in my advice to young writers, “Sell it twice”). Out of that came STATION IN SPACE, THE JOY MAKERS, and THE IMMORTALS (the last of which became a TV movie and a series (“The Immortal”) in 1970-71. Most readers consider my best book to be THE LISTENERS, but I’m fond of THE DREAMERS, THE MILLENNIUM BLUES, and particularly KAMPUS (which is about the world the student rebels of the 1960s might have made if they’d been successful, one I lived through as the person in charge of public relations for the University of Kansas during that period).

You’ve been writing science fiction for quite a long time now. How has your approach to it changed over the years? Did the changing political climate (e.g. the end of the Cold War and the space race) affect it?

I think I’ve always had the basic goal of taking the science fiction that I loved as a youngster and try to bring to it the literary skills I learned as I made my way through college and life. More and more, though, I found my writing becoming more social criticism (affected, as you suggest, by political and social change in the world), though being categorized as a science fiction writer (which I accept and do not deny) always makes such departures problematic when it comes to publication (thus, for instance, THE MILLENNIUM BLUES, got published only digitally and as print-on-demand and in an Easton Press collector’s edition).

Somewhat related – how has science fiction in general changed over the years? Are there trends that are of particular note?

Science fiction changes all the time. I have a theory that it changes every dozen years or so, when a new editor comes along with a new vision (and a new magazine) of what science fiction can be and do, and attracts writers who didn’t know it could be done that way or found there a place to publish what they had not found before. Mostly science fiction has become more skillfully written in every literary sense, although it has not come up (generally) with new ideas of what to say that match its writing abilities. The Golden Age of science fiction may not have seen as much skillful craftsmanship but the ideas were awesome. To be sure, there are a few new things being done today, but sometimes the slickness of presentation covers a paucity of content.

The British new space epic is very promising and there are some U.S. authors who are doing some exciting things.

Who are your favourite authors, and what books do you consider essential reading?

I have an enduring fondness for the Golden Age writers who were introduced in a four-month stretch of ASTOUNDING in 1939, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, and van Vogt, and the authors who starred in the early months of GALAXY beginning in 1950, such as the late and lamented Fred Pohl (with Cyril Kornbluth) and Alfred Bester. But my selections are best listed in my six-volume teaching anthology THE ROAD TO SCIENCE FICTION and the reading list for the science-fiction novel course I taught at K.U., twenty-five novels I thought central to the science-fiction tradition (you can find the list on the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction).

Ed. Note: Here’s the website for the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and here’s their “Basic Science Fiction Library” page, originally developed from Professor Gunn’s list. The 2013-2014 25 novel reading list for K.U.’s science fiction course can be found here.

Could you tell me a bit about your teaching career and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction that you established?

I began teaching science fiction in a student-organized course in 1969 (I was not the first–a course was taught at Colgate in 1966, and subsequently at Eastern New Mexico and Wooster) and a regular course in 1970. I had been director of public relations for the University of Kansas for almost a dozen years and decided I wanted to go back to teaching full time. I spent the rest of my 23 years before retirement teaching science fiction and fiction writing, and for almost twenty years after retirement I continued to teach the summer Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction as well as my writing workshop. Not too long after joining the English Department full time, I discovered that I was doing a lot of science-fiction related projects, teaching, book collecting, conferences, awards, collaborating on projects in other departments, and decided to bring them together into a Center, the first of its kind to provide all of these interests under one organization (though not the first university organization devoted to science fiction), and the University administration and Board of Regents approved. The Center and its projects continue under the enlightened administration of Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson.

transcendentalWill there be a sequel to TRANSCENDENTAL? I would love to see more of the characters and the universe, and I thought the ending left room for further stories.

I’ve proposed a sequel to my Tor Books editor and even written the first chapter (and even thought about a trilogy!).

I read another interview where you said TRANSCENDENTAL was a commentary on the genre of science fiction. Could you elaborate on that?

Science fiction is a dialogue between authors (and sometimes readers) on subjects of great import for the human species. I’ve always felt that it was important to recognize the dialogue, and TRANSCENDENTAL pays tribute to my predecessors and large and small ways that might be interesting to readers to identify and trace. It’s not necessary to enjoy the novel, but I like to amuse myself by planting such references and perhaps entertain those readers who enjoy this kind of back-and-forth between author, genre, and reader. KAMPUS, for instance, is modeled after Voltaire’s CANDIDE and also has references to quest stories like the Arthurian cycle. If anyone wants to play this game, I might be persuaded to keep score.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

Aside from the sequel (tentatively entitled INSTRUMENTAL), I also have proposed a new and updated edition of my ALTERNATE WORLDS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION (which is being reprinted, as well, in China) and I have written my memoir.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve written a lot already!

“Transcendental” by James Gunn

transcendentalI’ve never read anything by SFWA Grand Master James Gunn, so I was very excited when I received a review copy of his newest novel, Transcendental from Tor.

Transcendental follows a variety of humans and aliens aboard a starship on a very unique pilgrimage – finding the machine that will help them achieve the mystical concept known as transcendence. The protagonist is Riley, a veteran of the recent Galactic War, who has been placed on the ship to find and kill the Prophet of the transcendence movement. As the journey progresses, though, it soon becomes clear that almost no one on the ship is what they seem.

I really enjoyed this book; it was a great science fiction yarn. It focuses a lot on universe-building and cool ideas, but is still fast-paced and entertaining (unlike quite a few classic sci-fi novels I could name). All of the pilgrims are fascinating characters individually, and together they give the impression of a very diverse and interesting universe. I thought the Canterbury Tales-style stories were a bit of a cheat at first, but the unreliable narration makes the stories multidimensional. The protagonist, Riley is a somewhat bland, but I think that actually strengthens the book – he’s a good representative of the human race, not a special snowflake of a human.

I’m often sceptical of the combination of science fiction and spirituality, even though I think they go naturally together (you always need something that keeps the sense of wonder going), so I was worried about all the hype being built up around the Transcendental Machine. I think it was resolved very well, though, and I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief as much as I thought I would.

I hope that there’s a sequel to Transcendental, because I would really love to spend more time in this universe!

You might also be interested in my interview with author James Gunn about Transcendental, how science fiction has changed over the years and other things.

Interview with author Jason M. Hough + THE DARWIN ELEVATOR Giveaway!

I’m interviewing sci-fi author Jason M. Hough today! I really liked his debut novel, The Darwin Elevator (here’s my review), and I’ll also be giving away a copy at the end of this post!

Here’s the interview.


Jason-hough-author-photo-256x300Tell me about yourself, and how you got into writing.

I’m a father, a geek, and a former game designer. After leaving the game industry I needed a hobby to fill the creative void in my life, and decided to try writing because it seemed like something I could do entirely on my own. This of course turned out to be untrue, there’s a huge team of people involved, but at least at the beginning I was able to scratch my creative itch and work at my own pace.

I love the backstory behind The Darwin Elevator – aliens leave us both a space elevator and a plague. How did you come up with it?

The core of the idea came from my reaction to the standard argument against building a space elevator: it would be too hard to construct. I thought, “who says we’re the ones to build it?” That’s the moment that everything started to click into place.

The sequels to The Darwin Elevator come out in the next few months, so I assume you’re done writing them. What are you working on now?

Most of my time right now is going into interviews like this, plus guest blog posts and that sort of thing. I’m also working on some pitches for new books, which will hopefully turn into a contract soon. I’m anxious to get started on another novel!

This is my standard question for all genre authors – how do you come up with a plausible and interesting world?

All the usual answers probably apply, but one I thing I did that I came up with on my own is this: For each character I wrote up an activity log of what they did the day before the book starts. This helped me flesh out the characters, but also had a surprising bounty of ideas for the world as well. Mundane things like what people wear, how/when/where they shower or eat, these things really help answer basic questions about the world, and having those kinds of details to sprinkle into the story go a long way toward making it interesting.

Which writers are you most influenced by?

Some of my favorites, in no particular order: Guy Gavriel Kay, Richard K. Morgan, Stephen King, Ian Fleming, John Scalzi, George R. R. Martin.

What is your daily writing process like? What are the easiest and hardest parts?

I usually get up early (before 6) and find a coffee shop. This is mostly to get away from the distractions of home, where I have two young boys who want nothing but to constantly play with Papa. While there I’ll write for an hour, then take a break and do my authorly business: tweet, do interviews like this, read science news, etc.

The easiest part for me is writing action sequences. They flow like nothing else! Hardest part? When a small change is having a ripple effect throughout the story, and each fix is causing it’s own ripple. It makes me wish I had an AI I could assign the problem to.

If Skyler could have a sidekick from any other fictional universe, who would it be and why?

That’s a tough one! I’ll go with John “Black Jack” Geary from Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, for good leadership advice.

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Nexus by Ramez Naam, which was fantastic. Now I’m reading The Thousand Names by Django Wexler.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Since you asked, I’d love to also recommend a few other books: The Daedelus Incident by Michael J. Martinez, and Bad Glass by Richard Gropp.


The sequel to The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, is now out, and the concluding book in The Dire Earth Cycle, The Plague Forge, will be released this month.

You can connect with Jason M. Hough at his website (http://www.jasonhough.com) or through Twitter or Facebook.



Giveaway

Enter the giveaway below:



Thanks to TLC Book Tours for arranging this interview and giveaway!

“New Earth” by Ben Bova

New_Earth_Ben_BovaNew Earth follows the first manned Earth mission out of our solar system, an expedition to the surprisingly Earth-like planet Sirius C. When the explorers arrive at “New Earth”, they find much more than expected – intelligent life, and scientifically impossible similarities to Earth. And as they struggle to unravel this mystery, Earth is undergoing its own catastrophes.

The premise of the book was pretty exciting – first contact with a mysterious planet and its uncanny inhabitants. However, the book itself was not very good, mainly because of its characters. I definitely understand that classic sci-fi sometimes doesn’t have the most fleshed out characters, instead choosing to focus on the ideas and plot, and I still enjoy it. New Earth‘s characters were almost comically bad, though – the author seemed to have tried to humanise them by giving them flaws and problems, which take up a lot of the book, but are really stereotypical and badly resolved. For instance, the leader of the expedition, an acclaimed diplomat, is distraught over the death of his wife, which he feels responsible for. All his angst vanishes when he meets his first native girl, with whom he develops a passionate romance instantly, ignoring all concerns from his team. You would think that with his extensive diplomatic experience and his grief for his wife, he wouldn’t go completely native over the FIRST woman he meets… but, no. Most of the other characters have similarly dumb plot arcs, and these arcs take up most of the book.

Aside from these terrible “character growth” plot points, the exploratory team’s behaviour at New Earth doesn’t really make sense. After an eighty year journey to get there, most of the team members seem to favour giving up and returning to Earth as soon as there’s more to the planet than they expected (“there’s nothing in the mission protocols about this!”) Also, wow, humans must be ridiculously arrogant to assume that their orbital telescopes could definitely tell if there was life on the new planet – mission protocols should have covered the possibility. The scientists show no signs of curiosity, and are in general so indistinguishable from each other that their specialty and ethnicity has to be mentioned in almost every sentence they’re mentioned (Longyear, the Native American biologist, Thornberry, the stereotypically Irish roboticist). I’d be so ashamed if human first contact with aliens was with that team.

I didn’t realise that New Earth was part of Bova’s “Grand Tour” series (this is the 21st book set in the same universe), but I found it perfectly approachable as a stand alone. The worldbuilding aspects of the book intrigued me enough that I do want to read more of Bova’s books set in this universe – the glimpses of what was going on in Earth and the other human colonies hint at a rich history. I’d be reading them more to get a sense of his vision of the future, though, and not because I expect them to be good books.

Interview with author Jenna Black + Giveaway

I’m excited to be interviewing fantasy/YA author Jenna Black today! I recently read and really enjoyed Jenna’s most recent book, Replica, and you can too – there’s a giveaway at the end of this post.

Here’s the interview:


Jenna BlackFirst of all, thank you so much for doing this interview! I really enjoyed Replica; I often get frustrated with the formulaic dystopian young adult genre, but Replica was a breath of fresh air. I haven’t read anything by you before, but I saw that you’ve written a lot of series’ already – what makes Replica new and exciting for you?

Thanks for inviting me!

There are a lot of things that make REPLICA new and exciting for me. One of the things I really love about the series and that made it so fun–and challenging–to write was the juxtaposition of a futuristic world suited to science fiction with a society that is based around a more historical concept of hereditary monarchy. Both the idea to write about exact replicas of human beings and the idea to write about corporations functioning as hereditary monarchies had been floating around in my head for a long time, and it was only when I mashed these two seemingly ill-matched concepts together that an actual story began to form in my head. I also loved writing about a careful, hyper-responsible heroine and a reckless, immature hero who have to grow up in different ways–Nadia needs to loosen up and learn to take some chances, and Nate has to grow up and learn to pay attention to the consequences of his actions.

How long is the Replica series going to be – will it be a trilogy? Do you have plans to revisit the world after the series is done, or is this just Nate and Nadia’s story?

This is a trilogy. The second book, RESISTANCE will come out in March 2014, and the third book, REVOLUTION will likely come out sometime late next year, though a date has not been set yet. I have no firm plans to revisit this world when the series is done, but I do have a germ of an idea for something that might happen in a different state, so it’s always possible.

What book(s) are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m working on what we writers jokingly call a “Sekrit Project.” Generally, the term is used to refer to a work that is not under contract, and therefore one we can’t talk about publicly. Yet.

What do you find to be the easiest and the hardest things about writing?

The easiest thing about writing is writing first draft material when everything is “clicking.” When I know exactly what I want to do with a scene, and the words are coming out fast and furious, and I’m so anxious to finish the scene that I feel no temptation to get out of my chair and do something else. That’s pure bliss. It feels almost like reading a book you’re really in to, when you can’t wait to find out what happens next. It makes the days when writing is a total slog feel worth it. And there are plenty of days when writing is like slogging through mud. The hardest thing for me is diagnosing the reason why I’m struggling in those periods. Sometimes, it’s just because I’m not in a good mood, or I’m tired, or I’m distracted. Times like those, the best thing for me to do is to keep slogging. I may not enjoy what I’m writing, and I may need to do a lot of editing on it later, but at least I’m moving forward. But then there are the other times, when I’m struggling because I’ve made some misstep in the narrative. There’s something “off,” but I don’t know what it is yet. And what’s hard is that I don’t always know the difference between the two when I’m in the midst of it. If there’s something wrong, something I need to go back and change, then continuing to slog forward does me no good whatsoever and just leaves me with more time not enjoying my writing.

It’s gotten a little easier over time for me to figure out whether I’m struggling because of some temporary malaise or whether I’m struggling because there’s something wrong with the book–for example, if that malaise stretches over a few days without letup, it’s a good bet there’s something wrong–but I still sometimes have trouble knowing whether to push through or stop and go back.

Worldbuilding fascinates me, so I’d love to know how you approach creating a world, since you’ve created several.

I often come up with my concepts for a world before I have an actual story to set in it. I have a big picture already created in my head, with very few concrete details. I then come up with my basic storyline, and I begin filling in the gaps of my world, developing some major details that have immediate relevance to the story I’m telling. When I actually begin the writing of the first draft, that’s when I have to start figuring out the smaller details. It’s kind of like I’m looking at my world through a camera lens. At first, it’s little more than an impressionistic blob. When I’m plotting, it comes into a little clearer focus, and I can see major landmarks. But it’s not until I’ve finished the first draft that the picture is fully in focus. Doing my worldbuilding in layers like that is very helpful for me and gives me an enormous amount of freedom. I don’t commit to details until I’m sure I need them–and I’m sure they won’t cause me problems later on in the draft, or even later on in the series.

ReplicaAs an example, with REPLICA I started out with a really big picture idea for what the world was like. I knew the society was stratified, that the story would be set in a futuristic New York, and a little bit about the history of how the United States turned into the Corporate states. When I started plotting the book, I decided the three classes would be the Executives, the Employees, and the Basement-dwellers, with the Executives being like royalty, the Employees like ordinary people, and the Basement-dwellers the poor and unemployed. When I started writing the sample chapters for submission to publishers, I focused very tightly on what life was like for my main characters, coming up with the societal expectations that were placed on both of them. They are Executives, members of the highest of the three strata of the society I created, and I worked on the details of Executive society–while having only a blurry vision of what society was like for the other two classes. I didn’t need details for the other classes yet, so I left them vague. When I got to my first scene set in the Basement, that was when I started pulling together details for what the Basement was like. That was when I decided what the buildings looked like, how the residents dressed, how the territory was divided up. In a later draft, I would seed some of the details back in the earlier parts of the book where I’d left things vague before, but by waiting until I needed the details to flesh them out, I avoided writing myself into any corners and making decisions I would later regret.

What themes do you like exploring in your books?

Sometimes it’s hard for a writer to see the themes in his or her own books. In a lot of ways, theme is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, I do feel that I have some themes I tend to revisit, even though I’m not making a conscious choice to do so. One theme I’ve explored a lot in my adult books is that of redemption and hope. Many of the characters in my adult books have dark pasts, either because of bad things that have happened to them or bad things they have done. I love taking these characters who could so easily spiral down into misery for the rest of their lives and finding a way to redeem them and give them hope. I want the message to be that no matter how bad your past, no matter how many bad things have happened to you, it’s possible to have a fulfilling and happy life–but it’s up to you to get yourself there.

I don’t particularly see that theme popping up in my YAs (though it’s possible it’s there and I just am not aware of it), maybe because my teen characters just haven’t lived long enough to sink to the depths some of my adult characters have. With the YAs, I definitely see a theme of taking control of and responsibility for one’s own life. This is particularly true for the heroines of my two teen series. In the Faeriewalker series, Dana spends a lot of time feeling powerless, feeling like a pawn in other people’s games. (And to some extent, she is.) But over the course of the series, she learns to recognize her own power and through that gains a kind of emotional independence. There’s a moment at the end of the final book, SIRENSONG, when Dana thinks: “I might be in the room with two of the most powerful people in Faerie, but thanks to my unusual magic, I was one of the most powerful people in Faerie, too.” That do me was the endpoint of Dana’s character arc, the point where in many ways she became a full adult.

I definitely see some of the same theme in Nadia’s character arc, although she has a different set of problems in that her choices involve so much risk to people she loves. In the beginning, she’s almost crippled by her need to protect her loved ones by doing what those in power tell her to do. As for where she goes from there . . . Well, you’ll have to read the whole series to see.

Your website’s tagline is “Romance with an attitude, fantasy with an edge”. Could you elaborate on that?

My first published books were paranormal romances (the Guardians of the Night series, which is being re-released in 2014). I have a love for characters who have a sarcastic sense of humor, which might not be the first thing people think of when they think of romance novels. Hence, “Romance with an attitude.” The second series I wrote was the Morgan Kingsley series. It has some romantic elements, and my heroine is certainly a queen of sarcasm, but it didn’t really fit into the romance genre, so I decided to modify my tagline to include it. The Morgan Kingsley series is by far the edgiest series I’ve ever written (with scenes that make me hope my teen readers don’t pick it up), and that’s where “Fantasy with an edge” came from. I have not modified the tagline since I started writing YA, partially because it would get cumbersome, and partially because the tagline I have still applies to some extent to my YA books. There is certainly an edge to the REPLICA series.

If Replica was made into a movie, who would you want to play Nate and Nadia?

Embarrassingly, I am completely clueless when it comes to questions like this. I’d say it’s because I don’t watch enough shows with teens in them, but I don’t do very well answering this question about my adult books, either. I guess I just don’t think in movies.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I love hearing from my fans! You can reach me via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jennablackbooks) and Twitter (@jennablack), and you can visit my website at www.JennaBlack.com. Thanks again for having me!



Giveaway


“The Darwin Elevator” by Jason M. Hough

stacks_image_153It is 2283 and Earth is very different. First, aliens (known as Builders) set down a space elevator in the city of Darwin, Australia, and a few years later, they released a plague that decimated humanity. The only safe zone is a nine mile plague-suppressing radius around the space elevator, and so Darwin is the last human settlement on Earth.

The Darwin Elevator is an action-packed and entertaining book. We mostly follow Skyler, the captain of a scavenger ship whose crew is entirely immune to the plague, and Tania, a brilliant scientist who’s come up with a theory concerning the Builders that could be world-shattering. When Tania’s research needs data from long-forgotten laboratories, Skyler’s team is sent to retrieve it. But as they work on solving this increasingly urgent mystery, the delicate political balance between the city of Darwin and the inhabitants of the space station is crumbling, and their time is running out in more than one way.

I loved the worldbuilding of the Darwin’s Elevator universe. Many authors create fantastic but implausible worlds, but Hough centers his world on the essentials – food, water, air. There is no space on Earth to grow food to feed all the remnants of humanity, so food is mostly grown on special agricultural space stations, but water and air for these stations need to be supplied from Earth. This creates a robust trade between the “Orbitals” and the humans on Earth, but the leader of Darwin is not satisfied – he wants more power. I would hope that humanity’s desperate situation would cut down on the individual power plays, but I’m not actually surprised by it.

Skyler is a pretty awesome main character. I liked him a lot because he’s just a regular guy – he’s not young, naive and just discovering his place in the world, and neither is he an old, grizzled veteran who’s seen too much. He’s just a guy trying to get by and take care of his crew. His motives are not especially noble, but he’s not a profiteer Han Solo type either. His normalcy really came across well, and worked! Tania, on the other hand, was a bit of a Mary Sue, she’s brilliant and also so beautiful that no man can look at her and not appreciate it, noble, brave, highly competent, had important parents etc.  I have a special peeve for women that are described as so beautiful that it turns every man into a lecher, though (Leesha from Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle annoys me for the same reason). The side characters were more interesting and varied than the main two – Samantha, Kelly, the Platzes, Prumble, to name a few, not to mention the villains. I hope they get more story time in the sequels.

I really liked the more sci-fi aspects of the plot – the mystery surrounding the Builders and their artifacts and their plans, the malfunctioning elevator and the evolution of a new species of subhuman. I found all the subhuman battle stuff somewhat boring though – zombies aren’t that interesting, and I would’ve rather had more sci-fi stuff. Technically, they’re all related since they’re all caused by the Builders, but still, meh, zombies. However, the end seems to set up a sequel where the sci-fi elements will be more prominent, so I’m excited about that.

The next two installments of the series – The Exodus Towers and The Plague Forge appear to be scheduled for release in the next two months. I think I’ll be picking them up.

Note: I received a review copy of The Darwin Elevator via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion. See more details and the full tour schedule here.

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“Discord’s Apple” by Carrie Vaughn

discordsappleI discovered Carrie Vaughn’s writing in Unfettered, a recent fantasy anthology edited by Shawn Speakman, and I really wanted to read more of her work, so I bought this book. Discord’s Apple was a very interesting (and good!) book, and I want to read even more of Vaughn’s work now, despite not being the biggest fan of urban fantasy.

Evie Walker is a comic book writer in a near future Earth that’s heading straight towards an apocalypse. She has just received news that her father has cancer and heads back to her hometown in the middle of nowhere, where she finds out that there is much more to her family than she realises. Their storeroom contains, among other things, the Golden Fleece and Cinderella’s glass slippers – and Evie is the storeroom’s new guardian.

Discord’s Apple is a pretty slim book, but it covers an epic scale of time and perspectives. It’s mainly told from three points of view – Evie’s, her ancestors’ and a certain ancient Achaean’s, spanning the travels of Odysseus to the future and managing to incorporate every magical legend in between. And it never feels overwhelming – in fact, it’s a pretty compelling tale.

Evie is a pretty generic protagonist in the beginning, but grows tremendously in a short time. I loved the use of her comic book story to illustrate her thought process, it worked very well. The rest of the characters are pretty great too, from the villains to the figures of mythology to the Hopes Fort residents.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I’ll just say this: I expected it to be a lot more predictable/formulaic (which I would’ve been fine with), but the way everything was resolved made a good book into a great book. I’m looking forward to reading more of Vaughn’s work!

“Plain Kate” by Erin Bow

Another review I wrote a few months ago but never got around to posting. It’s shorter than usual because it was meant to help me catch up with all the books I’d read… that didn’t work out.


plain-kate-official-coverPlain Kate was marketed as a children/YA book, and judging by the cover, I thought it would be a fun and light coming-of-age type book. Well, it was very good and it’s a coming-of-age book of sorts, but it’s quite dark and not exactly “fun”. I’m not sure I’d market it for kids.

Plain Kate lives and works with her father, a woodcarver. However, her life is dramatically altered when her father dies of the plague. Not only does she have nowhere to go, but there are rumours spreading that she is a witch. Friendless and alone, she tries to find a home among the gypsies (who are themselves shunned), but her vulnerability has caught the eye of a magician with a dark purpose.

The main story is rather melancholy, but the writing is intensely evocative and Bow takes you on quite a journey through a very simple tale. The characters are lovely, especially Taggle the talking cat – one of my favourite characters of all time. The ending is poignant on multiple levels.

Telling you any more would spoil the book, so I’ll just say that it’s highly recommended!