A very special episode of the Writers of Fantasy podcast! I interviewed Juliet E McKenna about her brand new book, The Green Man’s Heir. It is a modern day fantasy novel that delves into folk tales and stories against the backdrop of the Peak District countryside.
Juliet talks about the experience of moving from traditional epic fantasy and towards something new. We delve into the treatment of female characters in both epic and modern fantasy, and also dip into police procedurals a bit. It’s a great interview. Check it out!
I am a great fan of Mike DiMartino’s work on Avatar the Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra. His book, Rebel Genius, is a solo effort and I approached it with great expectations. Will it live up to those standards? Can Rebel Genius mark the beginning of a new, great young adult series?
It is difficult to approach this book without making reference to DiMartino’s creative history. His background writing for Avatar and Legend of Korra went hand in hand with his working relationship with Bryan Konietzko.
Between the two of them they developed an incredible world, deep and complex characters, and some unbelievable visuals.
I had often wondered what each member of team ‘Bryke’ brought to the table in Avatar, so this solo effort appealed to me as the chance to see just that.
I will try to treat this book on its own merits rather than making continuous references back to Avatar. But that is difficult for one so familiar with them, and so I will limit my commentary on that. After all, DiMartino has seemingly gone out of his way to distance Rebel Genius from Avatar in a few instances.
Where Avatar was based mostly on near and far eastern culture, history and mythology, Rebel Genius is much more of a Renaissance-inspired world. Moreover, the magical system is less based on martial arts and more on artistic talent and imagination.
That being said, there are still some similarities. There is an evil overlord, much like Fire Lord Ozai; there is a suppression of certain magical abilities, and there is a ‘villain’ who may or may not turn good in the end.
Becky Chambers Wayfarers series continues to be the kind of science fiction I wish I was reading all the time. The tone, depth, and complexities of the worlds and societies she has built, coupled with a crisp, clear breath of optimism and hope make this a perfect read for these dark days.
I interviewed Becky Chambers earlier this year and you can check that out here.
The main focus of A Closed and Common Orbit is on an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system called LoveLace, (or Sidra as she prefers), and a young mechanic named Pepper (or Jane23) and their seemingly distant lives. The book draws their stories together, revealing, slowly, the ties that bind them, the common threads that make them alike, and make them different. There are a lot of themes revolving around identity, personhood, and trauma. The pace can be slow at times as Chambers takes her time putting the reader (and the characters) through periods of self and social discovery. This can feel like a bit of an info-dump at times, but the information being dumped is still intriguing and builds your understanding of each character’s context.
Ideas like personhood are nothing new to the science fiction genre, and having an AI be the catalyst for such discussions and explorations are fairly common. But where Chambers takes a relatively lesser trod path is that much of the perspective on this is from that very AI, and how she navigates questions like ‘am I a person?’ Which feels very different to people asking ‘is that a person?’ in the more abstract. To make this a very personal journey, to put our eyes in that of a computer, does make the reader much more likely to empathise and to connect.
It is by no means a simple task. This isn’t Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy. Sidra isn’t even sure she wants to be a person for a long time. She is filled with guilt, with uncertainty, and with a lack of purpose. These struggles leave her desiring her old life as a ship’s computer, back when she knew what her existence meant, and knew what her purpose was. But as she grows, she doesn’t solve these issues, but gradually tries to embrace them as part of what it means to be a person.
What I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Sidra discovers her personhood through platonic relationships, through found family, and friendships. So often, in stories of robots or AIs where they are perceived as female it ends with them engaging in a sexual relationship with a – usually male – human. That was not the case here. Sidra develops close familial and platonic bonds with humans and aliens and through their shared experiences and love for one another, she grows. She gets to know her own personhood through her love and friendship, and it is not tied to sex, and perhaps it’s my ace side making me biased, but I really thought that was a stroke of genius.
The other half of the book, running parallel, is the story of Pepper, who also faced her own struggle with identity and personhood. She escapes a factory where she had spent most of her life sorting scrap and flees into the wastelands and eventually is rescued by the AI of a small shuttle. This AI, named Owl, is a caring and nurturing force in Pepper’s life, raising her, teaching her, and guiding her through the skills that will help her survive and thrive once they escape the planet they are trapped on.
Pepper’s life is shaped by her experience being raised by an AI, and so when Sidra comes into her life, we get a real sense of why it is so important to her that she looks after her. It is Pepper’s way of saying thank you. It is her way of sorting out her feelings, her way of reconnecting with the only real parental figure she ever knew.
Chambers’ writing style shifts between Pepper and Sidra. Especially when Pepper is younger, as the 10 year old factory kid has a simpler vocabulary, so does the narrator in these parts. She gets right into her head, describing the strange world in ways a young person with limited experience would understand. Big feelings. Bad things. This switch really hammers home how Pepper / Jane23 feels and really brings the reader into the moment.
Now, I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was not what I anticipated. This is a good thing, I hasten to point out. Much like in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Chambers is an optimist, and the ending very much subverts what you might expect from a genre that is filled with the grim, and the horrorful. In an age of pessimism, optimism is a revolutionary act.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Patricia Rodriguez. It was a stellar performance (pun intended), though the moments where an online style text conversation is described tended to be a little tedious as the narrator had to read out every single identifying line, every single timestamp, and so on. Other than that, it was great.
The Avatar the Last Airbender comics are back with North and South Part 1! This review will not contain spoilers, so feel free to read on if you haven’t yet had chance to pick it up.
With the new Legend of Korra comics being pushed back to 2017, many fans will be filling the void as they wait with the Avatar comics. This is not going to be difficult as North and South is already shaping up to be an intriguing and complex installment that fans can pour over for months.
While Avatar Aang deals with the problems in the Fire Nation, as explored in Smoke and Shadow, Katara and Sokka head home to the South Pole to see how the Water Tribes are getting along. They are met with some surprises as their home is no longer quite how they remember it, and their father has a new position of authority. But these changes do not go unchallenged, and cultural clashes are already brewing, foreshadowing much of what we saw in Legend of Korra book 2.
The artwork has taken a massive step forward over the last few volumes, and this installment is no exception. The Gurihiru artists have outdone themselves once again, managing to realise what might have, in less adept hands, have been a very bland landscape into something dazzling, filled with depth and detail.
At first glance, Joel Cornah’s fantasy novel The Sky Slayer may not put you in mind of Terry Nation’s sci-fi classic Blake’s 7. But the author has revealed that the inspiration for the story came right out of the 70s bleak space opera and the high seas piratical adventure would never have been the same without it.
“I first watched Blake’s 7 when I was quite young,” Cornah says. “And I remember loving the crew dynamics especially with the two leads. Blake, the heroic leader who desperately needs someone to hold his feet to the fire and hold him to account and Avon, the sarcastic cynic who does just that. A joke developed between myself and some friends that Blake and crew were basically space pirates and this inevitably led to me imagining them as regular pirates in the golden age of piracy.”
I was featured on SFF World’s ‘Small but Mighty’ series about my new book, The Sky Slayer! Check it out HERE. And here’s a little excerpt to take up some space on this blog posts and maybe get you to click on to their website and give them a sense that yes, some people do read my books.
This week’s Small but Mighty attention turns to Kristell Ink whose publications are finding their way to award shortlists. The Sky Slayer is Joel Cornah’s fourth publication to be released by Kristell Ink and is the sequel toThe Sea-Stone Sword.
Welcome to SFFWorld Joel! Can you tell us a little about The Sky Slayer without quoting the publisher’s blurb?
Where The Sea-Stone Sword was influenced by Jason and the Argonauts, The Sky Slayer has much more of a Blake’s 7 feel. The cast of seven fugitives fleeing an empire on a ship unlike any other, a hero who is more curse than cure, and a dry, sardonic second-in-command who has all the best lines. But I wanted to tackle some drastically different themes than Terry Nation’s classic series, and eventually subvert expectations in the process.
There is a boy who could have been a hero. To some, he is a hero. He killed the great and malicious Air King. But Rob Sardan was cursed with nightmares that will haunt him forever. He can break the curse by finding a Sky Slayer’s pendant. The only problem is he’s been locked in a prison of ice and crystal at the South Pole. A prison run by pengs (sort of human-penguin hybrids).
The story revolves around Rob and his gang of rebels as they escape to the high seas. There is Alya, the strategist with a sharp tongue and boundless wits, Gorm the chef with her deep wisdom and superior strength, Vann the thief with his ridiculous puns, and Ilma the doctor with her world-weary but shrewd observations.
They flee across the grinding ice and head to the Tomb of the Dead God, perused by the chaotic pirate Skagra, who seeks the ending of the world.
It’s action, adventure, philosophy, and puns all rolled into one amazing story!
Tell us a little about Rob Sardan, your protagonist?
Rob Sardan has all the makings of your average brooding anti-hero with a dark past. Pain, loss, and isolation – not to mention a supernatural curse – plague him and in so many fantasy novels we would see such a figure become bitter, full of pessimism and bleak of humour. I didn’t want that. I wanted Rob to defy the universe, to defy fate, and the gods themselves by being… optimistic.
His mother was a hero, a famous pirate who did incredible and terrible things. He wants to make his own legacy, to forge his own legend in the world.
For my first review on this here blog I’ve decided to cover The Heir to the North by Steven Poore, which I finished listening to on audiobook the other day. I had read the paperback about a year ago, but still the story felt fresh and bursting with life. The performance is top notch, with each character’s voice distinct and clear as well as full of life. The story is packed with intrigue, mystery, action and more.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly standard epic fantasy you might think this is. Heir to the North is a surprising and beautifully crafted book that will no doubt stand apart from the crowd if enough people give it the chance it deserves.
The narrator, Diana Croft, has so much talent! This is a brilliant performance. Stunning, emotional, and dripping with depth.
I’d have liked there to be more female characters. For a story that contains so much emphasis on the lead character being a woman and overcoming social prejudices, there really aren’t a lot of female roles and role models. The general absence of female voices made me feel Cassia’s isolation, so maybe that was the point?
There’s much to be said about this book. A story about stories. There’s a lot being done with the idea of how powerful a story can be, with how they can affect one’s outlook on the world, and with how they can twist the choices people make. There’s subtlety, depth, and areal sense that the author has spent long and hard crafting each and every tale into this larger tale.
If you fancy a rip roaring fantasy of depth and intrigue, give it a go! Audible has it on sale at the moment for almost half price!