Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Shadowed Sun - Narcomancy Gone Bad?

The Shadowed Sun
Book 2 of The Dreamblood
N K Jemisin
Orbit 2012

Review by Clare Deming

In The Shadowed Sun, we are returned to the world of The Dreamblood, in which priests of the Hetawa practice the goddess Hananja's dream magic. This time, the city-state of Gujaareh is under Kisuati control, occupied and overseen by the opposing city-state after its former Prince's failed attempt at war. Since the primary tenet of Hananja's Law is peace, the people of Gujaareh have submitted to foreign rule with only silent outrage.

Not all the land is calm, however, and the desert barbarian tribes are becoming more daring in their raids, stealing trade goods from Gujaareh. When Apprentice Hanani heals a soldier injured in one of these attacks, she weaves his torn body back together using the various humors collected from dreams in an attempt to pass her Sharer-trial. Her healing efforts are successful, but in the aftermath, a terrible discovery is made. One of the acolytes who served her, along with the tithebearer providing the humors, has died horribly. No cause can be immediately ascertained, so Hanani is indirectly blamed and is forbidden from practicing any further narcomancy.

Wanahomen, son to the ousted Prince, and heir to the Sunset Lineage of Gujaareh has made a place for himself among those barbarian tribes, rising to a position of influence among the Banbarra. With his father's former general at his side, he struggles to convince the desert people to help him oust the Kisuati and regain his city.

The deaths laid at Hanani's feet were not the last, and a plague of dream-driven fatalities spreads through the city. Anyone who tries to investigate the nightmare of those afflicted also becomes trapped by it. As unrest and violence churn within Gujaareh, Hanani is cleared of fault in the mysterious deaths. Despite this, her skills are still in question by some among the Hetawa because she is the first woman ever admitted into training as a Sharer. A new trial is set, and Hanani and her mentor, Mhi-inh, are offered up to the Banbarra tribe by Gatherer Nijiri, a prominent character from the first book, The Killing Moon.

This is a more complicated and longer volume than the first novel, and I liked it better for those reasons. The dream magic used by the Hetawa is an intriguing concept, and I felt more familiar with its practice in this book. I suppose this second installment could be read without having first read The Killing Moon, but I think it would be a more enjoyable read in the intended order. I don't know what the author has planned for her future work, but I would be eager to read more stories set in the Dreamblood world.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Killing Moon delivers something refreshingly different

The Killing Moon
Book 1 of The Dreamblood
N.K. Jemisin
Orbit 2012

Review by Clare Deming

The Killing Moon begins another unique fantasy tale by one of my new favorite authors, N. K. Jemisin. Like her earlier work (The Inheritance Trilogy), The Killing Moon is set in a world alien to much of the fantasy genre that often clones a medievalesque society and a quest-driven plot. The cultures that Jemisin paints in The Dreamblood are unlike any others that I have experienced, and that is one of the reasons why The Killing Moon works so well.

In the city-state of Gujaareh, Hananja's law reigns over all aspects of life, organized through the central temple, the Hetawa. Hananja is the goddess of dreams, and peace is of utmost importance among her followers, with corruption punishable by death. Ehiru, priest of the Hetawa, is many things. Foremost, he serves the goddess as a Gatherer by attending to the ill and elderly, ending their lives and guiding their souls into joyful dreams in Ina-Karekh. He gathers their dreamblood which is tithed to the Hetawa and used to bring peace to supplicants of Hananja. This same death also awaits those deemed corrupt, and outside of Gujaareh, Gatherers are heralded as gualoh - demons.

The narrative follows three characters - Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, ambassador from the rival city-state of Kisua. When Ehiru completes a routine commission on a corrupt foreign merchant, the magic goes awry. The man's soul is ripped free and lost in nightmare. As Ehiru leaves, he glimpses another figure on the rooftops, but this other man radiates malevolence in the instant before he disappears from view.

Sunandi maneuvers the delicate political field in the aftermath of her mentor, Kinja's, suspicious death. Immediately after she discovers proof that Kinja was murdered, Ehiru and Nijiri ghost into her chambers. Sunandi has been judged corrupt by the Hetawa, and the Gatherers have arrived to bring her Hananja's eternal peace. But when the ambassador confronts her would-be killers, she is able to cast doubt upon the accusations. She believes that Gujaareh's Prince seeks an excuse for war, and the Gatherers desist because they cannot allow anyone to subvert the will of Hananja.

The story sprints between attempts to unravel the truth about the Prince, the Hetawa, and that evil figure spotted atop the city's homes. Rumors say that a Reaper has come to Gujaareh, an abomination of Hananja's dream magic, and a creature so powerful that its presence threatens all of the city's peace.

The Killing Moon is the first book in The Dreamblood duology, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. All of the plot threads are tied up in the conclusion and you won't be left in the lurch if you don't have the second book on hand. I had minor difficulty orienting myself to the magic and how it worked. The way in which the Gatherers operated was spelled out clearly since they featured as two of the three main point-of-view characters. Other aspects of dream magic, although fascinating, were hard to intuit since they were not shown in action as much.

The Killing Moon was nominated for a 2012 Nebula Award.

Look for the review of the sequel, The Shadowed Sun on Thursday.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Galaxy's Edge, issue 1 - a mixed bag mag

I loved how Mike Resnick kicked this new magazine off with an entertaining and often humorous look at the history of science fiction magazines in his Editor's Word.  The opening story, however, was a bit of a disappointment. I'm a fan of Robert J. Sawyer's. I even interviewed him twice here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys. "The Shoulders of Giants" struck me as three talking heads conveying his cool premise. Nothing really happens. They go somewhere. They arrive. Things aren't what they expected. They decide to leave. That's the whole thing. I'm guessing that this was a trunk story (copyright 2000, by the way) that Rob trotted out to throw at a new magazine, not wanting to give up his best work on a new venture. Just goes to show, even the best writers produce some stinkers. Sorry, Rob.

In "Schrodinger's Cathouse", Kij Johnson (also interviewed herein) shows us a man who takes an unexpected trip down the rabbit hole while sitting at a stop light. Reality bends on him again and again, though a few things are constant. He tries to hang onto the things that don't change and is guided by a person of undetermined or perhaps changing gender. She attempts to help him, then seduce him - it is a cathouse after all - and just when he decides to go with the flow, he gets another curveball that is just too much. It's an amusing tale that speaks of our inability to venture far from our social norms. 

"Creator of the Cosmos Interview Today" by Nick DiChario is just plain weird. It's another fish out of water story with an interesting premise, but left me scratching my head a bit and not feeling very satisfied.

The nonfiction piece that follows, "From the Heart's Basement" by Barry Malzberg, is a rant about the "in" club of the specfic world and how we're not in it. It would be an interesting blog post, but I'm not sure why it's in the magazine. Too depress us and make us give up?

"Just a Second" by Lou J. Berger is the first story that really held my attention, even though it's predictable. A man asks for a potion, achieves success, but is never satisfied. In the end, he gets his comeuppance. The compelling prose and the colorful characterization pulled me in and didn't let go. I loved hating this guy!

The science in "Act of God" by Jack McDevitt is pretty hokey and it's a long tell. In fact, the whole thing is one side of a conversation. Reminded me of an Outer Limits episode about teleportation (from the reboot version of OL), but was all telling about it after the fact. It would have been stronger if I could see the action and get to know the players along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed "Requiem for a Druid" by Alex Shvartsman. What I liked most was the protagonist's voice. He's an underdog and a fraud, but makes a decent living for a non-gifted by faking it with his bag of tricks. And the real estate developer, for once, isn't pure evil, but an astute, open-minded businessman who keeps the peace and still gets something for himself.

I didn't finish reading "The Bright Seas of Venus" which was not really what was advertised as the writer admits directly to his readers as he's telling us how much he hates us. This bit of reader thrashing was delivered by Stephen Leigh.

"The Spinach Can's Son" wisks us through the "underfunnies" where comic strip physics are skewed and nothing works quite right. This is a back drop for a married couple who are mourning - each in his/her own way - the loss of their son.  Robert T Jeschonek wrote this fun diversion.

A fabulous reprint from James Patrick Kelly will keep you thinking long after you've read it. Honestly, just reading this and Mike's Editor's Word makes all the other mediocre stories forgiveable and the magazine worth picking up. The reprint is "Think Like a Dinosaur" and involves teleportation, the balancing of the equation and the prospect of adopting alien thought to justify doing the unthinkable thing set before you. Can you kill a person to keep the universe in balance?

At the back of the mag, Horace E. Cocroft offers an essay entitled "Economics in SF" for the Something Different column.

Also included in each issue are book reviews and part of a serialized novel. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Good News

It's small wonder that I haven't had many story sales for a while, since I haven't been doing much writing, let alone sending my baby birds out of the nest. (Too busy dancing!) However, I did manage to get a flash piece written - three times. Yes, the same one. Every Day Fiction asked for a rewrite of it twice. This poor story has so much going on that as soon as I fixed one part another would unravel. And I had to satisfy several judges, who didn't always even agree with each other, not just one. In the end, the story isn't the powerful one I started with, but I think it's still very good. They obviously did too to spend their time rereading it twice.

Well, I invite you to read "The Curse of Having Been a Man", give me a star rating and leave a comment. Trust me. Even if you don't love it, it will get you thinking. And it's part of my elephant mania.

I also had some royalties roll in in spite of my dry year or two. I love it when I get royalties, even if they're meager. Makes me wonder why I should be subbing to mags instead of anthologies. Those two Dark Quest Books anthos are performing nicely. Oh, what are they, you say? Defending the Future IV: No Man's Land edited by Mike McPhail and Beauty Has Her Way edited by Jennifer Brozek.

I have been writing, just not a lot of fiction. I did toy with starting a magazine briefly, been then realized that, yes, that's just crazy talk. My would-be partner is still moving forward with the project. I wish him well, but am glad I'm not saddled with a venture right now. I have enough on my plate right now with my adventure. I'm getting married in August. It's mind-boggling how many details go into planning a wedding.

I mean, the invitations alone! We got the DIY kit to print them at home and then the printer decided to print everything inexplicably in red, unless it was on 8.5 x 11 20# paper. After taking two of the pieces of the invitation to the local digital copy store, we discover that the problem was just a bad cartridge. :(

But I was talking about writing. I've been doing a lot more writing at the day job, mostly promotional stuff: fliers, weekly marketing emails for both locations, social networking, press releases, etc. I want to get more Web content work. I'd like to save the world by fixing one crappy website at a time. I even wrote an email to corporate today letting them know that all their social networking canned posts they sent out to the franchises are grammatically incorrect. They don't get the whole capitalizing dad and mom thing. And it's almost Father's Day, so there were many mistakes. The guy in charge came back quoting the grammar rules that I had already sited. Apparently, he didn't know they weren't following his rules. But at least he got back to me. I'm used to my comments falling on deaf ears. People send stuff out to non-English speaking content mills and don't notice the gibberish that they've paid for. Don't get me started!

On the other hand, do let me know if you can convince your boss to hire me for Web content instead of the penny per paragraph outfit overseas.

Would you believe I wrote a song? Words and music, without the benefit of a musical instrument. Surprised the heck out of me! A love song, of course. My musician fiancĂ© proposed to me with a song, and has written another one for me since. I wanted to return the favor. What's funny is that I swore I'd never date a musician. I had even written a humorous list of reasons why, and posted it on FB as a private note. See, I write! 

I have a review of Galaxy's Edge magazine almost ready to roll. You'll see that on Thursday. I just had to toot my horn a bit first. ;)