Keener Book Club: September 2015

Keener Book Club

The field of Speculative Fiction is like a long-running conversation between writers and readers all around the world. It’s easy for some of the best pieces of this vast conversation to be missed, including contemporary stories that may not have achieved the recognition they deserve or older stories that may have fallen out of the public consciousness.

Thus, the Keener Book Club, where each month I’ll highlight one contemporary novel, one classic novel (generally more than twenty years old) and one piece of short fiction from any time period (and I do mean any).

2015: July  August  September

Book: Shades of Milk and Honey — by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette KowalPublished: 2011
To Purchase: Amazon

What if Jane Austin was alive today and she decided to try her hand at writing fantasy? Well, I suspect she’d write a romantic Regency-era comedy of manners with magic, something very much like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Nebula-nominated first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey.

Jane Ellsworth of Dorchester is a glamourist, a woman who can create genteel illusions, or glamours, by manipulating strands from the Ether. She dreams of earning recognition as a glamourist, something that only men are generally renowned for. In her personal life, unmarried and in her late twenties, she worries that she’ll be left to live life as a lonely spinster, unlike her lovely younger sister, Melody, who has a surfeit of suitors.

Little does Jane realize that a threat to her family lurks closer than she could possibly imagine. And, who is the mysterious Mr. Vincent, the first glamourist she’s met who’s more knowledgeable about magic than herself?

The plot is tight, the dialogue is witty, the romance is cutting and the magic is seamlessly woven into the story. Yes, OK, I know I’ve probably lost most of the guys with this particular recommendation, but it’s still an excellent book and well worth reading if a romantic comedy of manners is something you can appreciate.

It’s also the first book in what has now been labeled the Glamourist Histories series, followed by Glamour In Glass (2013), Without a Summer (2014), Valour and Vanity (2015) and Of Noble Family (2015).

Note: If you decide to buy the trade paperback, make sure you purchase the second edition, which has an excellent cover (the one shown to the right) that matches subsequent novels in the series. The first edition had a truly atrocious cover. Just awful.


Classic: Gateway — by Frederik Pohl

Gateway by Frederick PohlPublished: 1977
To Purchase: Amazon

Robinette Broadhead has become the richest man in the solar system, but a trauma suffered on his way to fame and fortune has left him with deep psychological problems. As a young man, he won a lottery that plucked him from the poverty and obscurity of life as a food shale miner and gave him the chance to be a prospector on Gateway, the mysterious space station left in the Asteroid Belt by a long-vanished alien race known as the Heechee.

Gateway is the ultimate lottery, an alien transport hub with hundreds of FTL ships, each with numerous programmable destinations. But there’s no way to know whether a destination will result in a discovery worth a fortune or just a lonely death in a far-off place.

What was the trauma that broke Robinette? What is it that gives him nightmares? This Hugo and Nebula winning novel by Frederick Pohl alternates between Robinette’s struggle to repair his shattered psyche and his recollections of his experiences at Gateway leading up to the terrifying trauma he can no longer recall.

Gateway is a true classic of the SF field and I highly recommend it. I particularly liked how it didn’t answer all of the questions about the Heechee.

Because of its success, it was followed by several sequels which, to me, although interesting, don’t pack the same punch as the original and, perhaps, reveal too much of the mystery surrounding the Heechee. If you read the sequels, I’d start with The Heechee Trip, which collects a novelette and some additional content dealing with the Heechee before later revelations. The plotline from Gateway then continues in Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Heechee Rendezvous and The Annals of the Heechee. There is also a later connected novel, The Boy Who Would Live Forever.

I consider Gateway to be essential reading for any science fiction fan. If you read nothing else in the series, you should at least read this novel, which stands completely on its own.


Short Fiction: “A Study in Emerald” — by Neil Gaiman

Shadows Over Baker StreetPublished: 2003
To Purchase: Amazon

What do you get when you mix Sherlock Holmes with the Chthulu Mythos? Well, if you’re Neil Gaiman, you get an enchanting, Hugo award-winning story like “A Study in Emerald.” To say more would inevitably reveal far too much. Just go read it.

The story was originally published in the groundbreaking anthology, Shadows Over Baker Street, a delightful mash-up of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes universe and H. P. Lovecraft’s Chthulu mythos. The short story can also be found in Neil Gaiman’s story collection, Fragile Things.

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Come Create an Adaptive Setting With Me…

This is my promotional advertisement for my workshop, “Creating an Adaptive Setting,” which I’ll be running at Capclave 2015 on October 10th.

Creating an Adaptive Setting

Last year, I ran a well-received (though lightly attended) workshop entitled “Public Speaking for Writers.” It drew upon my background as a public speaker (I’ve been speaking at technical conferences since 2008) and conference runner (I’ve been part of the core conference running team for 19 conferences, plus countless smaller events).

I was delighted to be asked by Capclave to give another workshop this year. The thing was…neither they nor I wanted to do the same workshop as last year. Now, I’ve only had one story published, so I don’t have a lot of credibility as a writing instructor (I have lots of opinions because that’s the kind of guy I am, but not the bonafide proof of writing success that a more established writer might have).

So, how could I give a new workshop that focused more on the writing side of the house?

Once again, I chose to focus on where I did have legitimate credibility. You see, when I realized early on that traditional publishing was such a rigged game, I despaired of ever becoming the writer I’d dreamed of being. I threw myself into roleplaying games instead, including doing some games on the gaming convention circuit. I had thirty years worth of experience in creating interesting, cohesive settings and doing serious world-building. THAT was something I could leverage.

So, this was the workshop I proposed to do, which was accepted very warmly by Roger Burns, the Programming Chair, and Sam Lubell, the Conference Chair:

Creating an Adaptive Setting

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve noticed that a lot of authors are making money with series. But crafting a series is hard, and it’s a subject that’s not covered in most writing manuals. Come learn a set of steps for creating a coherent, consistent and connected background to support multiple stories leveraging the same setting, primary characters and supporting characters. Give your series the foundation it needs to become what you want it to be.

So, come check out my new workshop. There’s a few tricks I’ve learned over the years that just might surprise you.

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