2015: Hugo Awards for Best Novel Series

There was a lot of brouhaha (largely negative) around The Wheel of Time‘s inclusion in the Hugo Award nomination list for best novel. Due to some clause in the rules, The Wheel of Time series “was nominated as and ruled to be a multi-part serialized single work” since no individual novels had not been previously nominated. Panic gripped genre fandom and tempers clashed on various social media sites.

Some saw this as a loophole that needed to be fixed, but now that we are progressing through 2014, there are two novel series that I think are deserving of being included in next year’s ballot.

AnnihilationThe first of these is Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. All three volumes were released this year and it would seem silly to nominate the first volume rather than the entire series. I am not sure if this series actually has the capacity to be nominated. It has many experimental elements rather than a chronologically commercial piece of fiction. But what it has going for it far outweighs the fact that it might not have as broad of appeal.

Like the TV phenomenon, Lost, the Southern Reach Trilogy is about unlocking the secrets behind an ecological habitat. Vandermeer succeeds where the TV show failed by having an ending in mind, even if many secrets still remain a mystery. Furthermore, Vandermeer’s writing is excellent at creating the right level of mystery and creepiness that accompanies such a story line. The characters are intriguing and even more fascinating is the slow and haunting reveal of the secrets behind Area X.

My quantity (and quality) of books read has been low for this year, given a major move overseas and a new job, but I think this series has a shot at being on the ballot. It certainly satisfied my reading tastes and I think many will enjoy it on both a fun and literary level.


 

Range GhostsA series that I think has an even better chance of making the Hugo ballot next year is the Eternal Sky Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. The first book in this series actually came out in 2012, but the series has received such high accolades among many prominent voices in the SF blogosphere that it would be difficult to ignore.

First of all, Elizabeth Bear has such a high quality of writing that her prose alone almost merits its nomination. But even more importantly, she writes epic fantasy with a uniqueness that is long overdue in the genre. There are no white noblemen duking it out in a fantasized Western Europe. Instead, the milieu is largely inspired by Mongolia and the story refrains from making it a simple lowly hero’s journey to save the world or a quest for the crown. In her short novels (by epic fantasy standards), there is a history that grows far beyond its pages with clans and cults pitted against each other.

The challenge this series faces in getting nominated is the fact that it is not Western Europe. The negative in this is that her vast world building draws upon what is unfamiliar to most people. For those who love visiting foreign lands and learning about the peculiarities of a new world, this is an ample feast for the taking. But there are many (myself often included) who care least about setting and most about character and plot. The unfamiliar setting makes it more challenging on the reader’s imagination (*gasp*), but for those who are up to the challenge, it rewards them greatly. I usually shy away from epic fantasy, but Bear’s trilogy was well worth the journey.


I think one of the biggest challenges genre writers have is finding the right balance between blending the familiar and the unfamiliar. In the above two examples, I believe the authors I mention above struck a chord beautifully. But this is coming from a fan and blogger of genre novels. Authors like Hugh Howey, Stephen King, Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), and Blake Crouch (Wayward Pines) write stories that are 90 percent familiar with ten percent fantastical elements — and these seem to be the books that reach mainstream appeal. Even A Song of Ice and Fire is largely steeped in reality — as close to historical fantasy as one can get without having anything historical in it.

There are readers for each kind of author and I can appreciate the novels that try and do something experimental or new as well as enjoy books that are more straight-forward and familiar. But when it comes to awards, I like to see novels considered that achieve some semblance of literary quality and uniqueness. Both Bear and Vandermeer are successful in doing this and I hope these series will be considered when nomination season comes around again.

What is the Male Equivalent of Trashy Romance?

Perhaps it is a bit narrow-minded of me to make broad generalizations about gender. Particularly in this day and age, when there is a heightened awareness in the genre community regarding gender diversity. Sexual diversity. Ethnic diversity. And so on…

But the fact remains, by and large, that the romance genre is primarily produced and written for women. The genre itself is hard to define, spanning Puritan love stories to BDSM erotica. A portion of this genre is what we could call trashy romance — novels that have little redeeming quality in terms of character/plot development, literary merit, or meaningful themes. These novels serve more to entice the reader with wish-fulfillment and gratuitous sex scenes.

I think men read a lot less widely in the romance genre. Maybe because men are visual creatures, often seeking images rather than emotional connections to fulfill their passions. But that certainly isn’t a rule, nor is it a claim that men have higher tastes in literature than women (I actually suspect the opposite is true).

lonesomeThe subject of a male equivalent of trashy romance came to me while reading the novel, Night in the Lonesome October, by Richard Laymon. This horror novel tells of a twenty-year-old college kid who is dumped by his first love who then embarks on a series of nightly journeys. His travels confront him with some of the most vile humans and most alluring women. Female characters play little more than the role of fulfilling the protagonist’s inner desires while the male characters are stumbling blocks, preventing the protagonist from achieving his goals. The novel is far from erotic and it certainly isn’t romantic. Sexual exploits are purposely visual (blunt) in description and serve to titillate the reader amidst the several try-fail cycles that burden the protagonist.

Despite the paper-thin character sheets, I found this novel impossible to put down and I read it in less than a 24-hour span. Based on my comments, I cannot recommend the novel, but found myself reading page after page after page. The main character, Eddie, is a young man that many can relate to, from the onset being rejected by the woman of his dreams. He is a little reckless and seems to have little trouble finding a replacement for his ex. Even when threatened by more powerful opponents, Eddie is able to demonstrate resourcefulness to escape their hold on him.

Overall, this novel has no prevailing themes worth mentioning and frankly speaking, I cannot give it a higher status than trashy. But it still appeals to the base emotions of the reader. There are some brief attempts at wit and scholarship, but one cannot ignore the fact that Eddie is an imbecile, even if we do care for his livelihood.

So to answer the question at hand, what is the male equivalent of trashy romance? I would posit that it is adventure/horror stories where women are objects of affection with little to no agency. Violence and sex are often gratuitous with little effort in trying to suspend the reader’s disbelief. I suspect that it is this type of novel that many of the leading voices in genre fiction are trying to purge from its repertoire, but alas — they still manage to gain a readership.

I don’t mean to bash on Richard Laymon. In fact, I found his novel, The Traveling Vampire Show, to be a great coming-of-age story that I still recall with fondness years after reading it. Furthermore, I have never stopped reading a novel of his that I started and I doubt it ever took me longer than a week to finish one. I wish I could share the same affection for Night in the Lonesome October, but there comes a point — for me, at least — where I need intelligent actions on the part of the protagonist and deeper character development (and plausibility) on the part of the romantic interests. If you are looking for a fast-paced, cheap-thrill horror novel, this one is addicting. But after gorging myself on the literary equivalent of Hostess Twinkies, I must search for something a little more nutritious for my next read. I wish I could tell you that I am giving up on Twinkies, but hey — everyone has their weaknesses.

Science Fiction in Seoul, Korea

There has not been much activity as of late on this blog, primarily for one reason. I recently moved with my family from our comfortable, suburban home in the USA to Seoul, Korea. The amount of work that goes into relocating across the globe is daunting, to say the least.

But alas, one month after arriving, I have mostly settled in.

For those who are less familiar with the country, science fiction is an active part of the culture. There is a large influence of Japanese culture and bookstores have large sections devoted to manga. American dramas are also popular and many of my coworkers enjoy watching Game of Thrones. Despite the mix of Western and Japanese influence, Korean culture and lifestyle has its own identity. It is hard for me to describe in words, but there are many cute toys, cheerful and upbeat pop music groups, and light-hearted, humorous television shows. I contrast this with American culture, which seems to have a fascination with the dark and gritty.

imageWork has taken up a majority of my time, with language training also taking up a bunch. Many coworkers have asked me what my hobbies are, to which I reply reading, writing, hanging out with friends, and eating good meals. I have also tried a new hobby that is popular among younger people — Gundam modeling. Based on the popular anime, Gundam modeling (or GunPla) is a plastic modeling kit with hundreds of pieces that snap together to make a Japanese robotic mech unit with moveable joints. It has a sometimes extreme devotion, with particular skill required to cut, sand, and properly paint the model before assembly.

I’m under the impression that science fiction hasn’t been taken seriously by older audiences in Korea, but is growing in its popularity for all ages. Original creations of manga and literature are also growing in popularity. I can now read the Korean alphabet, but am barely started in comprehending the language. As encouragement, I picked up a short story collection called Distant Tales by Kim Boyoung. Her writing has been compared to Ted Chiang. Unfortunately, translating is not as simple as copying and pasting text into Google Translate (I foolishly tried this unsuccessfully).

This month, I will take my kids to Comic World, which is supposed to be a pretty cool convention with cosplay. Since my kids adore superheroes, it will be good to find an activity that joins two cultures together.

I expect my blog activity will be sparse in the coming months, considering that my reading activity has dropped to all time lows. I’d like to say I will be remedying it, but I foresee that work, language training, travel, and city life will continue to absorb most of my daily life. I hope to stay active enough in reading to continue posting reviews on Adventures in SciFi Publishing and perhaps on this blog, sharing a broadened perspective that I will gain by living in Eastern culture.

Amateur Reviews and Reader Bias

The most recent issue of Vanity Fair had an interesting article about why certain book critics are dismayed about the recent Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch. Reviewers from The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review are highly critical of Donna Tartt’s last novel, using words like marred, overwritten, and cliche. Meanwhile, more mainstream media outlets, like Time and The New York Times, feature reviews that give The Goldfinch the highest accolades. While the various reviewers have addressed their discrepant opinions, there seems to be a loose agreement that in today’s book culture, story is king and quality of writing is secondary.

To high-brow book critics (which I don’t mean in any derogatory sense), this stubborn fact doesn’t sit well. If an author’s writing skill has a lower value in the eye of the reader, whatever amount of objectivity in what makes a book good is lessened. There are still elements of plot and characterization that can be judged, but if story is truly king, then quality becomes a mark more of subjectivity than anything else.

I have been reviewing books for a couple of years now, mainly as a learning experience. I was an amateur when I started and despite my efforts at self-teaching myself about the art of reading, I remain an amateur now. Visit sites like Amazon and Goodreads and you will find drive-by reviews of little substance and strong opinions, reflecting what many critics have feared for many years now: the dumbing down of book culture.

Slate also published a damning article of adults who prefer to read YA novels. Particularly, the article suggests, “YA readers… are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.” Several rebuttal blog posts followed, once again setting a divide on what various people consider good fiction.

I have found my own personal reading tastes are inversely proportional to how busy and stressful my life is. When life is under control and I have quiet moments to sit and read a book, perhaps with a nice cup of coffee on the end table next to me, I tend toward the literary end. I would be much more likely to pick up a Gene Wolfe, Cormac McCarthy, or Samuel Delaney novel than I would pick up something like a Star Wars tie-in novel. On the other hand, I am currently in the middle of a job transition and move overseas and find myself leaning toward lighter fiction and graphic novels. Frankly, it’s not that my tastes are changing — it’s that I do not have the intellectual or emotional capacity to read anything deeper. If I were to pick up a literary novel that was more challenging I would likely be bored with it. Not because the writing is bad, but because I would miss the critical details and under-appreciate the well-crafted prose. And if I were to review a book like this, what could I even say? I would be left with surface-level criticisms and an overall generic and uninspiring review.

From my personal experience, I have found that for amateur reviewers, it is not an objective opinion or really even a subjective opinion that leads to a reader’s response. Readership bias plays perhaps the largest role in whether or not a book is deemed good. I will use Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie as one of these examples. First of all, I found it to be a fine novel and would probably cast my vote for it in the Hugo’s for best novel of the year, largely because the contenders are uninspiring in a year that actually had some very good fiction. Despite my own favorable opinion, I think a reviewer would be remiss to mention that the book had many problems of a debut novelist. The flow of the novel, the pacing, and how information was given to the reader (too little at first, then repetitive later on) were problematic and are aspects of novel writing that come as many writers progress in their careers. What Ann Leckie did extremely well, however, is her use of gender pronouns. This theme alone struck a chord with many readers. In fact, it struck such a chord that reviewers gave it flawless reviews, even calling it the best science fiction book of the decade. The highly positive reviews also seemed to parallel reviewers who particularly care or are activists for gender equality in science fiction (I don’t mean this as a slight on any reviewers, nor do I want to downplay the issue of gender parity. I’m sure there are subjects that would influence my opinion on how “good” I think a book is as well).

My conclusion in my meandering is that in the age of social media, amateur reviewers have a louder voice than ever. And if my hypothesis that book quality is more of a reflection of the personal bias and possibly even temporary circumstances of the reader, we have little to measure what makes a good book. Certainly the seemingly random best novel titles on the Hugo ballot reflect this notion. I don’t know if there is a solution to this or even if this is a problem to solve. I think the only thing a reader can do is find a reviewer whose tastes are most similar to their own and hope that the reviewer isn’t going through a particular season that can shift their perception of the book. Ultimately, each reader will have to decide on their own whether a novel is good.

 

What Makes Haruki Murakami’s Writing so Compelling?

harukimurakamiHaruki Murakami is not what one would consider a genre writer, but he writes with such a deep sense of surrealism that one cannot help but compare his writing to urban fantasy novels. His novels feature gateways to other worlds, ghosts, monsters, and ordinary characters that embark on their own form of the hero’s quests.

The plot summaries of his books are not enough to solicit my attention, but there is some quality to his writing and story-telling that grabs me by the collar and never lets go.

In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami writes of three qualities that are most important for a novelist to have. He claims that the first and obvious quality is talent. “No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent, you can forget about being a novelist.” The next most important quality, Murakami deems is focus — “the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment.”  Later, he notes that the third most important quality for a novelist is endurance. “If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work.”

I mention Murakami’s philosophy on writing because it is so clear that these traits pervade his writing and his life as a whole. He is regimented at waking in the early morning hours to write and is an avid long-distance runner, completing several marathons and other more-challenging races. While his novels do not conform to any common structure, there is a sense of discipline in his writing. The complete absurdity to the magic in his novels has strict limitations as do the characters in following their pursuits. This tempered approach gives the novels — as other-worldly as they may be — a sense of control and grounding. Murakami keeps us at bay as his characters experience the fantastical with every twist and turn.

Murakami’s writing is also very effective in controlling pace. He delivers all of the right beats during dialog exchanges and his prose is effective in changing tempo. Take for example, the following exchange from Kafka on the Shore:

“Just one thing,” she says, raising her head and looking me straight in the eye. “I want you to remember me. If you remember me, then I don’t care if everybody else forgets.”

Silence descends on us for a time. A profound silence.

A question wells up inside me, a question so big it plugs up my throat and makes it hard to breathe. I somehow swallow it back, finally choosing another. “Are memories such an important thing?”

“It depends,” she replies, and lightly closes her eyes. “In some cases they’re the most important thing there is.”

This scene takes place between the story’s main character, Kafka, and a woman whom he has a close relationship with named Miss Saeki. Contextually, this dialog takes place at a very key point in the novel — a point where the reader’s natural tendency is to start scanning in anticipation of what is to come. Murakami slams on the brakes. He describes the silence in two sentences and then spends another couple sentences describing the question that wells up inside of Kafka. As emotional and powerful as this moment is between Kafka and Miss Saeki, the real-time events occur slowly. Without telling us in so many words, Murakami controls the pace with repetition and by showing us the heaviness Kafka feels at that moment. Lesser writers will not change sentence length or the amount of description to get the reader to move at a speed that complements the narrative. Murakami is a master at this.

Many readers have a natural attraction to foreign writers because of the unfamiliar elements they bring, even if the fiction is completely realistic. Certainly Khaled Hosseini’s, The Kite Runner, enjoyed success not only because it was an excellent novel, but because it gave Western readers a glimpse into Afghan culture. I’m not so certain it is the same with Murakami. Even though his novels take place in Japan, I don’t get as strong of a sense that he is trying to reveal Japanese culture to his readers — especially Western readers. In fact, I’m not so certain his novels are written to a particular audience at all. There may be an autobiographical sense to his writing, as his novels feature protagonists that rarely achieve even moderate success by cultural standards. Murakami, who now will get stopped while running by an adoring fan, was not always the literary figurehead he now is. He was married early in life and ran a jazz club, only to decide that he was going to give up the club to focus on writing full time. This decision turned out to be a good one, but it came at the chagrin of his friends and family. Murakami chose a path that was criticized by societal standards. It was a choice to pursue a path that would likely end in poverty and failure. Fortunately, it ended up being a good one.

Above all else, what I think attracts me to Murakami’s writing is the weirdness of it. I love the fact that if a person is walking down the road and sees a cat, the cat may speak to that person. Is the person crazy or is it a talking cat? Or is it even a cat at all? These are the kinds of questions I ponder while reading Murakami, knowing that anything is possible. Beloved characters can live or die — succeed or fail. They can speak to people through dreams, visit them in the afterlife, or discover them, lost in a parallel universe. Murakami raises the tension, be it sexual, emotional, or physical, only to break it down in new and unexpected ways.

In many ways, Murakami’s writing is a paradox. He is a writer with great discipline, but limitless worlds. His novels feature powerful magic that is used to solve mundane problems. His characters act with a great sense of purpose, but often pursue trivial goals.

I have only read a few of his novels and have found The Windup Bird Chronicles to be the most endearing. You can scan best-of lists and find many conflicting recommendations of where to start. It probably doesn’t matter where you do, because each novel is special in its own way. But I will warn you — if you haven’t read Murakami before, his novels are like a bag of Doritos — “Bet you can’t eat just one.”

 

 

Thoughts on Star Wars Reboot

The Death Star has been aimed at the Star Wars Expanded Universe. This comes to little surprise to those who have been following Disney’s acquisition of the George Lucas franchise, especially considering that three new movies are in development.

A New DawnAs mentioned on the official website, George Lucas has never beholden to the EU and only the six films and Clone Wars animated series are considered official cannon. This means classic works like Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy will be erased from future histories, although I doubt that they will be forgotten.

Anyone who is a fan of superhero comics or films should be well acquainted with the infamous reboot of a series. In fact, works like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are considered not just the best reboots, but the best superhero tales that their mediums have to offer. Putting Star Wars in a similar perspective, I think Disney is doing a good thing. And let’s be honest — the last few years have not been too exciting as far as Star Wars novels go. Even enormously talented writers like James S.A. Corey have stepped into the universe to release titles that feel overly constrained.

LordsoftheSithThe Star Wars reboot will be headed off with the new animated series, Star Wars Rebels, and an introductory novel by John Jackson Miller appropriately titled, A New Dawn. Other forthcoming novels include Tarkin by James Luceno, Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne, and Lords of the Sith by Paul Kemp.

It is of little surprise that these titles will be closely approximated within the timeline of the original trilogy. This is the heart of the Star Wars universe and there are even those who refuse to acknowledge the prequel trilogy as part of the cannon. While my view of the latest three movies is not as cold, my feelings are lukewarm at best. I am hoping among the writers of the new EU have a tacit understanding that characters like Jar Jar Binks and terms like midichlorian will not be mentioned here on out.

A thought also occurred to me over the weekend (not for the first time) that I would be curious if there would ever be any edgier stories in the EU. I’m thinking Game of Thrones meets Star Wars, with bounty hunters, smugglers and Sith becoming even more detestable. I also think that George R.R. Martin’s universe is as interesting as it is because of the many shades of gray that exist in the characters’ morals. This differs from the stark contrast between good and evil that is often seen in Star Wars novels. I sort of expect the new novels to continue with the PG or PG-13 rating; however, it would be cool to see a maturer version of Star Wars — sort of like the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics.

I was probably at a point where my Star Wars reading was going to go the way of the Empire, but I am now actually interested in picking some of the new titles up again. Aside from Heir to the Jedi, which I believe was originally going to be part of the thematic trilogy with Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge and James S.A. Corey’s Honor Among Thieves, the new novels should be showing us new characters and hopefully a different flavor to the universe. My only hope is that this reboot will be something new and inventive rather than just a move done to accommodate the new film trilogy.

Time will tell if the reboot is news or not. Miller’s novel comes out on September 2nd and the new animated series will run this fall. As for the new movie, we’ll have to wait until the end of 2015 for that.

A Fantastic SF Author Only Rich (or Resourceful) People can Read

900 grandmothersIf you think of some contemporary greats in the genre field, names like Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman come to mind. And in interviews with these men, or in discussions with the esteemable SF critic, Gary K Wolfe, you may hear of a short story/novel writer by the name of R.A. Lafferty.

I have only read a couple short stories by R.A. Lafferty, but have found in my readings that he has fantastic ideas and a magnificent control of the language. He is the kind of author that science fiction readers would want to point to when the literary elite look down upon genre fiction.

ral1So where are his books? The short answer is they are out of print. If you want to pick up a copy of one of his more popular collections, Nine Hundred Grandmothers, you are probably looking at spending $30-$50 for an old, ragged mass market paperback. Or if you have the patience, Centipede Press is coming out with a limited edition series with each book selling for $60. I do not criticize Centipede Press or their price. It is a limited run and the books come signed by the person writing the introduction and the cover artist. The price is competitive for what it is. It would be nice if they matched the limited edition with a trade paperback version that had a higher print run.

If we are to try to promote science fiction and literacy, it is time we make great works available for people to read. I could afford to purchase the new Centipede Press title and will strongly consider it, but it shouldn’t require a book collector or a person of financial means to be able to read good writing. Or maybe I am just picking out an author that just isn’t on the populace’s radar.

A Second Home at Adventures in SciFi Publishing

AISFP_144x144

I am pleased to announce that I will be blogging over at Adventures in SciFi Publishing on a hopefully regular basis. One of my goals this year is to get better connected in the genre community and I see this to be a good opportunity to cross-pollinate with other fans that may not venture over to my humble blog.

It is no exaggeration when I say that Adventures in SciFi Publishing is the podcast that got me into podcasts. This was before I had a smart phone and I used to download episodes to my computer and transfer them over to my old iPod classic. Tim Ward, who took over the primary podcasting duties from Shaun Farrell, has done a good job of keeping the podcast going with some great interviews.  If you haven’t listened to this podcast, I recommend a recent interview with James S.A. Corey, for starters.

I don’t like talking too much about myself, but for those who are interested, I was featured in an interview yesterday on the site. I am looking forward to getting more involved and hopefully to continue in their vision to bring fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy real life stories from their favorite authors.

5 SF Convention Misconceptions

I had the pleasure of attending my first large convention (Legendary ConFusion in Dearborn, MI) this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised that some of my biggest fears about attending one were largely unfounded. I came away with some very important and practical advice on writing that I had not gleaned from various forums, blogs, and podcasts. I also had the opportunity to meet some authors, a fellow book blogger, and a couple of aspiring writers.

For those who have never attended an SF convention, let me share the misconceptions I had prior to attending:

Misconception 1: The SF community isn’t really welcoming to newcomers.

I expected my day to be filled with panels of authors explaining how they are wonderful and how you can be too. I also expected there to be merchandise peddling at every turn, but quite the opposite was true. I found a majority of the authors to be warm, and most importantly, authentic. Without putting forth a lot of effort, I had some genuine conversations with several people and it was nice to meet others who share a common love of SF literature.

Misconception 2: You are a small fish in a big pond.

Yes, it’s true that there is a lot of noise on the internet and even in the SF community. There are many authors and fans, but my experience at Legendary Confusion was much smaller and more intimate than I expected. I attended a panel on Freelance editing, which had maybe ten people sitting in a circle. I also enjoyed a reading by two authors that I met earlier in the day with a handful of others. With so many options to attend panels with topics that appeal to your specific interest, the convention felt anything but large.

Misconception 3: The best conversations are with popular authors you want to meet.

I am very thankful that I didn’t go into the convention with a list of people that I wanted to network with. And frankly speaking, just because someone is bold on the internet or writes the most popular books doesn’t mean that it is the person you will connect with the best. In fact, I missed catching a few of the authors that I was determined to meet, but I was not in the least bit disappointed. I had good conversations with authors who worked in the same profession as me (Ron Collins: engineer), who attended the same school at the same time as me (Ian Tregillis: University of Minnesota), who unbeknownst to me hosted one of my favorite podcasts (Brad Beaulieu: Speculate), who had absolute perfect recall of characters and plots from previously read novels (Brigid Collins), and one who gave a wonderfully animated reading of his upcoming novella (Mike Underwood: Attack of the Geek). It was also a pleasure to connect with fellow book blogger, Andrea (the Little Red Reviewer), dressed as none other than the lovely Sabetha from The Gentlemen Bastards.

Misconception 4: Authors don’t really care about fans — they just want to sell their books.

This is absolutely untrue from the people I met. One author I met couldn’t break a twenty and wanted to give me his book for free (I was way too stubborn to oblige). And Toby Buckell, who was both articulate in panels and very inviting in conversation, gave away several free copies of his book and autographed them. I loved that authors wanted to engage with other people and were excited to talk about their books just as much as any other subject that came up.

Misconception 5: There’s nothing to learn in a panel that you can’t learn online.

Maybe this isn’t a misconception, but I definitely picked up some new tidbits about writing that I didn’t gather from the various podcasts and blogs that I visit.

  • It is not uncommon for traditionally-published authors to use a freelance editor before submitting a work to an agent. In the age of the internet, there is so much noise and getting your work as polished as it can be is a way to help it get noticed.
  • Several authors independently mentioned the importance of critique groups. They are so important for moving your writing to the next level. An editor should not be pursued until the critique group has been fully tapped. I am not currently a part of a critique group, but am eager to get involved.
  • Craft comes first. I had the impression that having an active social media presence is as important as writing a good book, but if you write well enough, eventually your work can find a home. Or as Toby Buckell mentioned in a panel (paraphrased), if you happen to catch a gust of wind and you don’t have your sails set straight, then it is all for naught (or is it “naut”?).
  • Have fun. If Twitter is your thing, then do it. If blogging is your thing, by all means, keep it going. If you loathe the thought of tweeting 140 characters or less, but think you should do it for publicity, forget about it. One of the panelists mentioned that Twitter sells much less books than the other social media venues. Whatever you are doing should be enjoyable, otherwise the journey isn’t worth it.
  • Don’t assume that being a full-time writer is your dream job. There have been many authors who quit their day job and found the world around them crumble because of it. While the appeal of working on the craft eight-to-twelve hours a day may sound ideal, the reality of it hits some people hard.

In summary, I left Legendary Confusion completely drained, yet fully energized to continue to pursue writing in the field. I now know that there are people who are welcoming and there is a wonderful community of people that share similar interests. I also now can appreciate the immense frustration that comes when certain demographics are marginalized or excluded. For a newcomer like me to feel as welcomed as I did, I would certainly want to extend that same hospitality to others in the future.

5 Star Wars Prequel Novels Worth Reading

I know that most fans grimace when they hear the words prequel and Star Wars together. Characters like Jar Jar Binks did their best to destroy the franchise, but there is actually a lot to like about the prequels. There’s an entire Jedi Council, a clone war with hundreds of Fetts, a skilled cyborg named General Grievous, and an almost invincible demon Sith called Darth Maul. Some of the expanded universe novels take advantage of the great characters and history in this time period.

With the release of Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber coming out next week, I wanted to list the top five novels that I have read from the Rise of the Empire era in Star Wars history. Before I do this, here is the synopsis for Maul: Lockdown

lockdownIt’s kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object capable of obliterating the Jedi and conquering the galaxy.

Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.

And now for my list of top 5 Star Wars prequel novels worth reading:

Shatterpoint5. Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover — Matthew Stover is a veteran of the Star Wars universe and writes well. This novel is a great introduction to the clone wars and gives the reader a little more insight into the Jedi, including Mace Windu. And as can be expected in times of war, this novel is packed with action and light saber duels — something every Star Wars fan can enjoy. This novel takes place shortly after Episode II.

yoda4. Yoda: Dark Rendezvous by Sean Stewart — I remember watching Episode 2 in the theater and when Yoda removed the light saber from his belt, the entire audience cheered. It is for good reason because the wise Jedi Master is a favorite among most Star Wars geeks. In addition to Yoda, we get a lot of insight into Count Dooku, a formidable enemy of the rebels, but one often wonders if there is good left in him. This novel takes place after Shatterpoint, but prior to Episode III.

kenobi3. Kenobi: Star Wars by John Jackson Miller — Miller takes one of our beloved heroes and tells a western story that is reminiscent of the short-lived Firefly series. In fact, this novel doesn’t read like most Star Wars novels, which was a nice change of pace. We get accustomed to Tatooine life and Kenobi, who seeks to remain hidden, is seen as discreet through the eyes of the other characters. This novel takes place shortly after Episode III.

Han2. Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin — Perhaps I am being nostalgic in including A.C. Crispin’s trilogy on the list. It was sad to hear of her untimely death last year, succumbing to cancer. Her Han Solo trilogy is somewhat sentimental as we learn of Han Solo’s touching relationship with a love interest and a friendship with Chewy. We learn what gave him a hard edge around women, how he became a smuggler, and where his troubles began with Jabba the Hut. The trilogy ends with a familiar scene in Episode IV, which nicely ties the novels into the Universe.

plagueis1. Darth Plagueis by James Luceno — If you are only going to read one novel in the Rise of the Empire Era, I recommend Darth Plagueis. The novel gives the back story for Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine, the most evil and conniving character in Star Wars. Maybe it’s not the most exciting story on the list, but it is both engaging and informative. I really got sucked into the mind of Palpatine in this novel and Luceno did an excellent job of developing his character. Had he omitted the word, midichlorian, from the novel it would have been even better. The other novels on my list coincidentally had a nice chronology to them, but Darth Plagueis starts at the beginning, before Episode I.

So there you have it, five novels (actually seven with the trilogy) that are certainly worth reading if you have any interest in the period before the Rebellion era. There are a few duds as well, but I think it is pretty safe to start with any of the novels I mention above. There’s really no starting place when it comes to Star Wars novels, but I would recommend starting with either Darth Plagueis and sticking with the Clone War era or the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn and reading the novels that start after Return of the Jedi. May the force be with you in your reading.