Friday, February 27, 2015

Kickstarter Day 11 (18 to go): on lost friends and passages

Yesterday's high was wonderful, but today hasn't been so happy. After learning within the span of a few hours that the son of a family friend died and that one of our neighbors died, hearing that Leonard Nimoy also died just compounds the sense of loss.  I don't have pictures to honor the first two, so I wanted to dedicate today's post to another lost friend: Blair Halley, whom I met through the Colorado Mountain Club not long after I came to Colorado.  We climbed together for years, scaling cliffs and hiking 14ers and backpacking in the wilderness.  A lot of my Colorado "firsts" were on trips he organized - my first snowshoe trip, my first time seeing fireworks in Telluride, my first time ice climbing.  His energy was boundless and his enthusiasm and joy in the mountains a wonderful thing to behold.  He died some years ago and I miss him still.

Blair Halley and I at the end of a 10-day loop backpack that took us to the top of Mt Whitney and deep into the Sierra Nevada. 
I've read quite a few SFF novels that explore loss, but none that tackle mortality and death in quite so direct and unflinching fashion as Connie Willis's Passage.  The protagonist is a research psychologist struggling to understand the phenomenon of near-death experiences, and the novel focuses on the question of what exactly a dying mind experiences and why.  It's not a comforting read.  Some of Willis's ideas in this regard are horrifying, or at least I found them so, because they are so terribly plausible.  I read the book when my maternal grandfather was succumbing to the final stages of Parkinson's disease, and I remember sobbing my eyes out, because what Willis's characters discuss and experience wasn't some safely fictional tragedy, it was happening right here, right now, to someone I loved.  It's an unsettling book, and not without narrative flaws; but in the way of the best science fiction, Passage challenges the reader to examine assumptions, face difficult truths, and decide your own beliefs.  For that, I strongly recommend it.

And in closing, I leave you with this link to a performance of "Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras" from Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem.  The first part of the movement is one of the most powerful representations of death and mortality I know as a singer.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kickstarter Day 10 (19 left): Short story stretch goal unlocked!

I've been doing a Snoopy happy dance ever since I found out: The Labyrinth of Flame Kickstarter passed the first stretch goal!  (Special thanks to backer Leah Petersen, who put us over the top.  She's an author too; go check out her Physics of Falling trilogy!)

Happy face in Dang Canyon, Utah.  An accurate representation of my feelings today.

This means I'll be designing new bookmarks and writing a short story from the POV of one of the secondary characters in the series, as voted on by backers.  The poll's up and I'm very curious which character will win. Whichever character it is, their story will be a lot of fun to write.   I've spent so many years in Dev and Kiran's heads that it'll be quite interesting to get in someone else's!

And with one goal already passed, I've got another that I'm just as excited about: interior art for the book.  I always think it's a shame modern books don't often have interior illustrations, and I think it'd make for a really cool edition of the book to have certain scenes illustrated.  (I'm not telling which ones. No spoilers! :)  Should the Kickstarter make $9K, I'll commission 3 pieces of interior art.  Plus, because I know some of the biggest fans of my books don't have a lot of spare cash, I'll run a drawing for interested backers that'll let one lucky person get upgraded to the full-on "Ultimate Fan" reward, which includes a short story written just for you and your choice of peak climb or climbing lesson or skating lesson or lunch with me, along with a whole bunch of other goodies.

$9K really is a stretch, so we'll see.  My fingers are crossed!  In other news, the ever-excellent Paul Weimer interviewed me for SF Signal (thanks, Paul!).  And I've got another pic for you, from one of the canyons that inspired locations in The Labyrinth of Flame

Near the confluence of Buckskin and Paria Canyons
Today I rec a book that fits with my boisterously joyful mood: Diana Wynne Jones's Archers Goon.  Instead of blathering on about how much I love Jones's sharply witty humor and wild imagination and vivid characters, I'll let the book speak for itself.  Because how can you resist a book that promises to prove the following ten facts (quoted from Jones's "Author's Note" in the front):

1. A Goon is a being who melts into the foreground and sticks there.
2. Pigs have wings, making them hard to catch.
3. All power corrupts, but we need electricity.
4. When an irresistible force meets an unmovable object, the result is a family fight.
5. Music does not always soothe the troubled beast.
6. An Englishman's home is his castle.
7. The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
8. One black eye deserves another.
9. Space is the final frontier, and so is the sewage farm.
10. It pays to increase your word power.

Read it, and I promise you, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kickstarter Day 9 (20 days left): Dachstein Alps and 4 great series endings

Day 9 of the Labyrinth of Flame Kickstarter, and as of now there's only $200 left to go to hit the short story stretch goal! (Hard to believe it's only been 9 days.  Kinda feels like more, maybe because I'm not used to posting so much. :)  Yesterday's AMA on r/Fantasy was a lot of fun.  People asked some really great (and sometimes hard!) questions, and I talked about everything from my closest brush with death in the wilderness to theme songs for Shattered Sigil characters to the state of the US space industry. 

Today in lieu of a book rec here, I shall point you to my guest post on Fantasy Book Cafe, in which I answer a great question posed to me by a friend: which SF/Fantasy series not only have great endings, but the final book is my favorite of the set?  I share four such books and would love to hear about more.

Last but not least, today's mountain pic is from the Dachstein range of the Austrian Alps.  Yet another place I hope to return to one day, as the weather was not good enough for my husband and I to do any serious climbs when we were visiting.  Still had an excellent time trekking around on glaciers and admiring the views, though!  

Snow and rock on the Dachstein massif


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kickstarter Day 8 (21 left): Elves Chasm, a spy thriller, and my r/Fantasy AMA

As I write this, the Kickstarter for The Labyrinth of Flame is at $5499.  I gotta say, as an engineer I twitch every time I look at that.  Must...round off...number!  High five to the next person that pledges and saves me from my mathematical agony.

Today I'm doing an AMA ("ask me anything") over at r/Fantasy - if you've got questions about the Shattered Sigil series (or mountains, or figure skating, or Colorado, or, well, anything), come on over & ask away!

For today's pic, I'm leaving the heights to plunge into the depths...of the Grand Canyon.  Elves Chasm is a gorgeous little grotto seen primarily by river runners or by those backpackers willing to tackle the strenuous Royal Arch Loop (the descent requires a rappel).  I regret to say I haven't yet done the latter, but I did do a 3-week "hiker's special" river rafting trip through the length of Grand Canyon.  The trip was incredible - Elves Chasm was one of many, many amazing spots we visited.

Climbing to the grotto behind the waterfall (there's an easier way up around the rocks to the right, but where's the fun in easy?).  Once up, the water's deep enough for jumping.
My husband watches as our friend Jim takes the leap of faith.

And for today's book rec, I'm varying off the beaten path of SF/Fantasy to rec one of my favorite spy thrillers: The Tango Briefing, part of Adam Hall's zillion-book Quiller series.  The Quiller series is to James Bond as Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy is to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.  Told in near-claustrophobic first person by a solitary, intelligent, deeply messed up (and aware of it) operative, the books are a grittily realistic master class in tension, tight plotting, and compelling character voice. (I once used a passage from The Tango Briefing to illustrate a post I wrote on pacing for a "Spec Fic 101" blog series over at 52 Book Reviews.)  The Tango Briefing isn't the first in the series, but it's an excellent entry point; Hall wrote the books to be (mostly) independent of each other, and by this fifth entry in the series he'd really hit his stride.  I don't read a lot in the thriller genre, but I own every single Quiller book and have re-read them all multiple times.  I think what I find so compelling about the series is that Hall treats the psychological aspects of Quiller's missions with equal (or greater) importance as the action.  The earlier books in the series were out of print for a long time, but recently they've been re-released as ebooks, so there's no better time to give them a try.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Kickstarter Day 7 (22 days left): Sawatch panorama and a disturbing YA trilogy

Yesterday the Kickstarter for The Labyrinth of Flame passed $5K.  This morning there's only $831 to go to reach the short story stretch goal, hooray!  I continue to be amazed and so, so thankful for everyone's support and enthusiasm.  I've got a bunch of stuff going on this week, including an AMA on r/Fantasy tomorrow (Tues) and a guest post on Fantasy Book Cafe, so I'm going to keep this post short.  Today's mountain pic is a view of the Sawatch Range in central Colorado, taken while I was climbing 14,067 ft. Missouri Mountain as part of doing three 14ers in a day, which was a heck of a hike

View of the Sawatch mountains from the ridge to Missouri Mountain's summit
In keeping with the "triple threat" theme, for today's book rec I chose Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy, which I read in omnibus form during my recent trip to Australia. 

 People who don't read much YA often have the misconception that YA novels have to be lighter in tone than adult novels, or deal with less difficult themes.  NO.  So not true. Ness's trilogy deals with war and prejudice and torture and collusion and examines in depth the question of how good people can slowly slide into doing terrible things.  All this is wrapped in a really fascinating take on the old science fictional standby of telepathy.  I can't talk too much about this without spoilers, but suffice it to say that when the book opens, we're in the head of a boy named Todd, the youngest of his village, where all the women are dead and every living thing constantly broadcasts their thoughts and emotions.  Todd thinks he knows the history of his village; he's wrong.  The first book deals with his journey out of innocence.  The second book is darker yet, so dark it is at times difficult to read.  The third book attempts to wrestle with issues of colonization, and here I feel the story gets away from Ness; but not to the point it stops me from recommending the trilogy as a whole.  My brother Matt Hilliard wrote an in-depth analysis of the trilogy that makes for great reading once you've finished the books. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kickstarter Day 6 (23 days left): dreaming of powder, and an elegaic fantasy favorite

While poor Boston has been turning into a winter wasteland, Colorado's front range has been dry and warm, to the dismay of every skier in Boulder.  Today at last we're getting our own little blizzard: 16 inches of snow and still falling.  Skiers rejoice!  I went to bed dreaming of my first powder day of the season.

Alas, my dreams were crushed this morning when I went into the garage and discovered a flat tire.  Tire stores here are closed on Sundays, so I can't even get up to the slopes for a short day.  If you're a skier, you'll understand my soul-crushing dismay.  Thankfully, I have only to look at The Labyrinth of Flame kickstarter to cheer myself up (this book is really going to happen! I cannot be sad!).  Plus, there's other fun to be had in the snow.  My five-year-old and I have regrouped with plans for some serious sledding and snow fort building.

But in the meantime, here's a pic to remind myself that there will be other powder days:

Enjoying a powder day at Telluride
And for today's book rec, I turn to another old favorite: C.J. Cherryh's celtic fantasy The Tree of Swords and Jewels.  Plenty of fantasy novels involve elves, but few make elven characters feel much different than pointy-eared humans.  One of Cherryh's greatest strengths as a writer has always been her ability to make aliens feel truly alien, and she applies it to great effect here.  The elf Arafel is the last of her kind, standing guard over a faerie wood even as magic fades and her realm diminishes.  Cherryh captures the sense of the weight of the years Arafel has lived and her loneliness and regret at the changing world in a way that makes her feel both very real and truly other.  The sense of loss that pervades the story is heartwrenching; yet there is hope, too.  The style is very formal, which I know puts some people off, but for me it works perfectly.  I love both Arafel and the human protagonist, Ciaran Cuilean, who is far less passive than is typical for Cherryh's male POV characters, and the magic, which feels wild and old and like a myth that is true.  Cherryh is one of my favorite writers, and this is one of my favorites of her work; it speaks to my heart in a way no other fantasy has yet matched.  Maybe it will speak to yours, too.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kickstarter Day 5 (24 days left) Mountain Pic & Book Rec

The Kickstarter for The Labyrinth of Flame is humming along, heading toward the short story stretch goal.  Yesterday I let structural and line editors know that the project is a go, and this weekend I'm working on a sketch to give the map artist.  (A very rough sketch.  An artist I am not.)  Depending on how busy he is, I might even have a draft of the map to show off before the Kickstarter ends, which would be really cool.

For today's mountain pic, thought I'd go a little further afield to New Zealand, where the peaks are indeed just as impressive as they look in the Lord of the Rings movies:

Peak in the Darran Mountains near Milford Sound
I took this pic while heading back to Queenstown after kayaking Milford Sound. Just about killed me to drive past so many gorgeous mountains without climbing them.  I really need to go back to Fiordland!

Keeping with the New Zealand theme, for today's book rec I'll go with Karen Healey's YA novel The Shattering, which is set in a seaside town on the rugged and isolated west coast of New Zealand's South Island.  (Very disappointed with the publisher for not portraying this on the cover, especially as the notorious beauty of the town factors quite heavily into the story!  Obviously they should have catered to me, and not the desires of the vastly larger YA market. :)

I had some issues with various plot elements but those were well overshadowed by how compelling I found The Shattering's characters.  Their friendships and their emotional struggles are very well drawn; the book does an excellent job conveying the different ways people deal with grief and loss.  Healey also strikes the right note of creepiness in many of the scenes with supernatural elements.  If you enjoy fantasy with contemporary settings, give this one a go.