Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite Books Read in 2012

Recently Dominick Swennen of Fantastical Imaginations asked me and a bunch of other authors to share the top 3 novels they read in 2012 (and the three we're most looking forward to in 2013).  I've read so many great books this year that it was pretty hard to limit myself to just three - and in fact, for my answer I simply chose the first three novels that popped to mind as being exceptional in some way for craft, storytelling, or prose.  So here, I'm going to indulge myself in providing a more comprehensive list of the books I particularly enjoyed this year.  I'm splitting the list up a bit by sub-genre, just to make it more manageable, and within genre I'm going alphabetical by author.  Even then, I'm probably leaving books out, but I suppose this post will be long enough as is!

Favorite Secondary-World Fantasy Novels 

The Eli Monpress series (Rachel Aaron) - I read all five of Aaron's Monpress novels this fall, and thoroughly enjoyed the series.  The books start off very light and breezy, but get a bit darker as the series progresses.  My favorite was the fourth, The Spirit War, which is probably the most serious of the lot and pretty much pushed all my personal buttons as a reader (in a good way!).  I admit to hoping the fifth and final novel would get even darker and really put Eli through the wringer, but Aaron keeps the emotional consequences for him and the other characters on the lighter end of the scale, in keeping with the overall tone of the series.  The fifth novel does provide a rousing and satisfying conclusion to the main story arc, so no problems there!  

The Daemon Prism (Carol Berg) - third and final novel in her excellent Collegia Magica series.  If you haven't read them, you should.  I rave more about the book here.

Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear) - oh gosh, I loved this one. Great characters, stellar worldbuilding, beautiful imagery, it's got everything I love best about fantasy.  I talk more about the book in a guest post I did for Stumptown Books.  

The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (N.K. Jemisin) - terrific duology.  Much like the Bear novel above, these books have got it all.  (See my guest post at Stumptown Books for more discussion.)  I think I liked the first novel just a teensy bit more than the second, but they're both wonderful books that I highly recommend.    

King of Thorns (Mark Lawrence) - Sequel to last year's equally impressive Prince of Thorns.  I particularly admired the puzzle-box structure of the plot, and Lawrence's skill with juggling different narrators.  Plus, Jorg goes mountain climbing - what's not to like? (book rec post here). 

The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost (Helen Lowe) - The first two novels in her Wall of Night series.  Classic fantasy with a neat sf-nal twist.  Just the thing if you're looking for a nice fat epic tale to immerse yourself in.  (book rec post here.)  

Sharps (K.J. Parker) - this one's a rarity: a secondary-world fantasy novel without the least hint of magic.  Usually that would turn me off - I do love stories with plenty of magic and wonder.  But Parker's writing is so sharply witty and the various characters so well-drawn that I couldn't help but find the novel fascinating.

Scourge of the Betrayer (Jeff Salyards) - solid, gritty, character-driven military fantasy that packs a real emotional punch at the end. (book rec post here)

The Siren Depths (Martha Wells) - third in her Books of the Raksura series.  I adored the first novel The Cloud Roads, and enjoyed the second (The Serpent Sea) nearly as much, but this one might be my favorite of the series to date.  I've got a huge weakness for characters with trust issues, and Wells really puts the screws to her protagonist Moon in the first half of this novel.  Moon's struggles with his past and Raksuran court politics might even have been my favorite part, above the adventure portion of the plot.  Just a really satisfying, entertaining read.   

The Emperor's Knife (Mazarkis Williams) - Introspective epic fantasy with plenty of intrigue, characters in shades of gray, and some very interesting magic and cultures.  (book rec post here) I'm really looking forward to reading the recently-released second novel in the series, Knife Sworn - so much so that I'm using it as my "carrot" for reaching my next wordcount goal on The Labyrinth of Flame.  Must...write...faster!

Favorite Alternate History and SF Novels

The Troupe (Robert Jackson Bennett) - after seeing multiple people rave about this one, I had to give it a try - and boy, I'm glad I did.  It's set in turn-of-the-century America, and follows a gifted teenage pianist who joins the vaudeville circuit to seek out his mysterious father.  Bennett manages to make the magic both creepy and numinous by turns, and both story and characters are thoroughly engrossing.  In some ways, it reminded me of a Stephen King novel (but without any bloat!).  

And Blue Skies From Pain (Stina Leicht) - second in her The Fey and the Fallen series. Historical urban fantasy set in 1970s Ireland; dark, gritty, and containing excellent characterization. (see book rec post here)  

The Alchemist of Souls (Anne Lyle) - first in her Night's Masque series (the second novel, The Merchant of Dreams, just came out).  Set in an alternate Elizabethan England, featuring plenty of intrigue and derring-do, plus an interesting alien/magical race; I really enjoyed the read.  I'm so sure I'll love #2 that (in similar fashion to Mazarkis Williams's Knife Sworn), I'm using it as a wordcount goal reward.  

The Coldest War (Ian Tregillis) - I enjoyed the first book in his Milkweed Triptych, Bitter Seeds, but this sequel really impressed me with its plot.  Alternate history set in the WWII era, with Nazi X-Men vs. British warlocks.  Clever and gut-wrenching by turns, with one of the creepiest, coolest characters I've seen in ages. (book rec post here)  

Osiris (E.J. Swift) - Dystopian SF with gorgeous imagery, and some very interesting ideas and narrative choices.  Don't expect an action thriller, but if you enjoy literary SF, you must give this one a try.

Favorite YA Novels

Black Heart (Holly Black) - third in Black's Curse Workers series.  Set in an alternate world in which magic is the province of mafia-style gangster families.  The plots are clever, the (male) protagonist is charmingly snarky, and while there is some romance, the focus is far more on fucked-up family relationships and the protagonist's struggle with difficult moral choices.  In other words, YA just the way I like it.

Team Human (Sarah Rees Brennan & Justine Larbelestier) - Sick of all the vampire romance novels cluttering up the shelves?  Enjoy some good snark?  Here's the book for you.  Brennan & Larbalestier poke fun at all the tropes of the genre, even while telling a surprisingly involving story.  It's even funnier if (like me) you've recently watched (and mocked) the TV show The Vampire Diaries.

Seraphina (Rachel Hartman) - Okay, so I've got a story about this one.  It was one of the novels in the bag o' free books handed out to all World Fantasy attendees.  I picked it up, saw it was a YA novel involving dragons, read the Paolini blurb prominently displayed on the cover, and nearly tossed the book straight onto the "freebie" table.  (I was, er...not impressed by Paolini's Eragon.)  Yet there on the back cover, amid a host of blurbs from other YA authors, was a highly positive blurb from famed editor Ellen Kushner - whose opinion I do highly respect.  So I decided, hesitantly, to give the book a try.  And, wow.  So glad I did.  Clever, witty, in places screamingly funny, with a really interesting take on dragons and a teenage girl protagonist who's intelligent and strong without needing to be a Buffy-style badass - it's a great read.  Just goes to show the power of blurbs, both positive and negative.  

The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater) - Atmospheric, compelling novel that I absolutely devoured.  Takes place on an island where people race murderous Celtic-style water horses, and follows two young protagonists (one male, one female) who each become desperate to win the race, no matter the danger, for reasons of their own.  The story isn't without flaws (some of the female protagonist's decisions/actions don't entirely ring true to me - e.g., we're told she loves her (perfectly ordinary) horse, yet she seems to brush off all concerns over the very real (even likely!) possibility of the mare being savaged and/or killed by the water horses, when she enters the race.  Maybe this was meant as a deliberate example of selfishness/obsession, but I wasn't quite convinced it worked as such.  It mostly made me go, "But...what?").  But those were niggling thoughts that came after finishing - while reading I was so absorbed in the book I was totally along for the ride.  I'm going to seek out more of Stiefvater's work, pronto.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays

Yikes, I can't believe it's only 5 days until Christmas. I had all these grand visions for a book rec post and a Thursday adventure post this week, but, had other plans.  But!  I did want to take the time amid the  pre-holiday rush to share a few things:

1) Think you can tell an author's gender from the prose alone?  Fellow fantasy author Teresa Frohock is running an interesting little contest over at her blog right now.  She's rounded up a gang of male and female SFF authors who've all provided scenes that will be posted anonymously.  Guess the gender right, and you could win a bunch of free awesome books!  The full contest rules are here, and the first contest entry post is here.

2) After the horrible murders in Newtown, I had the desperate desire to lose myself in a new SFF book, but I didn't much feel like reading something grim and/or dark - so I asked on twitter for recommendations of recent SFF that featured compelling characters and hope.  People provided a host of great recs!  Some books I've already read, some I haven't, but I thought it might be nice to collect all the recs in one spot (for my own reference if nothing else).  Here's the lot, with stars next to the ones I've already read:

The Bones of the Old Ones (Howard Andrew Jones) - #2 in his Dabir & Asim series.  Haven't yet read this one, but I've read and enjoyed the first novel, The Desert of Souls.
Existence (David Brin)
Spin the Sky (Katy Stauber)*
Adaptation (Malinda Lo)*
Pandaemonium (Ben Macallen)
Bitterblue (Kristin Cashore)*
The Emperor's Soul (Brandon Sanderson)
The novels of Marie Brennan
Raising Stony Mayhall (Daryl Gregory)
The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)*
The Merchant of Dreams (Anne Lyle) - haven't read this sequel to last year's excellent Alchemist of Souls yet, but it's definitely on my TBR pile!
The Iron Druid series (Kevin Hearne)*
The Nightrunner series (Lynn Flewelling)*

3) And one link that anyone who appreciates the beauty of mountains absolutely must see (thanks to Paul Weimer for tweeting it!): a billion-pixel image tour of Mt. Everest, put together by climber and filmmaker David Brashears.  

It'll be quiet around here next week, as I've got family in town for Christmas, but I shall return to posting soon.  I plan to share my list of books I read and loved in 2012, and show off a few more gorgeous pics of New Zealand - no better time, with The Hobbit in theaters, right?  (Haven't seen it yet, very much hoping to beg my mom to babysit for a few hours next week so my husband and I can see it together.  I don't care how many liberties Peter Jackson took with the source material, so long as he filmed plenty of stunning NZ scenery.)  So on that note, I leave you with one of my favorite pics from our hike on the Routeburn track in December of 2006:

Happy holidays!
May 2013 bring us all beauty, inspiration, and plenty of mountains to summit.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Kayaking Milford Sound (New Zealand)

Chatting via email with New Zealand author Helen Lowe brought back memories of the wonderful time my husband and I had visiting New Zealand back in 2006.  If you've seen the Lord of the Rings movies, you have some idea of the spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer, but believe me, the scenery featured in those movies is only the tip of the iceberg!  New Zealand is a gorgeous country with an absolutely stunning variety of landscape, offering everything from ocean beaches with golden sand and azure water, to rainforest, to towering snow-covered peaks.

Since we'd already spent a week in the Cook Islands and a week visiting my husband's family in Sydney, we only had 10 days to spend in New Zealand, which felt like far too little time!  But we made the most of it.  We went caving in the Waitomo area of the North Island, canyoning on the Coromandel Peninsula, sea kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, spent three days hiking the Routeburn Track in the Southern Alps, and finished off with exploring Milford Sound by kayak.  Today I'll share a few pictures from that last adventure.  Milford Sound is a fjord in the southwestern area of New Zealand's South Island, one of the many in Fjordland National Park, and was called by Rudyard Kipling the eighth Wonder of the World.  Not surprising, when it offers views like this:

Morning mist around Mitre Peak
Most tourists take a short boat tour of the sound and either head off to their next destination or perhaps hike the Milford Track (a trail that runs between the sound and Lake Te Anau, near Queenstown).  We wanted to spend a bit more time exploring the sound itself, so we signed up for an all-day kayak trip.  My husband and I are far from experienced kayakers (not much call for kayaking in Colorado, unless you do whitewater kayaking, which we haven't yet tried), but experience isn't necessary on calm water in a craft as stable as a sea kayak - you just need just a reasonable level of fitness and the willingness to get a really good arm workout.

Our guide, Tracy, telling us about the history of Milford Sound
The really nice thing about kayaking the sound is you get to admire the views without being bothered by the swarms of biting sandflies that plague the sound's shoreline.  (Come on, you knew a paradise like this would be too perfect without a serpent in the garden!)  Soon as you paddle off the beach, the sandflies disappear: bliss!  Paddling out into the sound was quite a good workout, though, as there was a nice stiff breeze blowing against us.  But that made it all the more fun when we returned - our guide showed us how to use swathes of fabric as a "kayak sail," letting us zoom back to shore at high speed without the need to paddle.  (Sorry, no pics of that - was too busy hanging on to the sail ropes and making sure our kayak didn't flip!)

Paddling the sound

Looking back at the head of the sound
The whole area is just so spectacular.  Once we left the sound and boarded a bus to take us and our backpacking gear back to Queenstown, I spent the whole trip goggling out the windows, sighing over views like this:

Gorgeous mountain views on the bus ride back to Queenstown
We definitely intend to go back and spend more time in both Fjordland and the Southern Alps!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Want ebooks of Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City cheap? Quick, buy now...

A couple important bits of pricing news, in case anyone reading this might want to gift a friend the ebook versions of The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City for Christmas (you know you want to...):

1) Want a DRM-free copy in the format of your choice at Baen for only $6?  Then you'd better hurry...Baen's prices are about to go up, since they recently signed a deal with Amazon and as soon as it goes into effect (I've heard dates as early as Dec 15), they'll have to match Amazon's (usually higher) ebook prices.  The good news?  Baen will still sell ebooks DRM-free, so hopefully international folks will still have the option of buying my books in e-format there.

2) The Whitefire Crossing's ebook is currently only $3.99 on US Amazon...but I hear that's likely to end Jan 1, so if you want it cheap, buy it soon!

And to catch up on other authorial news, since I've been remiss about sharing lately:

1) I did two new interviews in the last few weeks, one at Fantastical Imaginations (in which I discuss my favorite books and share how much of my personal mountaineering experience went into The Whitefire Crossing, among other things), and the other at Only The Best SciFi (which features questions nobody else has ever asked - that always makes it  fun to answer!).

2) My writerly ego got an extra little boost when fellow fantasy author Helen Lowe (The Heir of Night, The Gathering of the Lost) enjoyed both Whitefire and Tainted City and reviewed them on her blog, and another excellent fantasy author, Blake Charlton (Spellwright, Spellbound), liked and reviewed Whitefire on Goodreads.  It's wonderful to hear that from anyone, but it's extra nifty to hear it from authors as talented as Helen and Blake. Warm fuzzies all around!  

I've got this enormous backlog of awesome books I've read recently that I'm dying to blog about, and I really meant to add in at least a couple to this post, but I'm trying to be good these days about saving most of my scant writing time for working on The Labyrinth of Flame.  So!  Soon, I shall do a mega-post with a whole slew of book recs.  After I finish this latest scene that's giving me fits.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Let it snow

Busy busy week this week, so no official Thursday Adventure post.  But in honor of my three year old putting skis on for the first time tomorrow - albeit at an indoor practice slope, not yet a mountain (best to let him first try skiing without having to deal with all the bulky clothing) - I gotta say: LET IT SNOW.  It's been one heck of a warm, dry winter here in Colorado so far.  Really hoping that changes.  Maybe if we make a few shrines to the snow gods...

Then maybe we'll get some epic snow, like the kind we had in Utah one Christmas...

Robert and I trapped inside the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird.  The avalanche danger during heavy snowstorms in Little Cottonwood Canyon is so high that everyone at the ski areas is forbidden to step outside.  Snow crews use artillery guns mounted on top of the buildings, firing shells at the canyon slopes all throughout the storm, trying to prevent the snowpack from building up to the point that slides could destroy the resort.  For a powder skier, there's nothing like hearing the whump of cannon fire all night long.  You know the skiing's gonna be EPIC.  

Our friend Jim enjoying an epic powder day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What's with all the cursing in my Shattered Sigil books?

So the other day N.K. Jemisin put up a terrific blog post talking about profanity in fantasy, how it reflects and relates to worldbuilding, and how she comes up with appropriate swear words for her characters.   Reading it inspired me to talk a bit about the thought process behind my own use of profanity in the Shattered Sigil books – because yes, I did make a considered choice. 

As anyone who’s read even the first page of The Whitefire Crossing knows, Dev has quite the foul mouth.  He doesn’t use what I think of as “fake fantasy cursing,” either – no frak, frell, or other sideways euphemisms for English cursewords.  He uses plain, straight-up fuck, shit, and damn, in addition to a variety of phrases referencing gods and goddesses (“Khalmet’s bony bloodsoaked hand,” “Shaikar’s innermost hell,” etc.).

This bothers the heck out of some people, who feel that words like fuck and shit are too modern, and therefore jarring in a fantasy setting.  But I had my reasons:

   1.  I wanted a more modern feel.  My world is not meant to be medieval.  It’s equivalent to more of a 1800s frontier setting – except that in the presence of readily available, powerful magic, technology hasn’t developed and spread as fast as it did in our own world.  Ninavel natives don’t need lightbulbs and pistols when they’ve got magelights and magical weaponry.   Foreigners from countries like Sulania that lack strong natural sources of magical power do have more advanced technology than is seen in Ninavel, and use gunpowder, hackbuts, mechanical devices, etc.  (Alathia is somewhere in between…the Council is leery of the dangers of technology, just as they are of magic, and controls imports with nearly as heavy a hand.)

  2.  Fake cursing is a personal pet peeve of mine.  I hate frak, frell, and the other cutesy ways to dodge censors.  If the word is supposed to mean fuck, then have the guts to use fuck.  I mean, if you’re translating the characters’ real language into English, why wouldn’t you translate the curse words too? 

Granted, you should first consider (as Jemisin points out) whether or not your fantasy society would use sexual references as a curse at all.   In my case, I decided the answer was yes.  While Ninavel is relatively egalitarian in outlook (profit matters more than anything else, including gender and sexual orientation), the original laborers who built the city were immigrants escaping far more rigid cultures where bloodlines mattered a great deal.   Similarly, their concept of the afterlife does involve damnation and hells, so Dev and other streetsiders use damn and gods-damned quite freely.

  3.  There’s a visceral impact to “fuck” that you don’t get with a made-up word.  Dev is not only lower-class in origin, he spent most of his childhood and teen years in the company of criminals, and I wanted his coarse language to make that unequivocally clear.  By comparison, Cara, who was raised streetside but in a family involved in a stable, skilled profession (outriding), only curses when she’s genuinely upset.  And Kiran, raised in the highest strata of Ninavel’s society, never curses at all.  He never even uses a god’s name, since his master Ruslan doesn’t believe in any gods. 

Like any choice, mine has consequences.  Some people find Whitefire’s language offensive.  Others balk at the modern idiom.  That’s okay.  When I read a 1-star review that says the reader put the book down on page 1 when Dev dropped his first f-bomb, I’m not upset; it’s a perfectly valid reaction, and the review serves a useful purpose: to warn off other potential readers who may have a similarly negative experience.  But it’s a good illustration of a point that I think writers sometimes forget: you can make whatever stylistic choices you like in your book – but be aware that some choices will limit your potential audience.  Remember, too, that the readers who detest your choice aren’t wrong.  They just have different taste than you. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Moab, Utah

In the Schafer household, Thanksgiving is not a holiday for gorging on food and joining the hordes at the shopping malls (shudder!).  No, a four-day break means we head out of town for a proper adventure.  This year, we took our son to Moab, Utah, for his first experiences biking and hiking on slickrock. This was my first time back to Moab since he was born, and damn, it was awesome to play in Utah's red-rock desert again.  (As an added bonus, the trip served as extra inspiration for working on The Labyrinth of Flame, since Dev and Kiran will be traveling some similar scenery.)

Me under one of Double Arch's massive spans, in Arches National Park
Honestly, landscape doesn't get much more incredible than that found around the Moab area.  The town sits right next to Arches National Park.  Arches is one of those parks that's deceptively small in area; if you look at the little map the rangers give you, you might think it's hardly worth a stop.  The official trails are all quite short, and most visitors devote less than a day to sightseeing.

Yet Arches is full of secrets.  Awesome secrets.  We learned long ago via word of mouth from canyoneering friends that if you prove you know what you're doing to the park rangers, they'll give you a permit and let you explore some absolutely incredible areas that most people never see.  Of course, this time we had our three-year-old in tow, so we couldn't venture off into the remote areas of the park.  But even the official hikes get you to some amazing places.                

Delicate Arch, with the La Sal Mountains in the background
Another view of Delicate Arch, this time with me and my son under it for scale.
Phantasmal rock fins in the Devil's Garden area of the park
You don't even have to go into the national park to find terrific slickrock hiking.  Drive along one of the various roads leading out of Moab's canyon, pick a spot, and start exploring.

My husband wandering the slickrock
Slickrock domes with the La Sal Mountains in the background
Cliffs along the Colorado River, just outside of Moab
Hiking isn't even Moab's biggest claim to fame.  If every skier must one day make a pilgrimage to Alta's famous powder, so must every mountain biker go to Moab, irresistably drawn by the lure of the Slickrock Trail: 11 miles of insanely steep, technical riding over sandstone so grippy it lets bikers seemingly defy gravity.

Mountain bikers riding the Slickrock Trail
I myself am a total weenie on a mountain bike, not being fond of faceplanting into rock.  (My husband, an avid mountain biker, laughs at me, pointing out that I think nothing of skiing down couloirs that make him turn pale.  I say, yeah, but snow is soft.  I can take a tumbling fall in powder and walk away with nothing more than my dignity sprained.  You should see the injuries my husband sports after his more adventurous mountain biking escapades.)

But even I enjoy biking on slickrock, for the awe-inspiring views if nothing else - I just leap off my bike at the slightest provocation, rather than risk injury.  Our three-year-old had a blast giving it a try on his balance bike:

Zooming along a slickrock slope. 
We look forward to the day we can do some real Moab bike trails as a family.  And the day when we can rock climb together.  We sat eating lunch one day in Kane Springs Canyon watching this guy:

Climber in Kane Springs Canyon
My husband and I sighed enviously, watching the guy ascend.  The three-year-old said, "Mommy, when can I climb that?"  "Soon," we answered.  "Soon..."  (The kiddo is already climbing indoors at the gym.)

While serious family climbs might be a ways off, we had a great time hiking up to watch the sunset and explore the slickrock by moonlight.  Quality time with a preschooler doesn't get much better than that.

Slickrock before sunset
Slickrock by moonlight

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Worldbuilders charity auction for signed copies of Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City

Every year around this time, Patrick Rothfuss runs a huge fundraiser for the Heifer International charity.  The fundraiser is called Worldbuilders, and a vast array of SFF authors and publishers donate signed copies of books and other goodies for Pat to offer up as prizes.  There are two ways to contribute: you can make a general donation, which enters you into a drawing for a big pool of prizes, or you can bid on auctions for specific items.  (See here for details, along with lists of all the excellent books on offer as prizes!)

This year I donated two signed sets of The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City.  One set will be in the general prize pool, but the other set you can bid on directly right here.  If you've any interest in signed copies of my books, this is a great opportunity and you'll be supporting a wonderful organization that helps families in need all over the world.  If you've already got copies of my books, go check out all the other excellent books up for auction, or consider a general donation.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful Thursday Adventure: Cerro Torre, Patagonia

Happy Thanksgiving to any US folks reading this, and to everyone else, I hope you're having a wonderful Thursday.  (I know I am.  I'll share the reason why in next week's Thursday adventure.)

When I consider the things I'm thankful for, mountains are pretty damn high on the list.  Honestly, how lucky are we to live on a planet that holds such an incredible variety of awe-inspiring landscapes?  Mountains challenge me, inspire me, humble me, and bring me a joy that's found nowhere else.  As many beautiful peaks as I've climbed, I'm all the more delighted to know that I've seen only the merest fraction of what the world has to offer - that countless more stunning locations remain to be visited.  (How boring life would be without new experiences to anticipate!)    

Today's adventure post features a mountain that I haven't yet seen in person, though I've dreamed of going there ever since I first saw a picture years ago.  It's the third and final area I had in mind when writing about the Cirque of the Knives in The Tainted City.  (The other two spots were featured in prior Thursday Adventure posts: Canada's Cirque of the Unclimbables, and Wyoming's Cirque of the Towers.)   My husband and I both have it sitting right at number one on our list of places we most want to visit: Cerro Torre, in the Parque National Los Glaciares, in Patagonia (Argentina).

Cerro Torre and nearby peaks, Patagonia 
I mean, just look at that peak.  Here, let me give you a closer view:

Cerro Torre, up close.  Note the cap of rime ice right on the summit - the infamous "ice mushroom" has prevented many a climbing team from reaching the actual summit.
As a climber, you just can't look at a spire so incredible without drooling and daydreaming.  More, Cerro Torre is only one of Patagonia's multitude of gorgeous peaks:

Mmmmm, Patagonia.    
One day, when as my son is old enough to join my husband and me in serious trekking and climbing, we will go there.  We may lack the world-caliber skills needed to summit Cerro Torre - it's one hell of a difficult climb, made even more challenging by Patagonia's notoriously foul weather! - but I'd settle for wandering the area, and admiring its savage beauty from lesser vantage points.

Cerro Torre itself has quite the checkered history in the climbing community, right up to the present day.  Check out this fascinating article from Outside Online, that describes both the peak's history and the bitter controversy that erupted last year when alpinist David Lama completed a free ascent of a notorious route. An interesting visual accompaniment to the article is this trailer on youtube, made for the film documentary of Lama's ascent.  Non-climbers may come away from the article convinced that climbers are even crazier than ordinary people assume.  Or maybe, as Sam Axe says about spies in Burn Notice, "They're a bunch of bitchy little girls."  That may be true...yet the root of all the infighting is the depth of people's passion for the mountains.  Climbing isn't just a sport, it's an entire lifestyle, even a religion.  At least it's one with a beautiful church - one I'm thankful every day for the opportunity to worship in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Authorial Tidbits

Just a quick post to share some authorial tidbits:

  • La Biblioteca de Ilium reviews The Whitefire Crossing, both in English and in Spanish: "The Whitefire Crossing is a good debut novel and a good start for an attractive series with some good characters and intriguing elements."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Check out The Whitefire Crossing's German cover!

The Whitefire Crossing gets a new look (and new title, and series title) for its German incarnation!  (Is there anything cooler than seeing art based on a story you wrote?  I don't think so...)

I love the mountains, and the overlaid sigil-style lines, and Kiran looks about right.  Dev, in the background, looks awfully white (he's supposed to have brown skin and dark hair, like people from India - here's an example of the right skin tone combined with green eyes), but oh well - you can't see that much of him anyway.  Overall, I think it's a great cover!      

According to the book's page on Bastei Lübbe's website, release date in Germany will be 8/16/2013.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Rec: The Wall of Night series (Helen Lowe)

My interest in Helen Lowe's Wall of Night series was first piqued when the first novel, The Heir of Night, won this year's David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut fantasy.  Yet at the time, I was in nose-to-the-grindstone mode on The Tainted City, spending every spare second on writing and revising, with no pleasure reading allowed.  Heir of Night receded into the misty "Books To Read Someday" zone of my brain.  But then, not long after The Tainted City was completed, Helen and I both contributed guest posts to Abhinav Jain's "Names: A New Perspective" series.  After reading her thoughtful post on the power of names, The Heir of Night vaulted its way right up my TBR list - especially when I found the US Kindle version was only $4.74 (and still is: what a deal!).  I snapped a copy right up!  Then after Helen and I happened to chat on twitter and she offered to do a book exchange: two of mine for two of hers, I eagerly agreed to that offer as well.  I sent her The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City, and she sent me the 2nd novel in  Wall of Night series, The Gathering of the Lost, and her YA novel Thornspell.  Perfect timing, too...The Gathering of the Lost arrived right after I finished The Heir of Night and was eager to read more.  I just finished The Gathering of the Lost last night, and found it an even more engrossing read than the first.

The series is classic epic fantasy: you've got a young protagonist prophesied to be the Chosen One, struggling to survive enemies and grow into a great and dangerous power, even as an evil force is rising to overwhelm the world.  But if you're a jaded fantasy reader, don't let the use of traditional tropes scare you off.  The power of a story lies in its execution; and Helen's stellar worldbuilding ensures her story feels both fresh and real, a creation wholly her own rather than anything derivative of older works.  One part of her worldbuilding I particularly liked was the sf-nal suggestion that both the psychically gifted Derai and their ancient opponents the Darkswarm come from another world - that in fact, their battle has been fought over multiple worlds, moving from one to the next as the planets are torn asunder in the struggle.  The idea of mixing interstellar travel and epic fantasy may not be new - I'd thought of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels, particularly the ones set before the arrival of the Terrans, but Helen herself pointed out that C.J. Cherryh's Morgaine saga is an even better analogue, with the qhal and their gates - but the mixture certainly isn't common, and boy do I love the spin Helen has put on the idea.

Another area that Helen's series shines in is plotting - especially the "long game" style of plotting, in which disparate threads come together to give revelations that cast older scenes in a whole new light.  This was particularly evident in The Gathering of the Lost, which features some really interesting choices of character narration, and has some terrific reveals both of current events and character backstories.  Throughout the novel, the story steadily gains complexity and emotional depth, even as Helen shows off the breadth of her world and the different forms of its magic.  The characters are all appealing and interesting - no easy feat, with a large cast! - and the prose is lucid and transparent, allowing the reader to sink straight into the story and get swept away.

So if you've any fondness for epic fantasy, I highly recommend you give the Wall of Night series a try.  I had a wonderful time reading both Heir and Gathering, and can't wait for the next novel in the write faster, Helen!  (In the meantime, I look forward to reading Thornspell!)


Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming

Whew! This last week's been an incredibly busy one, between the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto and a business trip I had to do immediately afterward.  Feels pretty good to be back in Colorado again, and settling back into a normal routine.  (If anything is ever "normal" with a crazily energetic three year old in the house, heh.)  It also feels good to be writing again - real fiction writing, that is, not just interviews and guest blog posts!  I'm only about 5,000 words into The Labyrinth of Flame's first draft, but I love being back with Dev and Kiran.  It's so fun to figure out exactly how their day can go from bad to worse.

Before I get to talking about this week's Thursday Adventure, one quick note: today is my "Ask Me Anything" day over at Reddit r/Fantasy.  Stop on by and leave me a question! I'll be answering the questions live at 8pm CST.  

Okay, on to the mountains!  Specifically, the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's Wind River range, the second of three spots that helped inspire The Tainted City's Cirque of the Knives.  (The first was Canada's Cirque of the Unclimbables, featured on last time's Thursday Adventure.)  

The Cirque of the Towers, as seen from approach over Jackass Pass
The Wind River Mountains are a remote and rugged subrange of the Rockies, not too far east of the Tetons but far less visited than their National Park neighbors.  There are no permits, no quotas, just a few trailheads accessed by long miles of rutted dirt road and a vast expanse of incredible wilderness.  The Cirque of the Towers is the most popular destination in the range, thanks to the multitude of excellent alpine climbs it affords the technical rock climber.  The continental divide runs along the crest of the major peaks, which include such luminaries as Warbonnet, Pingora, Shark's Nose, Lizard's Head, and Wolf's Head.  To reach the Cirque, you first drive 55 miles from Pinedale, Wyoming along rough roads to the Big Sandy trailhead.  From there, you hike about 10 miles, first in a level but sandy slog along a broad valley, then steeply up and over Jackass Pass into the Cirque.  

Me on the trail into the Cirque
My husband and I visited the Cirque back in late August of 2007.  We didn't bring our technical rock gear, intending it to be more of a scouting trip - we thought we'd spend a few days camping and exploring, maybe doing a few fourth-class (ropeless) ascents, and scope out which alpine climbs we'd most want to attempt the next time.  Unfortunately, just after we reached Jackass Pass, my husband sprained his ankle while crossing a talus slope, so badly he could barely walk.  We bound up his ankle to keep it from swelling so much he couldn't wear a boot, and instead of scrambling around the peaks, spent a day or so relaxing and enjoying the views before the arduous hobble back out.  (Thank God for trekking poles.  Not sure my husband could've made it out without them.  As it was, I had to carry all our gear, which made the exit hike one I won't forget any time soon either.)   

Oh, it was painful to be surrounded by so many beautiful mountains and be unable to climb a single one!  The views within the Cirque almost made up for it...

View of Pingora from our tent
Robert relaxing on a boulder and surveying the Cirque's Towers
Waterfall amid willow bushes
Warbonnet Peak
I could've spent weeks here, not just a few days...
And for good measure, here's a link to another climber's picture of a sub-cirque beneath Shark's Nose peak that's relatively close to my mental image of the basin in the Cirque of the Knives where Dev and Kiran fight Vidai.  The cliffs are somewhat smaller in scale than I imagined for my Cirque, but tight semi-circle of peaks and the mix of snow and granite slabs over the little basin lake is right.  

As for the real Cirque of the Towers, my husband and I hope to revisit it one day, this time with technical climbing gear in tow, and summit some of those glorious peaks we drooled over back in 2007.  It's always good to have future trips to anticipate.