Flashback: June 13, 2008


Tonight I should be getting back to Michigan at ridiculously late o’clock. I plan on giving myself at least a day to recover before trying to catch up on email or share pics and tales of Melbourne and all of that. Plus it will take me a little while to get used to standing on this side of the world after spending the past ten days upside down. So in the meantime, have a rerun from 2008.


Yesterday was apparently the day for cover sketches. First up, sonyamsipes passed along the rough sketches for the CatsCurious Faery Taile Project covers. They’re not colored yet, but I like what I’ve seen. Sadly, I can’t share it yet, but I can direct you to the artist’s web gallery, which has some of her work. I did show the sketches to my three-year-old son, who immediately identified Red Riding Hood even though there’s no red. He’s a smart boy :-)

And then later on, my editor at DAW e-mailed me the sketch for The Stepsister Scheme, asking what I thought.

Before I go any further, I should point out that both of these editors asked for feedback, and neither one was under any obligation to do so. The thing is, authors are good with words. We may or may not be good with visual art. Even if we are, our priorities tend to be different than the publishers’. We like everything to be perfect and exactly representative of our work. The publisher wants a cover that will impress the buyers at the chain stores, and will make readers pick up and buy the book.

Look at the cover of Goblin Quest [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]. At no time would Jig actually stand up to Straum the dragon like that. But the art does a great job of capturing the book’s feel, and it’s good enough to make people pick it up and look closer.

So I’m grateful to both of my editors for inviting me into this part of the process. That doesn’t always happen, and I try not to abuse their invitation by being a total jerk. For Stepsister, I put together four specific comments, at least one of which I suspect isn’t going to happen because it would be too major of a change. Each one was along the lines of, “I think this detail could be changed, and here are the reasons I think this is important.” My editor actually agreed with me on all of them, so I’m hopeful at least some of those changes will happen.

The artwork itself is fun, and captures a little of the Charlie’s Angels feel of the book. It’s certainly a different style than on the goblin books. The sketch, while unfinished, almost had an anime feel to it. Not what I had imagined, but I could see it working quite well, especially with how popular anime is these days. Danielle is my favorite by far. I had described her sword, which has a hazel-tree theme to the hilt, and the artist ran with that.

One of my favorite details — I talked to my editor about using a picture of my daughter as “inspiration” for Talia. She wasn’t sure, but said to go ahead and pass a pic along and we’d see what happened. The artist used the picture. It’s not my daughter, but if you’ve met her, you can see her in Talia. The book is going to be dedicated to her, and now she’ll (kind of) be on the cover as well. (I did ask her how she felt about this before talking to my editor. She said it was fine, but I think she got a little shy when she saw the sketch.)

I love this part of the process, actually seeing these characters as images rather than words on the page. It’s one step closer to being a real book! I can’t wait to see the finished covers, and to share them with you all.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Flashback: June 11, 2000


This is the oldest rerun I’ll be doing, from fourteen years ago. Roughly six months after I wrote that, I left Nevada and returned home to Michigan. Here’s a little background on the Warner Novel Contest mentioned below. (Spoiler: I didn’t win.) And while I did submit Foundling to various places, it ended up being one of my trunk novels.


As a few people have noticed, I haven’t been posting much here lately.  Reasons?  Had a guest for a week, been working a lot when I can, and I hadn’t touched the novel in a long time.  Since this is supposed to be a writing journal, I was a bit embarrassed to post anything before I got back to writing.

But now I have.  I’ve re-revised the first two chapters of Foundling, and I’m hoping to have the first three ready to submit to the Warner Novel Contest by the 15th.  It’ll be tight, which is my own fault, but I still think I can do this.  (Whether I can then revise the rest of the novel in time to send it in, assuming they want to see it, is another question…)

In other happy news, my article “Build a Better Psychologist” came out in the last issue of Speculations.  And I saw that my story “Hasa Kesla” is scheduled for the very last issue of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.  Strange to think that I’ll be in the last issue of the magazine that sent me my first rejection letter.  But that should be out, probably in the next 6 to 8 months or so.  (Don’t worry, I’ll let everyone know :-)

Aside from that, there’s not much to report.  But I think it can be safely assumed at this point that Elko, Nevada is not the ideal writing environment for me.  I had two story ideas within 24 hours of leaving for vacation last month, but not a one in the weeks since I got back.  One more reason to think about getting out of here….

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Flashback: June 9, 2003


Hello from Continuum! I’m currently out hunting drop-bears, so I’m rerunning some old blog posts. This one is from eleven years ago, back when I was hand-coding the HTML for every entry.

Both “Flying with Griffons” and “Grafted,” the two stories mentioned below, were rejected and eventually trunked. “Original Gangster,” on the other hand, ended up selling to Fantasy Magazine.

I never finished the sequel novel to Goldfish Dreams, either. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about that…


6/9/03: “A Few Happy Thoughts”

Working on: Goldfish Dreams II
Progress: 1759 Words (11,014 Total)

To help me start my morning in a happy mood, I found an e-mail from Usborne Fantasy saying “Flying with Griffons” had been passed along to the editor.  I should know within another month if it’s good enough to make the cut.  I hope so…not just because it would be a sale, but because I get warm fuzzies from writing stories for children, and I think this was a pretty darn good one.  I also sent “Grafted” off to Wicked Hollow, leaving just four other stories to find homes for.  I may retire “Preacher Man” for now, and I’ve got one that needs revision, but I really need to get off my butt and get those other two back out.  Bad writer!

I’m giving serious thought to sending “Original Gangster” to Black Gate.  It’s a great market, and OG has some decent action/adventure to it.  Only I’ve got 2 stories sitting at Black Gate already, and with the 8-12 month turnaround there, I don’t really feel like sending a 3rd story.  But anywhere else I send it would be a second-tier market (in Jim’s totally arbitrary mental list of places to send stories, that is).

Ooh – and look, Half.com has a few new copies of Goldfish Dreams listed that come in below retail, even with shipping!  Isn’t it nice when booksellers all compete :-)   And if I do this right and you follow this link, you might even be able to get an extra $5 off.  (Looks like that applies to new Half.com customers only, though.)  Ooh…it’s at Walmart, too!  This is cool!

Another long day – back to ADA after work today.  But I’m hoping to get some writing done during lunch.  I just need to decide whether to work on the new book, on the superhero story, on publicity materials for GD, or any of the stories sitting around needing to be revised.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Flashback: June 6, 2009


If all went well, I’m at Continuum doing con-stuff today. In all likelihood, I’m either having a blast, or else I’m freaking out because how the heck am I going to follow up the Guest of Honor speech N. K. Jemisin gave last year???

In the meantime, I’ve been posting reruns from the blog. Today’s post is five years old, but I’d probably give pretty much the same advice etoday…


Okay, “wisdom” might be an overstatement.  But at Penguicon this year, it occurred to me that I’ve been doing writing workshops for a long time.  As a participant, I’ve done creative writing class discussions, the Writers of the Future workshop in ‘99, Critters, and then several years with a local group until they dissolved.  Eventually, I started cofacilitating workshops, helping to run them at ConFusion, ConClave, and now Penguicon, among others.

That’s a lot of fiction feedback, and after a while, you start to notice patterns.  I figured it might be helpful to list some of the more common feedback I’ve given and received over the years.  Like all “rules,” some of these can be bent.  Others can be broken.  Our job is to learn them well enough to know when and how.

Begin at the beginning.  I don’t know how many times I’ve read a story, and it takes several pages or chapters before things start moving.  As a writer, my first drafts often include a lot of brainstorming at the beginning.  I’m laying down backstory, trying to figure everything out, but the story doesn’t get moving until later.  As a general rule, your story doesn’t start with your hero getting up, making breakfast, and brushing his teeth.  It starts with the werejaguar that carjacks him on the way to work.

Your protagonist must protag.  Your protagonist wants something.  The story is about how she tries to accomplish that goal, struggling and eventually failing or succeeding.  If your protagonist sits around, passively describing what’s happening while never taking part in the action, you might want to consider either making her an active participant in her own story or else switching to another protagonist.

Who are you? Why am I against this wall? Why won’t my arms move? Where’s Buttercup?  It’s one thing to toss your readers into a scene, but you also need to orient them.  Where are we, and why should readers care?  I’ve learned that at the start of any scene, chapter, or story, I need to answer most or all of the following questions: Who is the POV character?  Who else is here?  Where are we?  How much time has passed since the last scene?  What’s going on?

Meet the twins, Bweryang and Bob.  Names are important.  Make sure yours are culturally consistent.  Unless you’re deliberately going for humor, your ogres named Grok, Flargh, and Kandi are going to throw me right out of the story.  Also make sure your names aren’t going to resonate with other culturally popular names.  Your story about OB/GYN medical droids where the head ‘bot is named O.B.1?  Yeah, that’s not gonna work.

The mysterious man and his mysterious quest.  As authors, we want to build suspense.  What better way than by keeping secrets from the reader?  Hide everyone’s horrible pasts, their true motivations, even their names!  You’d be amazed how many workshop stories don’t give the character’s name until well into the tale.  The problem is, it’s hard to care about someone we know nothing about (not to mention the convolutions the writer had to go through to keep things hidden).  I still find myself hiding too much in my early drafts.  But the more I share, the more the reader can empathize and get invested in the story.

I think I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  A lot of early drafts meander, until the reader starts to wonder if the author knows where the story’s going.  One character is on a quest to rescue his cat, but then it turns into a story about the veterinarian, and suddenly we’re preaching about animal rights, and in the end the vet’s kid wrecks the truck.  Lots of action, but totally disconnected.  For me, what’s helped is to boil each book, story, chapter, or scene into a single sentence to help me focus.

A certain point of view?  I’d say at least half the workshop stories I read have point of view trouble.  Sometimes it’s minor.  We’re in third person limited PoV, staying strictly within the mind of our protagonist, and then there’s a paragraph that tells us what some random character is thinking.  Other times it’s messier, jumping from one person’s head to another with no rhyme or reason, and no indication of when or why we’ve switched perspectives.

Prologues.  Prologues are not a requirement of fantasy novels.  The fantasy police will not break down your door and taser you if you fail to include one.  If you do decide to use a prologue, know why.  What does the prologue accomplish that you couldn’t do with a regular old chapter?  I’d say less than 20% of the prologues I read in workshops really help the stories.  Is this the most effective way to give your readers whatever info you want them to have?  If you want to give the full history of your world, great.  But you might be better off waiting until it’s relevant to the story rather than opening with 8 pages of infodumping.  (See also Begin at the beginning.)

That’s what I was able to come up with off the top of my head.  I hope it’s helpful.  I’m sure there are more, and I’m happy to hear other tidbits from folks.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Flashback: June 4, 2007


Greetings from limbo! I’m currently en route to Continuum, but given the weirdness of time zones and the international date line, I have no idea where or when I’ll actually be when this post goes up. In fact, depending on the flight, it’s possible that I might never see June 4, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.!

In the meantime, have another post from the archives. Back in 2007, I had just begun doing LOLBooks, adding captions to various book covers and artwork…


For anyone who missed the earlier of my book-macroing entries, you can go to http://jimhines.livejournal.com/tag/lol to see all of them.

And if you find these entries completely bizarre and confusing, I Can Haz Cheezburger should provide some background.

Anyway, today I present Tobias Buckell’s debut novel, the Nebula finalist and Locus bestseller Crystal Rain. (Art by Todd Lockwood.)

So what do folks think? Should I see how long I can ride this fad before running out of ideas? Or is it time to let the LOLing die already?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Flashback: June 3, 2005


I’m off to Melbourne for Continuum! Since I’ll be busy battling venomous were-kangaroos for the next week or so, I figured I’d run a few flashbacks from the blog.

On this date back in 2005, I was in the middle of drafting Goblin Hero [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], and decided to share an excerpt…


This one’s free for all, since it’s another piece that will never make it into the final book. Enjoy!

Jig pressed his body to the wall and knelt in the snow to confirm his fears.

“That’s not fair.” Jig closed his eyes. “There were only four pixies!” he shouted. “I counted them myself! Four, not forty! You stupid author, why do you keep doing this to us?”

Braf winced. Even Slash looked nervous. “Not so loud, Jig. The pixies-”

Jig shook his head. “I’m talking to the author. Secondary characters never seem to notice when I break the fourth wall.”

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Prepping for Continuum


Tomorrow I’m off to Continuum, following in N. K. Jemisin’s footsteps as their International Guest of Honor. Yeah, no pressure there! (Also, why don’t more U.S. conventions have international GoHs?)

I expect to be plenty busy for the next week and a half, and will be spending very little time online, so I apologize in advance to everyone whose emails I’ll be ignoring until I return. There may be random Tweeting, depending on the wifi in the hotel. But I’ll definitely have lots to share when I get home.

In the meantime, the blog will be going into reruns for the next two weeks.

For those of you who’ll be in Melbourne, here’s my schedule for the convention.

Friday, June 6

  • 7:30 – 8:00, Opening Ceremonies
  • 8:00 – 9:00, Spicks and Speckulations

Saturday, June 7

  • Noon – 1:00, Guest of Honor Speech
  • 2:00 – 4:00, Podcast: Writer and Critic
  • 5:00 – 6:00, Cover Art Pose-off
  • 6:00 – 7:00, Demystifying Social Media
  • 8:00 – 8:30, Costume Parade (I’ll be one of the judges)

Sunday, June 8

  • 10:00 – 11:00, Kaffeeklatsch
  • 1:00 – 1:30, Signing
  • 2:00 – 3:00, YA Meet the Authors
  • 4:00 – 5:00, Reading (with Andrew Macrae)
  • 5:00 – 6:00, Writing Fanfic
  • 8:00 – 10:00, Ditmar & Chronos Awards Ceremony

Monday, June 9

  • 3:00 – 4:00, Triptych: Gender Stereotypes in Speculative Fiction
  • 4:00 – 5:00, Fake Geek Pride
  • 5:00 – 5:30, Closing Ceremonies

And then after that, I’ll probably go fall down and get some sleep before taking a few days for sightseeing.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Cool Stuff Friday


It was a dark and stormy Friday. Suddenly an otter rang out!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



This is a snippet from the speech I’ll be giving at Continuum at the end of next week. When I saw that Jay Lake had entered hospice care, I thought it would be good to share here as well.

I ended up going to World Fantasy Con next…because apparently a little local con wasn’t overwhelming enough for me. Once again I showed up, got registered, and wandered aimless and lost. I sat in on a few panels, because panels were both informative and safe. And then a little later, I found my way to the con suite, where I spotted author Jay Lake and artist Frank Wu, two people I had heard of from those online bulletin boards.

It took an absurdly long time for me to work up the courage to go introduce myself, but eventually I did. They were kind enough to invite me to sit down and join them. We chatted for a bit, and they asked if I was new to the con scene. And then they did something I’ll never forget. They took me around and introduced me to some of the other fans and writers at the convention.

That was the first time I started to feel welcome in fandom. I don’t know that either one of them remember that day, but I will always be grateful to them for that kindness.

I did get to thank Jay at Worldcon in 2012, a decade after that first meeting. I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to do the same with Frank, at least not in person.

I’m not sure what else to say here, except that even small kindnesses can make a tremendous difference in another person’s life.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Spoilers Ahead)


Even before going out to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, I had seen some rather mixed reviews. Some people called it one of the best superhero movies since Avengers. (And one reviewer described it as better than Avengers.) Others found it sexist, convoluted, and/or disappointing…

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Cool Stuff Friday


It is Friday! Or as I like to call it, the day-before-my-wife-and-I-go-out-to-see-Xmen.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



As posted on Twitter yesterday, and potentially relevant to certain conversations in fandom this week:

Saying, “But Bob has always been so kind to me” doesn’t mean Bob is incapable of racism.

Saying, “I’ve never felt personally offended by Bob” doesn’t mean Bob has never said or done anything racist.

Saying, “I’ve known real racists and Bob isn’t like that” reveals an overly simplistic & harmful all-or-nothing misunderstanding of racism.

If multiple people are angry because Bob said/did something racist and you call them a “lynch mob” … yeah, just don’t. #Facepalm

Racism is not restricted to sheet-wearing, cross-burning, moustache-twirling villains.

Also, ignorance does not make you a Bad Person. (Being called on ignorantly hurtful actions and refusing to learn, however…)

Basically, if Bob is accused of racism and your defense of Bob consists of, “But I like him so he can’t be racist,” you’re doing it wrong.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Unbound, Interview, and Website Note


I’m very close to finishing up the revisions my editor requested for Unbound … and as a result, I’m having a very hard time devoting much attention or energy to anything else. (Yesterday was one of those Revelations of Earthshattering Kaboom about what Isaac’s struggling with. Overall, I’m feeling much happier about the book, and I can’t wait to share the cover art and synopsis when they’re ready.)

In the meantime, the ever calm, cool, and collected Carrie at Geek Girl in Love just posted an interview with me about Invisible.

Oh, and back when I was revamping the website, several people asked if there was a way they could subscribe to get notifications when a new blog post went live. I’ve installed a plugin I think should do the trick. You’ll find that in the right sidebar. Please let me know if it doesn’t work.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


I have a guest post at Sarah Chorn’s Special Needs in Strange Worlds feature over at SF Signal today: Writing with Depression:

I get anxious every time one of my books comes out. Will this one sell as well as the last? Will people like it? Will Spielberg finally call me up and offer me an obscene amount of money to turn my books into blockbusters? Will this be the book that tanks and destroys my career, forcing me to live on the streets and hunt rats for food?

From what I’ve seen, that anxiety is pretty typical for most novelists. But I’m particularly nervous about my next book, Unbound. This is the third book in my current series, and will probably be out in very early 2015, give or take a few months. I’ve put my protagonist Isaac through an awful lot in the first two books. As a result of those events, when we see Isaac again in Unbound, he’s struggling with clinical depression.

Thanks to Sarah and SF Signal for running these essays!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Romantic Times and the Cool Kids Table


Yesterday, I began seeing links to Hugh Howey’s piece Being Forced to Sit in the Backlist, in which Howey talks about the Romantic Times Bookfair, in which:

“…the planners of the RT Booklovers Convention decided to place self-published authors in a dinky room off to the side while the traditionally published authors sat at tables in the grand ballroom.”

Howey goes on to propose that:

“Twenty years from now, when a new generation of more tolerant and inclusive artists finds themselves in the position to organize events like this, let’s not be dicks like our forefathers … There’s room enough for everyone. And the days are numbered for those who don’t agree.”

Reactions have ranged from outrage and disgust that once again self-published authors were being treated as amateurs, wannabes, and “aspiring authors,” to anger at indie authors for trying to liken their plight to the civil rights movement with Howey’s choice of title and comments along the lines of, “It’s like shades of Jim Crow when blacks had to sit in the back of the bus…”1

Howey wasn’t actually at the RT Bookfair, so I tried find some first-hand information, because I very much agree that there’s room for everyone, and if indie authors were basically being hidden away in some maintenance closet, then that’s definitely uncool. Here are several accounts and discussions I’ve found:

In addition, the RT convention FAQs includes this bit:

“In the Traditional section of the Book Fair, you can only have up to three titles available. For the E-Book section, you can have swag for all of your available titles, as long as it fits within your space. For the Indie books on consignment section, you can only have up to three titles available.”

Both Courtney Milan and the RT FAQs mention the word consignment. Basically, consignment means you bring your own books to the event, and the event (generally) takes a percentage of sales. I’ve sold books on consignment before when a convention dealer didn’t have my stuff in stock, for example. Most of the time though, dealers are able to order and sell my books, because my publisher’s titles are returnable. In other words, if the books don’t sell, the dealer can send them back for a refund.

As I understand it, most self-published print-on-demand titles are non-returnable, as are some books by smaller publishers. And therein lies the problem, because dealers are much less willing to stock and sell non-returnable books.

It looks like there were almost 700 authors scheduled to be a part of the Book Fair. That’s a potential logistical nightmare waiting to happen. Imagine 700 authors all sitting there with stacks of their books, while approximately 3.6 bajillion readers maneuver through the aisles. For some of those books, the money goes to the dealer. For books on consignment, the money needs to go to the author. I’ve seen how confused readers can get with just a dozen authors when some are selling on consignment while others are selling through a dealer.

It seems to me that separating authors with returnable books from those with nonreturnable/consignment titles was an efficient solution to the problem.

That said, it sounds like there were real communication problems, from things like authors of nonreturnable books getting less space than promised to a volunteer mistakenly referring to the “aspiring authors” room to difficulties for readers who wanted to find a particular author and didn’t know which room to go to.

Like Howey, I wasn’t there, so I can only go by what I read. (Though it sounds like the overall convention was a blast, and I’d love to attend one of these days.) However, I’ve seen a number of people talking about this as a giant slam on self-publishing, and some over-the-top rhetoric about “intolerant dicks” treating indie authors like crap. As someone who has very little patience for the whole Us vs. Them worldview, I thought it was worth tossing my two cents out there to challenge that interpretation of events.

As with anything you read on the internet, I’d strongly suggest doing a bit of fact-checking and coming to your own conclusions.

  1. Yeah, don’t do that. Just don’t.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Cool Stuff Friday


I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. It’s Friday again — you can tell by the scent! Or something. I was a little tired when I wrote that. Anyway, enjoy the weekend, all!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


SFF in Conversation at The Book Smugglers


The Book Smugglers have been running a series called SFF in Conversation. Today they’re hosting my piece Visibility Matters, which talks about Invisible and is loosely based on the keynote speech I gave at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Go forth and check it out!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Impure Thought Police


A number of folks have been sharing the story about Clare, a seventeen-year-old girl who was kicked out of her prom. Reading Clare’s account, it sounds to me like there were two factors:

  1. Mrs. D, one of the prom organizers, was on a power trip. She disapproved of Clare’s dress, and when Clare pointed out that it didn’t violate the dress code, Mrs. D couldn’t let it go. I remember dealing with teachers like that. I remember watching my brother go through it. My daughter recently had similar trouble with a woman at her school. A student points out that an adult is mistaken about something. The adult takes it as a challenge to their power and authority, and gets it into their head that they’re gonna show this punk kid who’s boss. I don’t know for certain that this is what happened to Clare, but that aspect of her story is both familiar and highly obnoxious.
  2. A little later, Mrs. D pulled Clare aside to say, “some of the dads who were chaperoning had complained that my dancing was too provocative, and that I was going to cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts.” Clare said she had hardly been dancing at all, much less seductively. Mrs. D reiterated that the dress was too short, and told Clare she would have to leave.

There’s an update here, which asks people not to harass the prom coordinator, and notes that the moderators for the prom’s Facebook page were deleting comments and eventually deleted the whole page. Neither Mrs. D nor the administration have made any sort of statement about the incident.

So here’s the thing. I’ve got 40 years of experience as a guy. For the record, we men aren’t a bunch of delicate flowers who swoon at the mere sight of a girl’s legs. A young woman dancing doesn’t scar us for life.

The dads were worried about the young men at the prom thinking impure thoughts? Do they remember what it’s like to be a teenage boy? At that age, a stiff breeze is enough to make you think “impure” thoughts. It’s like Pavlovian condition gone mad. School bell rings? Boner! Sit down in the cafeteria? Boner! Adjust your seat belt? Boner! Trying to maintain my dignity as a teenage boy was like a neverending game of whack-a-mole…

Or is it that we don’t trust the boys to control themselves? That we think men are monsters, transformed by the mere sight of a girl’s thigh into slobbering, sex-crazed monsters, helpless to resist the Curse of the Visible Girlflesh.

Clare notes that she and her friends were grossed out by some of the Dads who were ogling them from the balcony. Which would be creepy as hell if we held men in any way responsible for their own actions, but of course we can’t blame them. Because apparently seventeen-year-old girl legs are made of man-kryptonite.

There’s nothing new in the attitudes here. We blame and punish the women, because it frees men from responsibility. But as a man, I find it insulting, tiresome, and damaging as hell.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie


Ann Leckie‘s debut SF novel Ancillary Justice [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] has gotten a lot of buzz since its release. The book won the Clarke Award, the BFSA Award, made the honor list for the Tiptree Award, and is a Hugo Award finalist for Best Novel. I’m pretty sure it was also a Nebula finalist, tied for an Oscar, and won this year’s Super Bowl.

It’s an ambitious book, spanning centuries of future history. The protagonist Breq is all that remains of the Justice of Toren, an artificially intelligent ship with thousands of ancillaries — human bodies all controlled by the ship’s mind. Justice of Toren was essentially a single entity with thousands of bodies, and Breq was one of those ancillaries.

This isn’t a Star Trek-style Borg hive where individual personalities are subsumed into a collective; the host bodies are basically dead, without minds or personalities of their own. They’re “corpse soldiers.” Justice of Toren is one being who gets caught up in political crossfire and finds herself reduced to a fragment of what she was: a lone human body, limited and alone.

The first part of the book alternates between present and past, plunging the reader into the story and slowly providing the background. This is not a book you should try to skim. After I finished reading, I found myself wanting to immediately go back through the opening chapters again and pick up on everything I’d missed the first time.

I love the way Leckie plays with identity. Anaander Mianaai, the long-lived Lord of the Radch, is similar to Breq in that Mianaai has many human bodies, all linked. I won’t spoil things here, but I really liked the revelation of where the ongoing political conflict originated, and Mianaai’s role in it.

A lot of the conversations and reviews I’ve seen focus on Leckie’s treatment of gender in the book, both as a cultural construct — gender is treated differently depending on which culture Breq is immersed in at the time — and as a source of personal confusion. What is gender for a being with hundreds or thousands of different individual bodies? Breq often stumbles over gender identification and pronoun use.

It creates an interesting effect when a character Breq has referred to as “she” is then described as “he” for the next part of the book. I found myself rethinking their interactions, the dynamic between them, and more.

I don’t know that the book does anything truly new or revolutionary with gender, but it certainly does more than most mainstream SF these days, and I appreciate the way Leckie thought about it throughout the story.

Leckie also examines colonization, the destruction and assimilation of cultures, the drive for continued expansion and conquest, and more. It’s powerful and often painful. Aspects of that cold, calculating cruelty are what eventually launch Breq on her quest for vengeance.

I have mixed feelings about Breq’s mission. She’s out to kill as many of Anaander Mianaai as she can, but she also knows she probably won’t be able to take out more than one or two of Mianaai’s bodies before being caught and killed herself. Given that Mianaai has hundreds or thousands of bodies, I kept wondering what’s the point? Given the setup, that’s like avenging yourself on someone by cutting her fingernail.

It may be that Breq was simply lost and knew full well that this was a pointless mission, one that was little more than suicide. But if so, I wish that had been made a little bit more clear. (Or maybe I just missed it.) I do like that the ending went in a different direction, and how that set things up for the next book.

I should also mention the character of Seivarden Vendaai, who ends up accompanying Breq. Vendaai undergoes a powerful transformation as well, being a soldier a thousand years out of her own time. She’s a snob and a drug addict, completely burnt out and bitter. I very much appreciated seeing her growth — and at times, her backsliding — over the course of the story.

All in all, a thoughtful book with strong worldbuilding, and a particularly impressive debut. Ancillary Justice is book one of a trilogy. Book two, Ancillary Sword, comes out in October of this year. You can read an excerpt of the first book here.

I haven’t read all of this year’s Hugo-nominated novels yet, and I wouldn’t presume to pick a winner, but I think Leckie is a strong contender.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Spoilers Ahead)


We went out to see Amazing Spider-Man 2 over the weekend. I was nervous going in. Partly because the previews suggested we were getting Electro, Rhino, and Green Goblin. (Because overloading the story with villains has worked so well for other Spider-Man movies.) And the reviews I’ve seen have been iffy, at best.

It wasn’t a perfect film, but I enjoyed it. Andrew Garfield opened the movie with wise-cracking, web-slinging Spider-Man. Watching him take care of low-level bad guys was just fun. I like Garfield’s Spider-Man (anyone else now visualizing a fat orange cat in a spider-suit, going on about Mondays and lasagna?) a lot better than the last incarnation. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised.

And now, on to the spoilers…


Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



Jim C. Hines

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