Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: QUOTES

So over on The Broke and the Bookish blog, there's a new Top Ten Tuesday blog run-about! Well their topic is "favorite TTT topics" and, as I've only started participating last week, I thought I'd instead choose one of those former topics which appealed to me instead.

Thus ...

QUOTES! Favorite quotes from books! The best examples of literary snark! The most thrilling one-liners! No particular order. Also I love so many quotes from some of these books I couldn't decide my favorite. I feel like I need to do this quote thing more often.

1. Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
"That which yields, is not always weak. Choose your victories wisely."
2. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
SO MANY excellent quotes. SO MANY.
“... It's perfect! Locke would appreciate it."

"Bug," Calo said, "Locke is our brother and our love for him knows no bounds. But the four most fatal words in the Therin language are 'Locke would appreciate it.'"

"Rivalled only by 'Locke taught me a new trick,'" added Galdo.

"The only person who gets away with Locke Lamora games ..."

"... is Locke ..."

"... because we think the gods are saving him up for a really big death. Something with knives and hot irons ..."

"... and fifty thousand cheering spectators.”
Though I am absolutely cross-stitching "Nice bird, asshole!".

3. Dune by Frank Herbert
How can I not put the Litany Against Fear?
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
4. Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
“We are what we are. Nothing more, nothing less. There is good and evil among every kind of people. It's the evil among us who rule now.”
5. Soulless by Gail Carriger
“A vampire, like a lady, never reveals his true age.”
6.  Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
“Tigana, let my memory of
you be like a blade in my
 7. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
“Death is as light as a feather, duty heavier than a mountain” 
 8. Devices and Desires by KJ Parker
“The quickest way to a man's heart,' said the instructor, 'is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.”
 9. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Again, so many quotes.
“Congratulations! We’re reverse burglars, here to give you fifty gold solari!” 
 10. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
“Smiling always seems to annoy people more than actually insulting them. Or maybe I just have an annoying smile.”
 Quote memes!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Look out behind you

...it's an ASSAS--
* thump*

You have died of DAGGER IN THE BACK!
We're gonna talk about those deadly denizens of the darkness, the Silent Blades, the Night Watchers, the Black Guild members--the not-quite-Goth not-quite-sociopathic, always up for a midnight romp dudes.


(the Fantasy kind)

Given that I'm usually terminally disorganized, so I shall be good and give you a nice little outline of what I'm talking about.

[Apparently, I'm long-winded as hell! Each of these will be a separate post. Whee!]

1) Assassins? Why do you want to talk about them?
2) Assassins! How to write them! How not to write them! How to write whatever the hell you want! Yay writing!
3) Assassins. Examples from actual legit published things.

Shall we jump right in? *swirls cloak,  vanishes into shadows*

(PS: pictures here are amazing art from people I don't know. If there's no source linked, it's because I couldn't find it. Tell me if you know!)


It's an Assassin Convention! (source)
Killers striking silently from the darkness, untouchable and deadly, murderers no one dares to apprehend. Rail against their morality all your want, but if you see one in the night--you hide. They don't care what you think. They don't care about currying favor or being likeable. They just care about the job and the coin.

Here's the thing. I'm obsessed with assassin stories. To quote someone on Goodreads: It's my kryptonite. You put the word "assassin" in your book title or summary, and I'm reading reviews like two minutes later. I love them. And I'm not alone. Let's examine why.

Firstly: There's the pure awesomeness factor.

Realistic clothing! Whoo! (source)
There's always one person in the Party who everyone fears and respects, though they don't do much and don't say much. They're a presence that doesn't need words, in fact they don't give a f--k what you think about them. And if you piss them off--it's you who'll be eating dirt. Because they're so, so much better than you. The Assassin fulfills this role. As readers, getting to live inside the head of someone who has achieved this level--come on, it's a thrill. Those fight scenes aren't too shabby either. The dichotomy of "I don't even care." silence, transformed in a second to "You're gonna die, MF!" (man, I'm sweary today) action, swift and deadly--hell yes that's thrilling.

Attack from above!
Assassins get in our heads because all too often, they fulfill an aspirational character role for us. How often are assassins the biggest and buffest characters on scene? They're more often the slim, wiry type--athletic, sure, but not the weightlifters. There aren't too many awesome fantasy fighting roles for those of us that weren't born taller and stronger than the rest--do we identify more with characters that share our innate strengths and weaknesses? Probably.

Dual-wielding! Not easy. (source)
Furthermore, there's an emphasis on training, not personal innate skill. We get the sense that assassins didn't get their awesome abilities from birth--they trained, and what's more, they trained hard. We're talking lifelong commitment to getting better. Single minded focus on upping their game. We know, while watching a fight scene play out, that every smooth move and viper-fast attack is the result of effort. We respect that. (certainly more than one-lesson Blademaster Rand al'T--*gets dragged offstage*)

Secondly: The psychological factor.

Ah, angst. (source)
Here are people that commit the unspeakable--murder--for mere coin, and they train their lives, their beings, to this one deadly purpose. It's fascinating, in both a wishful and repulsive way. "Man, I wish I was as awe-inspiring and deadly as Assassin MC", we think. "How could Assassin MC do that? And walk away, with blood streaming on the floor, a fellow human life extinguished? Where is their human empathy?" we wonder. Most of us (I hope) find acts such as wanton murder unthinkable. To see it from the other side, even through fiction, fascinates us.

Favorite assassin weapon. After knives.
I dunno about you, but I pretty much assume people are good unless shit happens and I'm proved otherwise (*sets people muttering "Pollyanna" on fire*). By extension, I usually assume that to get to that stage where you can kill another human without a crippling emotional backlash, you would have had to go through some change. Some trial which shut that natural human empathy down, or hardened you to suffering to such an extreme where you can cause it and walk away.

I see dead people. (source)
I'm well aware that some people are born without that empathy, and while reading about assassins like that is interesting in its own way, reading about the ones who changed to fit this lifestyle is even more fascinating. When pushed to the extreme of their endurance, mental or physical, some people crack. Some people bend. And some people go hard. This is what interests me the most, frankly. What happens when someone is pushed and pushed until something has to give--what gives? What makes way for survival? And what makes someone choose a path of murder for profit, as their means of survival, and keeps doing it even when the extreme circumstance has passed?

(Now is a GREAT time to mention I'm interested in all of this only and solely through fiction.)

About 1 contract's work of coin. Yes, I made that up.
Unquestioning, unrepentantly immoral characters have always interested me in literature--I love seeing the world from a completely different perspective. Plus as a sedentary intellectual type, reading about a character who is almost 100% physical and probably can't even read, yet f--king wins at survival? It's exciting. Escapism at its best.

Okay, that's cool and all, but why are we flailing about this again?

While I see assassins pop up in fantasy fairly often, I don't often see them done well. Which is a tremendous shame. No, I'm not going to link TV Tropes here. But you know what I mean.

(There's another epic rant on how infrequently I see--specifically--female assassins done well, but I'm saving up all that bottled-up snark for a proper post of fiery combustion. Do you know how hard it was to find non-sexualized female assassin art? HARD.)

Put your characters to the test: (The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test)
Yeah, assassins can be dark windows into the depths of human nature. But how often are they, instead, just freaking Mary Sues? Gary Stus? Characters you want to brain because they're just sooo good, sooo beautiful and handsome, sooo invincible?

The entire reason I find assassins so fascinating is because they're flawed. But they found a way to get over it, to make a deal with it, or sacrifice something in order to survive despite that flaw. Be it physical, mental, emotional, or just bad circumstances.

Pretty airheads that haven't worked for their universally respected position aren't the same at all, dammit!

Next up in this series, which was supposed to just be a single blog post--WRITING ASSASSINS. How to, how not to, and how to write exactly what you want!

Tune in for more essential advice f--*is impaled by throwing knives*

With my last gasping breath ... my legacy to you ... my MEMES! *dies suddenly*

I want to play this game.
So bad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: College is out ... FOREVER

Yes, title's rather reminiscent of a certain Maximum Ride book (dang, I really liked those). BUT IT'S TRUE! I am officially a Scientist. *sets fire to notebooks gleefully*

I'm sure all who know me from other online spaces are painfully tired of hearing that I have FREE TIME, but guys. FREE. TIME. Hobbies! Interests! Reading! Writing! I can do these things now!

Thus, by the power of my total dominion over this blog, I declare the inauguration of a new weekly series on books I want to read--

Wait a sec.

*checks internet*

*internet whirrs and dispenses--


I've been scoooooped! *collapses on fainting couch dramatically*

Turns out this brilliant idea already exists. If it weren't for you meddling kids--!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog series about books run by The Broke and Bookish blog (a sentiment I can well identify with) which centers around, basically, making a List (whee!) of books which fit the theme for the week. About a million blogs participate in it so go and look at what everyone is reading!

This week's theme is Summer Reading. And never have I been more well-prepared to fill a list with this theme. Observe my Goodreads to-read list. Sadly, my library catalogue doesn't exactly overlap with it so it may be a while before I get to all of them. Picking ten books I really want to read?

This is like 10% of my to-read list! My recent to-read list!
I read a lot of SFF, mainly Fantasy, mainly Epic and Low Fantasy (I tend to gritty but not grimdark). Lately I've been interested in more spy novels, because SPIES. I've also been interested in getting into more science fiction (this is hard because I'm one of those annoying people who will focus on the impossibility of your laser-gun or robot-virus rather than just sitting back and enjoying the plot). The List is therefore quite varied (within my beloved genres), hoping I find more awesome authors through it.

And now (in no particular order) ...

1. Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

Okay, I'll admit it, you had me at female assassin MC. Who yarn-bombs. In a bank-controlled USA in which law enforcement is done by bounty hunters.

HIT is a futuristic dystopia where not reading the fine print can screw up your life--and, for the MC of HIT, force you to become an indentured assassin to pay off your mother's debt. It's a suspenseful thriller, and I'm desperate to read it. Which is rather unusual for me--I don't tend to read YA. But this looks too awesome to pass up. Assassins, guys! Assassins! Dystopia! Credit card scams! I want it now.  

2. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

I've been meaning to read Blood Song for probably two years now. A self-pubbed book originally, Anthony Ryan is another of those great indie author success stories. Forums were absolutely raving over Blood Song so naturally I'm extremely curious to find out what's up.

Outwardly, it seems not terribly out-there: orphaned MC is left at the gates of the Brothers of the Sixth Order, a celibate order of warriors. He learns confusing secrets about his family and discovers a fate which will change not only him--but the world. Honestly, the summary isn't enough to make me pick it up. What's put it on my list are the reviews, the 4.5 (!) star rating on Goodreads, and the forum excitement. Book talk matters, guys!

3. Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

*guiltily puts book on list*

I won't say how long it's been since I last read Malazan. (It's been loooong).

This is Book #8 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, a series that you either deeply love or violently hate. Toll the Hounds is similar: it's been called either the best book of the series, or the worst. Like all Malazan books it's incredibly difficult, overflowing with characters, and almost impossible to know WTH the plot even is until the last 10% of the book (I'm projecting here from my experiences with books 1-7). It's also got the best worldbuilding I've ever seen in fantasy, one of the most original magic systems, and superbly done military setting. Malazan really is incredible. And I usually need about a month to read each book, and a month's break in between.

I'm just hoping we've got more Kalam and Quick Ben in this one. Favorite fantasy friendship. 

4. Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

I am SO EXCITED to read this book. Let me count the ways.


Brief overview before we get back to jumping up and down.

Three Parts Dead is Book #1 of the Craft series, a series that I can't believe I missed until now. Setting is Meso-America-inspired (!), with gods that can live and die (I do like defeatable gods) and a badass MC who I feel I'll like instantly. A god has died, and MC must go and bring him back to live before everything explodes (figuratively?) in the city of Alt Coulumb. We're talking steam-power tech, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god as a sidekick, firms of professional god-revivers (from what I can figure).

Basically there's nothing that's not awesome about this book. Non-European setting, with diverse badass characters, and non-omnipotent gods? Sign me UP. And if you look at the covers for the rest of the books you'll see this probably isn't just an incidental or token inclusion. The ENTIRE thing isn't default-fake-Europe with all default-fake-Europeans like so much of fantasy. I'll have to read the books first, of course, before I laud it overmuch. But I'm absolutely thrilled about this series. Cannot wait.

5. The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes

This book came on the radar thanks to Twitter. Social Marketing sells books? Aah, I'm just another cog in the machine! *weeps for soul*

Frankly, Sam Sykes is so hilarious and weird on The Internet that I just have to check out his book. The few quotes tweeted by readers certainly haven't hurt. I, in fact, recommend this to authors promoting on social marketing spaces: give us a few of the best quotes! The jokes! The weird bits! Give us a sense of what your book's like then let us see for ourselves.

City Stained Red is about a city (duh) which lives off the products of GIANT SILK-SPINNING SPIDERS. MC is a dude who just wanted to beat his sword into a plowshare but actually has to save the city and fight monsters. There's armies inside and outside the city, and bunches of people who want to see each other dead basically everywhere. It looks a fun, amusing unapologetic monster-killing romp with a rather hilarious MC (quotes, guys!). Definitely want to read. I love it when it's clear the author just had buckets of fun with their novel.

6. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

#1 in the Glamorist Histories. Now this book is a bit of a departure from the rest of the mercenary-MC, dirt-and-grime, violent-world-saving fantasy I usually gravitate towards.

Shades and Milk and Honey is a tale about a young woman in an alternate Regency England, where magic (glamours) are necessary to one's social position. It's clearly a love story, Jane Austen-like, about a family's honor and an "invisible" sister who can't compete in the ballroom but is key to the family's (social) survival. I enjoy Regency-with-magic novels occasionally (see: Sorcery and Cecelia, one of my favorites), and I respect the author so I'm game to try the book. We'll see how irritating I find the love story (romance and I ... don't get along very well. Unless we're talking Kushiel.).

7. The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon is Book 1 of the Dreamblood series from N. K. Jemisin. And I'm excited.

I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and wow, was it a breath of fresh air. The MC! The well-done tribal societies! The strange (and very original) concept of gods as slaves to a human family! I loved the world, the SOCIETIES, the only issue I had was the plot (the ending left me rather unsatisfied) and I wasn't a fan of the love story (as usual ... >.>). Many of the issues I saw felt more like debut-author issues, rather than systemic characteristics I couldn't get along with. However, the world she built has me eager to read more of her stuff.

And thus, this book. Again, a strange and unusual setting beckons--the summary is rather short so I can't infer anything about the characters or plot but what I see has me intrigued:
In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe - and kill those judged corrupt.
Every now and then I like a good bizarre priesthood and all-powerful theocratic society that must (inevitably) be overthrown. Enforced peace, murderous righteous priests, and a strange magic system--interesting. Very interesting. I want to see what the MC will do.

8. The Martian by Andy Weir

Pure scifi! Astronaut goes to Mars and gets stranded. How will he survive? More specifically, what kind of engineering skills will he use to make tools, acquire food/water/shelter, communication equipment, etc.? Engineering scifi space thriller! Furthermore, they're making a movie about it. Very curious.

Given my rather hardline approach to scifi (I read hard scifi and well ... not much else) this looks like a good book to get me reading more scifi, and perhaps discover another author. The premise is interesting and this xkcd pushed me off the edge--

So on the list it goes! For a while unfortunately--thanks to the movie, all copies have been snapped up from my library and so I wait, waaay down on the hold list.

9. A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

Book 1 of the Long Price Quartet, which I have been calling the Long Prince Quartet for an embarrassingly long time.

What am I looking forward to here? The city. Another non-fake-European setting, rich in trade, culture, and petty quarrels. A city which is dangerously close to destruction, while on the surface business proceeds as usual. Poet-sorcerers! Businesswomen! Rival cities with armies! Trade-politics! A complacent and confident society, with absolutely no idea that under the surface, everything is going to hell!

Yes, I'm mostly obsessed with the setting again, but I love fantasy novels about brilliantly-created cities (as should be rather obvious by now) and this is another one--but this one is not based on Europe. The plot sounds like it will execute on an EPIC scale, fulfilling another love of mine: widespread, rampant chaos. And finally, we have economic politics. WANT.

10. Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

And finally, we have the classic. Ursula Le Guin writes in the setting of the Aeneid (check, and check. Instant want-to-read). We know about Aeneas, about the soldiers of Troy--we know about the Gods. But Ursula Le Guin asks: what about the women? What about Lavinia, daughter of a King, woman sought after by Aeneas to secure his hold on a kingdom? What does she feel, what does she want? Virgil never tells us, and Lavinia herself never speaks in the epic, a silent prize to a valiant warrior. Le Guin gives her a voice.

In the hands of a master such as Le Guin, the story is guaranteed to be a beautiful tale, epic and sensitive, bringing life to a a crucial--yet silent--player in the Aeneid. If you haven't read Earthsea, Le Guin's lauded fantasy series, I recommend you do so immediately. Still among my favorite books, and one of the most original in the genre, despite their age.

Books are awesome!
Thus ends my rather long and excitable review of books I want to read this summer. Most of my summaries are speculation, based on book blurbs, of course--hopefully I can be organized enough to actually write follow-up reviews of the books as I read them.

Shall we end this post with memes? I think we shall.

Monday, June 15, 2015


So, I write a lot of flash.

Flash, in my opinion, is the best. It's SHORT, you can try out crazy stuff, and it gets done fast. Which is great, because I'm currently limiting myself to only work on seventeen stories at a time (WHAT I DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM) so theoretically I should be able to zip through a few flash stories and have a rapid writing turnover that keeps me endlessly entertained.

In reality, it turns out that you do actually have to write in order to finish things.

And apparently I spend that time on Twitter.

I like writing. To be honest, though, I like the end product of writing more than I like the actual process of writing. Sure, occasionally I'll feel unreasonably proud of myself for throwing in an obscure reference or coming up with a clever line. Or be so amused by dialogue I forget I have a quiz due (>.> not that this has happened ...), or actually care about my character enough to want to write their story for hours and hours. But most of the time?

*clings to Shire* I don't want to go on an adventure! (brilliant site)
Ugh, WRITING. Struggling with words. Forcing sentences to stop curling in on themselves. Prodding characters to be less BORING. Hopelessly trying to describe Elves in a way that hasn't been beaten to death. Trying to remember if City 1 is to the west or east of City 2 and whether I care enough to fix it. Realizing a character's tone changes halfway through the story and now they sound psychotic when they're not supposed to. It's annoying, painful, and I probably should be doing homework instead. Or cleaning. Or mindlessly clicking Wikipedia (IS TOO A WORD, BROWSER) links. Or playing codegolf. Or reading xkcd. I can write later.

Oh look, Internet ...

I need an enzyme a catalyst. Something to lower the activation energy of that first sentence, to make me forget I'm taking a leap into a story that is still quite unknown.

Flash is so SHORT that you have no time to wander casually around your story and take in the scenery. You have to get it right ON THE SPOT. No wasted words. No rambling. It's all punch-punch-punch action. And when you're a serial pantser who never ever plans, this task starts to look a little easy to screw up. Easy-to-screw-up all to often turns into why-try. And too-much-effort. You don't have any ideas! You don't even know where to start! Wall #1 looms before you, glowering in a quiet, brick-like way that says--there's nothing to say.

This is where prompts come in.

A prompt.

Motivation! Purpose! The prompt gives you the first sentence, now your page isn't blank anymore. You can write! It's probably already screwed up, so throw perfection out the window! Amuse thyself! Wall #1, sorely defeated, crumbles like Sauron's Tower before you. Onward, Knight of the Pen!

But some of us are hardened procrastinators. We're used to putting things off. Just a prompt? Not enough. Nothing easier in the world than to file away a prompt for tomorrow, next week, when you really feel like writing. This is Wall #2. It extrudes a miasma of lethargy as you approach it, making you walk slower and slower. You've got the prompt in your right hand, but lack the initiative to use it. Do you really have to write now? Why not put it off?

Enter the writing competition.

Okay so you won't write now, maybe not even tomorrow. But on June 30th your story is due, and what's more you've told everyone about it. Signed up. Promised to deliver. It might be the 29th with the Wall barring your way but you have NO. CHOICE. You MUST write. NOW.

Before you know it, Wall #2 has become a tiny hedge, next to the much, much bigger threat of Not Submitting. You leap over it, perhaps not easily, but you manage. Panic and urgency cancel out procrastination. You're writing!

I love forum competitions. They're frequent, free, and have a range of skill levels. Best of all, they usually feature extremely helpful reviews by other writers. The topics are unusual, they're tolerant of weird stories, and have really cool submissions that I feel are often as good as or better than actual published stuff. TBH this intimidates me sometimes. It feels a little bit like presenting at lab meeting: You, the lowly intern, trying to tell these PhDs and sub-sub-sub field experts something you think you discovered that might be relevant--and waiting for them to start critisizing and teasing apart your work. You know this process is good four you and will make you a better scientist, but some part of you always wants to flee the room in an explosion of chalk dust.

"And for my next trick, I shall completely vanish BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES (and the comment session)!"
In reality, comments by these more experienced writers will help you improve--or at least learn how to politely disagree.It helps you get your work out there, be more involved in the world of forum life, see your own writing from a different perspective, and make decisions about what does and doesn't work. And how often is it that someone takes the time to deeply review unpublished, minimally edited work from an unknown author, without compensation? Even if you don't write flash normally, the reviews alone are worth taking the plunge. Maybe you'll discover a deep-seated issue in your flash which rears its head tenfold in your novel. Maybe you'll find out that your bizzare stories are actually funny to people other than you! At the very least you will be preparing yourself for taking srs bzns critique. Forums, in my experience, don't pull punches.

Take this from an A+ Internet Lurker: actually participating is way more valuable than passively reading other people's opinions.

Here are some competitions to keep an eye on:


(all June)
3 writing contests! Micro-flash (Misdirection), Flash ("It's not my fault!"), and Short Story (Letters from home).

Flash: Multiple POVs

Mythic Scribes
Diversity Challenge to open in June (probably)!
Various other unscheduled challenges.


Flash! Friday

Terrible Minds
(weekly, as far as I can see)
Dead Bodies

(There's lots more out there, but these are the ones I've personally participated in / intend to participate in. Let me know about your favorites in the comments!)

These are very legit forums, if you're a writer (or a reader) definitely head on over and make an account. Serious conversations, book craziness, and genuinely useful writing and publishing tips. Did I mention books? ALL THE BOOKS.

Flash is awesome. Go write some.

SCIENCEY MEMES! Don't think you could get away without them!