Con Report: ICFA 38 (2017)

Hello, all! We’re back from ICFA 38, and still recovering. I thought I’d just give y’all a quick overview of how the con went while it’s all still relatively fresh in my mind.

We arrived Wednesday of last week after a very long day. My flight left Austin at 5:35 AM, and Shannon’s flight left even earlier. I had an empty seat next me on both my flights, so that was pretty great. I also got to read a lot of A Closed and Common Orbit, which I really enjoyed, so the travel overall was pretty great (besides having to get up so early…).

In the evening, we signed in, checked out the free table, and attended the opening ceremonies, then went back to our rooms to rest and plan out which panels we would go to for the rest of the week. I saw a name I was not expecting for one panel on Thursday, and got rather excited. More on this later.

Thursday morning, I was up bright and early and went down to work out. The hotel had a really nice workout room, and after, we hit up the cafe in the hotel for breakfast. I wandered off to some very interesting panels. The first one I went to had one presenter who talked about a novel where everyone is an amputee, and one of the amputees kills all of the other amputees. One of the other presenters rewrote her paper at 4 AM that morning and ended up talking about problematic themes in paranormal romance novels (Read: paranormal erotica). Like I said, it was… Interesting.

After a quick lunch, Shannon presented at the first panel in the afternoon. Despite a relatively small crowd, I thought the presentation went really well.

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Shannon was exhausted after this, quite understandably, so I went off to my next panel alone, with some trepidation. This was the panel I was excited about, if the name I read was the correct name, and if it was who I hoped it was. The subject of the panel was defining “epic fantasy”, which I already knew was going to be a fairly futile endeavor, because everyone has their own opinions on what defines genres, but the discussion was still lively.

And the person I was wondering about, the person on the program who I wasn’t expecting to be at the con at all, showed up. He was who I thought he was.

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On the left there is some dude named Brian Staveley. He’s one of my top 5 favorite authors, and the only one I hadn’t met yet. (I finally got to see V. E. Schwab in Austin at the beginning of March! Woo!) So, uh… Understandably, I was a little excited.

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I was even more excited when I went up to talk to him after the panel and he recognized me. Me. A fan he had never met in person, and he knew who I was. It was surreally awesome, and definitely made my week.

I think there was dinner and stuff after. I can’t quite remember, because I kinda had my head in the clouds for the rest of the evening.

Friday started off with more exercise. Seriously, it feels so good to work out early in the morning. You’re more awake and active for the rest of the day, and I love it.

The first event was a Steven Erikson signing. (I know I went to other signings at various times, but I had the most books for Erikson, so that’s the one I remember.) I had started the first Malazan book at the beginning of this year before the train that was Oathbringer hit me, and I was really enjoying it, and expect to love the series as a whole, so I was excited to meet Erikson and have him sign my copies of his series.

There was a free luncheon on Friday, where they gave out some really cool free books. Tip for if you ever go to ICFA: Go to all the luncheons and dinners. It’s worth it for the food. It’s also worth it for the books. Combined, it’s *really* worth it, and I wish I’d known ahead of time to sign up for the Thursday luncheon as well.

I know I went to several panels on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other such literary things, but they’re all kind of blending together by now. A lot of the papers presented were really interesting, so it was definitely worth going, though!

In the afternoon, I attended a reading with Nick Mamatas, John Chu, and Fran Wilde. All of the readings were excellent. Chu read part of a short story he’ll have in an upcoming magazine, and Wilde read all of her own story. I was really glad I went, and kinda wish I’d made time to see some of the other readings earlier in the week.

That night was the flash play section. It was unbelievably fun, and if you go to ICFA, you have to go to the flash plays. It should be required for everyone. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. The best part is that the authors themselves are also the actors, so I got to watch Max Gladstone pretend to be drunk, declare himself a sensualist, and then get into a mock sword fight and accidentally break his sword.

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Staveley sat next to me during the play, and after, invited me to come out to the balcony to hang out and chat with people. He introduced me to several people, including his editor, Marco Palmieri. (Who also sorta knew who I was from Twitter!) I really appreciated the introductions, and got a bit outside of my comfort zone, talking to new people and stuff. It was a good experience.

Saturday started off with a very special signing. Staveley was there, signing none other than Skullsworn, his next book. His editor had them printed 2 weeks earlier than normal just so he would have copies for ICFA, and I was unbelievably excited to be able to pick up a copy early, and have Staveley AND Palmieri sign it.

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(Yes, there is actually a picture with me prominently in it. That’s how excited I was.)

I know I went to several other interesting panels that day, but the only one that sticks in my mind was the last one–a humor panel featuring Max Gladstone and Andy Duncan. It was, well, humorous.

The day ended with one final dinner, with more free books (eep), and then a party out on the terrace, where I got to talk to several more people, make more connections, and even talk to Staveley a bit more. We got him to agree to do an interview for our blog when Skullsworn is released, so look for that in a few weeks!

Travelling home was… A chore. We visited the free table every day, the bookseller’s room at least twice, and picked up books at the luncheon and the dinner. We had to transport all of this back to Austin.

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Yes, the boxes are also full of books. Mostly the books we brought with us to get signed.

I ended up checking a 50.0 pound bag and another that was around 40 lbs. I likely carried another 40-50 pounds around the airport, between my backpack and the overloaded tote bag I was using. Shannon was also carrying a bag of books, and put as many as she could fit into her carry-on luggage.

All of the books (and people) made it home safely, but I think that next time, I’m going to go ahead and ship back a box of books. Getting everything through the airport and home was backbreaking, and after a long weekend (I was up really late Friday and Saturday night forcing myself to be sociable), I would have liked a slightly easier trip home.

I did manage to read all of Skullsworn on the trip back (I finished Closed and Common Orbit sometime during the conference), and absolutely loved it. Having a good book to enthrall me on both legs of the journey made the travel seem so much shorter than it actually was.

All in all, ICFA was a great experience, and meeting Brian by surprise definitely made it exceed all of my expectations. My takeaways from the con would be this:

  • The panels are all pretty great, and don’t be afraid to try out some of the more interesting ones.
  • The readings are awesome too, especially if you go and watch authors who read with voices, and have any kind of acting background.
  • Go to all the luncheons and dinners. You’re not saving much money regardless because the restaurants around the hotel are so expensive, and you get really good food, plus free books, and it’s a great opportunity to network.
  • Don’t forget to check the free tables, and check them often. If you’re the kind of person who will pick up books on a whim, or has a long list of books you want, expect to bring a lot of books home, and likely need to ship some of them.
  • The flash plays are required.
  • Don’t be afraid to hang out with the cool people and talk to them. They weren’t at all afraid to talk to me. 🙂

I’m not sure if my schedule will allow me to go back next year, but I definitely enjoyed my trip this year. Thanks to everyone who put this conference together and made it such a memorable experience!

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

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WARNING: As the second book in the series, this review (and in particular, the summary below) will have spoilers for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!

From Goodreads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the first book in this series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was my favorite book of last year.

I always get nervous when I’m reading the second book by an author I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve found far too many who have disappointed me, and been one-hit wonders. Many people criticize Rothfuss, saying Wise Man’s Fear isn’t as good as Name of the Wind (though I enjoyed them both). I’ve heard the same accusations leveled at Anthony Ryan (though I have not read his stuff yet). I personally feel this way about Ernest Cline. (Read Ready Player One, don’t bother with Armada.) Thus, when I’m heading into the second book, I always feel a bit nervous, and worry that I’m going to be let down again. I loved the first book so much, I want to have that same awesome experience.

Thankfully, Chambers delivers with A Closed and Common Orbit. The book is every bit as lovable, adorable, intimately human, progressive, and deep as the first one and, dare I say, I think I even loved it a bit more. While Long Way followed the crew of the Wayfarer across the galaxy, traveling to a large number of varied planets and meeting each member of the large crew, and their families, Orbit focuses on only a handful of characters, digging deep into their backstory and journey. I felt like there was a much better sense of connection between the chapters because of this, and more progression throughout the book. While Long Way felt very episodic, Orbit felt like a cohesive novel.

One of the other issues that initially worried me about this book being a sequel to Long Way is that we’re not following any of the characters in the original novel. There’s an entirely new cast here. This book takes place completely planet-side, and follows Lovelace, in her new body. This allows the novel to stand on its own, something that far too few novels do these days, with the massive number of ever-ongoing series that there are. It was not a problem, however, and I fell in love with these new characters just as quickly as I did with the original cast.

The book still is, like the first one, a character study. I love me a good plot-based novel about saving the world, a book that is utterly epic in scope and stakes, as much as the next person. (Considering my obsession with Sanderson, Jordan, etc., probably more than the next person.) However, sometimes I need a break, and an intense, deep character study is an amazing break, a lovely rest.

Because it digs so deep into its characters, Orbit can ask some deep questions. What makes us people? What really is humanity? Who deserves to be a person, and why? What is one’s purpose? All these questions and more are addressed in this book. Not all of them are answered, and some of the answers are very personal to the characters involved, and not universal. I loved the way this was handled and explored. Many of the decisions made that revolve around these questions really resonated with me. Some of them left me with questions about my own life, and my own notions and beliefs. Any book that challenges you to examine yourself a bit is good for you, and thankfully, this one was an enjoyable read as well.

The book is every bit as progressive as the first, from its questions of AI humanity to various gender-fluid characters prominent in the plot. There were unique and interesting cultures and family structures, all presented with a very open mind and in such a way that make complete sense for the species and conditions in which they arose. While we don’t explore quite as many of these as we did in the first book, they’re still fascinating, and I loved how they were presented here.

Despite the deep questions asked, and the issues raised, Orbit, like Long Way before it, is an ultimately happy book. There are so many beautiful little moments that make me smile, and if I ever tear up, it is because the moment was bittersweet. My heart was warmed by reading this book, and honestly, everyone needs more books like this. The world is a grim place many days, especially with our recent political climate, and it’s always nice to be reminded that everyone you meet is a person, with their own story, and that there are little moments of beauty around us, in all of the people around us, if we just look.

This book does a lot of the things that Ancillary Justice did. It has very progressive ideas, it’s a space opera, and it focuses around an AI out of its ship, stuck in a single body. It asks the question of what it means to really be a person. The difference is, Orbit does it right. I was lukewarm on the first Ancillary book, and found the second two to be downright boring. Orbit is never boring, and even though it is slow, the characters are so warm and so realistic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Everything Ancillary Justice tried to do, A Closed and Common Orbit did, and did better.

In summary, A Closed and Common Orbit is a worthy sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. If you liked the first book, you need to read this one as well. It is absolutely heartwarming, charming, open-minded, and deep. I absolutely loved it, and needed this book in my life. Five of Five stars, and my highest recommendations. (And if you haven’t read Long Way, please, please, at least try it. However, both books are completely stand-alone, so you can read them in any order you want.)

Links:

Becky Chambers.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Traveling to ICFA 38

Hey all! Shannon and I are currently in Florida, at the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts conference, ICFA 38! Shannon is presenting a paper tomorrow (Thursday), and has spent the last several weeks making sure it’s in great shape. I’m excited to hear her deliver it, it’s really well done. Because of all this, we’re really busy, and don’t have a full Wednesday post for y’all this week.

We will get you a full con report soon, and I can probably talk Shannon into posting her paper as well. I still owe you a WorldCon report for last year–that’s in the works, and will be out eventually. I’m reading a lot of books now that I’m done beta reading, and oh, it feels sooooo good. 🙂 More about those books later too, of course.

For now, here’s a picture of us WAY too early this morning, waiting for our flights out of Austin.

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Movie Review: The Accountant

The movie has a really interesting premise, which I don’t feel is quite adequately portrayed in the trailer. It shows the story of Christian Wolff, an accountant with some very special talents. Wolff has high functioning autism, and an incredible talent for numbers. He works for high profile corporations, and occasionally mobs and other shady operations, finding errors in their accounting records. He runs a small town accounting firm, helping local citizens with their taxes, as a bit of a front. He is also very good with a number of weapons, and can fight proficiently with everything from his hands to a sniper rifle. The movie follows his story as he tries to uncook the books for a massive corporation, where there are (of course) some deep-seated problems which lead him down dangerous roads.

The action that ensues is quite good. The fight scenes were all well choreographed, and quite exciting. None of them were too long, and I never really felt any action fatigue. Some of them were a little on the brutal side for my taste, but it fit the tone of the film, so I didn’t really mind.

The overall plot was fairly straightforward. I got lost a few times, and had to ask the friend who saw the movie with me to explain some of the more subtle elements to me after the movie was over, but overall, it was engaging and solidly done.

I was quite happy that the writers didn’t try to force any unrealistic romance into the movie. Wolff has high functioning autism, and he is, accurately, socially awkward. He is not the kind of person who would quickly form romantic attachments, or attract other people to him. There were definitely moments in the movie where the writers could have used the trope of having the hero be universally loved, but it would have felt horribly forced and out of character, and I am very glad that it was not done.

Not just with the romance, but overall, the portrayals of autism in the movie felt very authentic. The scene where Wolff is obsessively working on an accounting set of books, for example. The level of attention he gives to the work, the way he sets everything out so he can see it, and his reaction when his work are interrupted are all spot on. In addition, his sensitivity to noise, his desensitization training, and everything down to the little details like how he arranges his food on his plate, give the movie a very authentic and accurate feel. I absolutely loved this aspect of the film.

In summary, despite the high level of violence, the solid plot moved the film along, and the spot on depictions of an autistic main character who is also incredibly capable were amazing, and I absolutely loved it. If you have an autistic friend or family member (who is old enough to watch a fairly violent action movie), I highly recommend watching this film with them. I guarantee they will poke you several times throughout and say, “Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s how it is.”

Five out of Five stars, easily. I’ll be watching this one again on my computer at some point, I’m absolutely certain.

Updates and Apologies

Mark here. I’ve been really absent lately, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve got my excuse, but… It’s an excuse.

I’d say it’s a pretty good one, too, though.

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You see, I was beta reading Oathbringer. According to this post, it is currently ~514,000 words long. For some perspective, the entire Lord of the Rings (The trilogy, not just one of the books.) is only 473,000 words long. So the beta reading process took about 2.5 months. I might talk about it somewhere later, but for now, all I’ll say is it was intense, exhausting, rewarding, and it’s over. Also, Oathbringer is a freaking amazing book and you want to preorder it now. November 14th is the release date, and you will want to read this as soon as you can. Trust me.

Oathbringer is the only book I’ve finished reading this year. It’s the middle of March. I tend to average about 50 books per year, give or take, so that’s a ridiculously slow rate for me. The problem was, every time we had a break between parts of the book that we were reading, it was only for a few days, and I didn’t have time to get through anything else. Limbo isn’t fun…

But that is done now, and I’m back. I’ve got a (movie) review ready for later this week, and I’m starting several other books very soon, in hopes of getting back on track with the blog.

I’d like to finish with a huge thanks to my coblogger Shannon for keeping things running while I was busy on Roshar!

ARC Review: The Bone Witch

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my thoughts, feelings, or anything of that nature regarding it. You have been advised.

The Bone Witch

From Goodreads:

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

The cover of this book captivated me and was the original reason I chose to request the novel. It is beautifully dark, with purple hues and the skull right in the center, like a warning to anyone entering. Unfortunately, though the contents inside do oftentimes match the atmosphere given off by the cover, I found myself bored throughout the middle of the book. While there are parts that certainly make reading the middle worth it for the end, much of it felt easily skipped. The descriptions of daily life, while good in moderation, seem like the majority of the novel and cause it to drag. I wanted more action, more daeva fighting, but these were much smaller sections of the book than I had thought would be the case. The comparison to Memoirs of a Geisha is warranted with the descriptions of becoming an asha, but it is not nearly as captivating as Golden’s work.

In addition, the characters did not feel as well fleshed out as I would have liked. Many of them feel one-dimensional, or had character traits described but not shown nearly as much in their actions. While Tea was definitely rebellious and strong-willed, I had a hard time connecting to her even though she is the narrator of her own story. Oftentimes, she felt almost bland to me, even though she has the coolest magical skill set and could raise people from the dead. I had an easier time connecting to her protective, yet stoic older brother. And her love interests? Flat throughout the majority of the novel.

However, the strength of The Bone Witch falls in its worldbuilding. I loved the descriptions of the heartsglass, the drawing of the runes for the magic system, and the demonic daeva. While the countries fall on real-world examples to help flesh them out, they still feel alive from the information we are given about them and seeing their people populate the novel. There are even old myths and an age-old conflict that help make this world feel vibrant. I especially enjoyed how most of the countries did not have much in the way of Western influences, and how the asha are like fighting geisha. Even the description of the food veers away from fantasy norms. Chupeco does a wonderful job at making her world, while familiar in many ways, feel atypical in a Western fantasy dominated market.

Due to the middle of the novel’s slowness and the flat characters, even though the worldbuilding was strong I give The Bone Witch three out of five stars. While it does end on a cliffhanger of sorts, because I did not connect with Tea as much as I would have liked, I will not likely be reading the next book in the series. With characterization being so important to me, I wish she had as much life to her as the world around her does.

Comic Review: Monstress Vol 1

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From Goodreads:

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

Originally, I read the first issue of this comic back when it was released and when Marjorie Liu had a signing at our local comic book store. I was fascinated and couldn’t wait for more. It has been a little over a year since then, and I finally picked up the trade paperback to go through the first six issues simultaneously. I am truly glad I read it this way instead of issue to issue. While engrossing and beautiful, the story would have been much harder to appreciate had I read it monthly.

The comic follows Maika Halfwolf, who at the start of the first issue is seeking revenge for the death of her mother. She is both crass and combative, and I honestly had a hard time liking her. It is understandable as to why she is that way, however, due to her upbringing during the war and also having been a slave. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and even if she is indeed monstrous and unlikable, I can definitely respect her as a character.

The other characters, human, Arcanic, or otherwise, are all captivating in their own right. I loved reading about Ren and Kippa especially. Kippa, being a scared yet optimistic child regardless of what he goes through, and Ren, the trickster cat, work as great companions to Maika throughout the story. While the human villains feel truly evil, even they are full of surprises. Intrigue, betrayal, and ulterior motives are staples of Monstress, and nobody is truly as they seem. The humans are often inhuman, and the Arcanics are not the monsters the humans claim them to be.

One of my favorite aspects of this comic is the setting. The artwork gives off a very Egyptian atmosphere, with depictions of masks that resemble Anubis and the gratuitous use of the color gold. Their world is one of steampunk elements such as airships, and Lovecraftian Old Gods whose ghosts roam the world. While each element on its own may have been used time and again in the past, together they create an unique and stunning universe.

The plot itself, however, is one found in many comics. It is a story of revenge and a story where multiple factions are trying to track Maika down for what she holds. I can’t tell you how many comics I have read where people are chasing the main character as a main plot device. Even only considering the comic’s publisher, Image Comics, this is a common trope. Regardless, I still felt heavily absorbed in the story even if there are many recycled plot threads.

The depth of the worldbuilding in this work is rather grand as well, and this is why I felt it would be difficult to read each issue separately. I was dropped into the story without much guidance, and there was little info-dumping throughout save for the lessons given at the end of each issue. Those segments were incredibly helpful, and I would have been rather lost without them. It definitely takes the first few issues for things to begin to make sense overall.

Even with the formulaic plot, I loved Monstress. It is arresting, beautifully drawn, and full of fascinating characters. I also couldn’t help but love the cats too! I give this comic four out of five stars, and cannot wait to read more in the future.