Review: The Orc of Many Questions by Shane Michael Murray

(“A book with nonhuman characters” from the Reading Challenge)

I got this book specifically because it seemed like it would have an unorthodox take on orcs, and I was not disappointed.

The story follows a young orc (a “blunc”) who unusually has a fairly sharp mind and a very inquisitive nature; not attributes that are looked on favorably in his tribe. Large, powerful orcs who can be successful in raids against the humans, elves, and dwarves of the world are the ideal, this being the only way that the orcs can procure food, weapons, goods, and “entertainment.” Talking-Wind wants to know why his people are stuck in this life of constant raiding, and even has some hints that life was not always like this for orcs, but he has more questions than answers, and little time to search for them. Talking-Wind’s curiosity draws unwanted attention not only from the other young orcs, who are all too happy to bully someone smaller and weaker, but also from the dragon that demands regular tribute from the orc clan. When the dragon comes for him, Talking-Wind needs all his wits in order to have a hope of surviving long enough to get all of his many questions answered!

This book was a lot grosser than I was expecting, which perhaps should not have surprised me given the subject of the story; there is some gore, but mainly a lot of unpleasant bodily functions! This does not detract from the story, but might be something to be aware of.

It also does a good job with starting to break down the standard fantasy trope of “orcs are evil because they are evil,” which has bothered me more and more in recent years. A certain well-known fantasy series that shall not be named recently doubled-down on this, after spending several books/years looking like they too might be reversing or at least questioning the trope, which annoyed me. Partly for that reason, I’ve been looking for stories that do better and don’t automatically go the route of saying that some races are actually evil by nature. To me, that makes for much less interesting villains/enemies. Easier to kill with a clean conscience, perhaps, but not much else.

There is a sequel which I have not gotten to yet, but do hope to read soon! I would recommend this one to anyone who is interested in a subversion of typical fantasy tropes, anyone who likes a very down-to-earth-complete-with-bodily-fluids type of story, or anyone who happens to be interested in orcs as a fantasy race.

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Review: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

My first thought when I finished this book was “I have died and gone to heaven…or maybe just to Paradise.”

In many ways, this is just another Alternate-Medieval-Europe fantasy (though quite well-written); it has bloody battles, secret (and not so secret) religious fanatics of various flavors, and plenty of political intrigue. I appreciated the author’s way of using languages; the book is written in English, but he uses a blend of English and other languages to give the sense of the different countries, for instance giving titles in both Spanish or French as well as in English. It leaves the reader not needing to guess what unfamiliar words mean, while still getting to see them, learn them, and appreciate the varied vocabulary.

In many ways, it is just another fantasy…but it also has dinosaurs.

Some reviewers have made the point that this story is not a Medieval Jurassic Park. I agree, and would then add that I think it’s much better than that. If you are a Jurassic Park fan and your favorite part is that a bunch of people run around screaming and then get eaten by the dinosaurs, this may not be the book for you (though some people do get killed/eaten by dinosaurs in the story).

I think the best way to describe it is to say that dinosaurs exist in the world of Paradise; they are animals that inhabit the land, and people have learned to exist with them, much as we exist with the many animals around us today. There are some unique challenges to life with dinosaurs, given their often-large size and definite ability to cause harm to humans, but in this world those are challenges that people have undertaken. Some dinosaurs still roam the wild, and are hunted for meat or sport or self-protection by the humans. Many have been tamed or domesticated to one degree or another; they are beasts of burden, war-steeds, pets. The dinosaurs in the world of Paradise feel real, because they are part of the landscape and the ecosystem and the culture; much better than attractions at an amusement park.

To many of the characters, this is all dinosaurs are: part of the landscape, a familiar backdrop to everyday life. But to a couple of the characters (and to the author, I believe), the dinosaurs are more than that: to these characters, dinosaurs are a source of awe. Even as they fully understand and constantly deal with the realities (pleasant and otherwise) of coexisting with dinosaurs, they never lose the lingering edge of breathless wonder at the existence of these great creatures. That, more than anything, was what sold me on this book’s premise and world (and not surprisingly, those two characters are my favorites so far!)

I did enjoy the story itself, and am interested to see where it goes in the next two books of this (I believe) trilogy. This is a very adult book – plenty of gore, sex, violence, and foul language. If you don’t mind those things, then I would recommend it to fans of dinosaurs (the author seems to have done his research fairly well), fans of epic medieval fantasy, and fans of stories with battles and political intrigue.

Update on The Wizard of Suomen

My editor (Facets Fiction Editing) returned her edits and suggestions to me several weeks ago. She was very positive about the story, and her suggestions were very helpful! Draft 5 was my working through these, and although there were no major structural changes to be made, it is definitely a stronger story now. She also did a copyedit for me, and helped me fix a number of small grammatical issues. (I have to improve my use of commas and em-dashes. >.>)

One of my other beta readers has been kind enough to do a final proof-read for me on a paper copy, and I am going to read through the same paper copy myself one last time, because I am feeling paranoid about everything right now. There will be some last minor adjustments to make, but the story is largely done.

So, that means it’s time to look at the next steps.

I am still very interested in self-publishing this story, and have been doing some research about this. I found the book Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran very helpful in this regard. Not only does he lay out a clear path of the steps you need to go through to do a good job of self-publishing a book, but he also gives a very interesting overview of the history of the publishing industry, Amazon, and e-books, and how these have affected the publishing landscape over the last decade. (I, at least, found this very interesting, and learned many things that I didn’t know.)

My immediate next steps then are getting cover art (I’m looking at some options for this), and formatting the text as an actual e-book. Gaughran recommended Guido Henkel’s Take pride in your eBook formatting tutorial (free), which was very helpful. I also chose to purchase Henkel’s book, Zen of eBook Formatting, which is an expanded and updated version of the tutorial linked above. I am definitely glad that I bought the full book, but if you are putting together a book with a simple format, then the tutorial would probably be sufficient guidance. There were sections of the book that I skimmed, because they described formatting for things that I don’t need to do for my book, but I am glad to know that I have a resource for those things if I need it. Having read the basics twice now, and knowing that I have the book immediately on hand as a reference, I feel confident that I can do this part of the process myself.

I think those are the big things for now! There will be some other minor steps that I may talk about here as I do them, but for now the final editing, cover art, and formatting are my main concerns.

Other writing projects are still in progress. I have backstories for some of the TWoS characters that I’m planning to publish separately as a sort of prequel, and I have started the draft of my other (bigger) fantasy series. I have done a little bit of planning for the TWoS sequel, but that will be out a little ways yet. And it’s possible that I might even finish a short story or two somewhere along the way here. ^_^;;

I’ll continue to post some updates here as I go along. I will be looking for some people to give Advance Reader Copies to, at some point, and I’ll post about that here as well!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me on this project thus far! I’ve learned a lot and it’s really been a lot of fun bringing this world and these characters to life.

~Ethelinda

A Personal History of Books: 16 Years of Reading

A Personal History of Books: 16 Years of Reading

As my second post of 2017 (although it’s coming a bit later than I intended), I thought I would talk about my New-Books-Read list.

Back in 2000, somewhat on a whim, I decided to start keeping a list of the new books that I read that year in this small, cheerfully-psychedelic Lisa Frank notepad:

booklist

(I can hear you all crying “Oh god, the nineties!” and shielding your eyes.)

The list is just titles, no author names or any other information. My only criteria for adding things were that it had to be an actual book of some sort or another, that I had not read it before (I am an inveterate re-reader of books, sometimes, so I decided not to count those), and that I read all of it. At the end of that first year, I counted up how many titles were on the list (109!), and then flipped the page over to make a “New Books Read Since January 1, 2001,” and continued on.

booklist2000

I kept this up for the next 16 years. At the end of 2016, I finally reached the last page of the notebook.

booklist2016

(As you can see, my handwriting has not notably improved. Be glad that you get to read only typed things from me, my handwritten fiction drafts are awful. XD)

Looking through it since then, I ran a few numbers just for kicks:

-694 new books in 16 years

-Average of 43.375 books per year

-Best year: 2000 (109)

-Worst year: 2007 (13)

For those interested, the 2000 list includes all of both the Dragonriders of Pern series (Anne McCaffrey) and all of the Lord Peter Wimsey series (Dorothy Sayers), among other things. I was prone in middle and high school to spending my summer vacations discovering a new series of books (or two) and then devouring them all in one steady go. (I really miss being able to do that sometimes.) After 2007, I vowed to never read fewer than 15 new books per year again, and so far I’ve managed to hold to that. (To be fair, 2007 was in the middle of college, and I was pretty swamped with work, but still.)

So, the psychedelic 90s teddy bear will now be retired to a shelf, and I have a plainer (less eye-smarting) little purple notebook in which to continue these annual lists. This one has more pages than the previous one, so it will probably take me longer than 16 years to fill it up (unless I get back to reading 100+ new books every year!) Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a post about that one when I finish it too. 🙂

Happy Reading, everyone!

~Ethelinda

Review: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

(“A nonfiction book” from the Reading Challenge)

I am switching my non-fiction book because I read this one more recently and feel that I can write a decent review. (I did read My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek, which was my original choice, and I definitely liked it a lot and would recommend it! But I didn’t get to writing a review as soon as I should have, so I’ll do this one instead.)

This book was a Christmas present from a family member, who rightly guessed that I would enjoy it. It was very good!

The author is a paleontologist and professor of anatomy, and he has a clear, engaging writing style that was very easy to read. The book is (as you might guess from the title) talking about evolution as it relates to the biology and anatomy of the human body.

I really loved the way he talks about science! He talks about his lab (which is half fossils and half genetics/DNA, apparently), and he talked about looking for fossils in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. He points out that while yes, there is a certain amount of luck involved in actually finding the fossils you’re looking for, you have to start by doing the right prep work identifying where your chances will be greatest.

He uses the example of wanting to find an intermediate stage between finned fish and amphibians with true limbs, a transition which happened between 385 and 365 million years ago. So, he had to identify rocks in that age range, of the right type to preserve fossils at all (meaning, sedimentary rocks), and that were somewhere exposed/accessible to people. In this case, Ellesmere Island in Canada, north of the Arctic Circle, turned out to be the best place, and so that is where he and his team have gone summer after summer. And, after many seasons, they did in fact find the kind of fossil they were looking for; Tiktaalik was a fish that had fins…but they were fins with bones in them, and bones in the same basic number/arrangement that we see in all limbed animals today.

He does a really good job of working the reader through a somewhat abstract idea (that we can trace our bodies/body parts/body construction back in time through evolution, as evidenced by both fossils and genetics), by providing several concrete examples that show this, and going through the process each time. Looking at our bodies this way helps to make sense of some things about us that seem confusing when you think about them by themselves. Hiccups, for example. Why do we get hiccups? Well, probably because our bodies are descended from amphibious creatures that needed to be able to switch back and forth between breathing with lungs in air and breathing with gills in water. The muscle/nerve combination that causes hiccups originally worked as a pausing mechanism that allowed for that switch…only we don’t need it anymore, so for us it’s just a leftover thing our bodies do that can be a nuisance.

All of his examples are really interesting like that. Going back to limbs, he points out that every vertebrate creature that has limbs has limb bones in the exact same combination: one upper bone, two lower bones, blobby bones in the “wrist,” and then rod-like bones that radiate from those (fingers/toes, for us). The exact shapes, lengths and configurations of these bones are very different in an alligator, a bat, and a human, but the same basic combination is there in all three animals. In another example, he talks about nerves in the human head, some of which are very complex and kind of confusing, because they do lots of different-seeming things. But when you look at them from a developmental view, they make perfect sense, because one nerve is connected to all the various parts of the head that form from one “gill arch” on the human embryo, and another nerve is connected to all the parts that form from another “gill arch,” and so on. (Those “gill arches” are so called because, in fish like sharks, they do actually form into gills. In humans, they are present when we are an embryo, but then develop into various parts of our face, jaw, neck, and throat.)

So it was a very interesting book! It falls into the category of “I sort of knew the basics of this (evolution and how it works),” but this book lays it out so much more specifically and with such fantastic examples that it just becomes much, much clearer in my head. Books like that are the best ones, for me. I definitely recommend this one to anyone interested in paleontology, science, evolution, or the history of life on earth. A fantastic read!