Diversity Spotlight Thursday: SFF Music Mania

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Hmm? What’s that noise, you ask?

Well, that’s the sound of a dead meme rising from the ashes. Diversity Spotlight Thursday is back, baby.

So this is a weekly meme that was created by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks (though she’s not hosting it anymore), and the idea is that each week you come up with three books for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and want to recommend; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet. And the topics–if you want to have them–are yours to choose.

This time, though, I’m gonna change the rules a bit and expand the categories to include all fictional media, not just books. And my chosen theme for this week is SFF stories that revolve around music.

Also, I feel like I’ve been kind of absent in terms of posting and replying and blog hopping, so I’m hoping to catch up and kick myself back into gear in the next couple of weeks.

 


What I Recommend

 

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Dane, a spun-out musician spending the winter in Cleveland, Ohio, has two main goals: keeping his job at the Pepper Heights Zoo and trying not to waste all his time on Grindr. What he doesn’t expect is to get swept into a story about dreams, about forevers, about flickering lights, about unexplained deaths, about relentless change, and about the parts of ourselves that we wish other people knew to look for. Oh, and also a murderous zebra.

Reps: gay mc, queer side characters

Dreamboy is a fairly new fiction podcast (just started late last year as part of the Nightvale Presents group) and it is an atmospheric, psychedelic, sensual wonder of an experience unlike anything else I’ve listened to. And Dane Terry, the co-creator of the show, is a goddamn Renaissance man. He composes the score, writes the scripts, voices the main character, and he does it all with such skill that would almost make you angry if it weren’t for the fact that he’s also funny and charming and just an all-around genuine person.

The story itself is super weird (and, in that sense, definitely deserves the Nightvale badge) but it’s also one with a lot of heart and poetry. And the music, guys. The music is fucking everything–just as much of a character in the story as the actual characters.

It’s also very NSFW, so I don’t recommend blasting it on speakers at full volume during your next family gathering.

 


 

Released But Have Yet to Try

 

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In the Before, when the government didn’t prohibit large public gatherings, Luce Cannon was on top of the world. One of her songs had just taken off and she was on her way to becoming a star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban concerts, and Luce’s connection to the world–her music, her purpose–is closed off forever. She does what she has to do: she performs in illegal concerts to a small but passionate community, always evading the law.

Rosemary Laws barely remembers the Before times. She spends her days in Hoodspace, helping customers order all of their goods online for drone delivery–no physical contact with humans needed. By lucky chance, she finds a new job and a new calling: discover amazing musicians and bring their concerts to everyone via virtual reality. The only catch is that she’ll have to do something she’s never done before and go out in public. Find the illegal concerts and bring musicians into the limelight they deserve. But when she sees how the world could actually be, that won’t be enough.

Release date: September 10th, 2019
Reps: a full queer cast

I’ve been slowly reading through Sarah Pinsker’s short story collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the See, and I’ve been loving it, so I’m hoping her first novel will be just as good, if not more. I was planning on getting to it last month but life had different ideas, so fingers crossed for September!

 


 

Not Yet Released

 

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After a surprising upheaval, the nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler: Elissan Diar, who proclaims himself the first Poet King. Not all in court is happy with this regime change, as Rianna secretly schemes against him while she investigates a mysterious weapon he hides in the bowels of the palace.

Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation. For the Poet King’s ascension is connected with a darker, more sinister prophecy which threatens to unleash a battle out of legend unless Lin and her friends can stop it.

Release Date: March 24th, 2020
Reps: queer side characters

I have the motherlode of TBRs this month and I’m deliriously excited for so many on the list, but The Poet King in particular is special (“excited” doesn’t even begin to cover it). It’s one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, and it’s the conclusion to a fantasy trilogy that has skyrocketed to being one of my all-time favourites, and Ilana to an autobuy author. These books are steeped in music and artistry and the power of them, and they mean so much to me. Pre-reading offerings are probably in order.

 

 

DNF Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep – Wrong Character as the Narrator

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Title: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep
Author: H.G. Parry
Publisher: Redhook
Release Date: July 23rd, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Stories about Stories, Siblings
Page Count: 465 (hardback)

Rating: DNF @ ~40%

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For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.

There’s someone else who shares his powers. It’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, and hopefully before anyone gets to The End.

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This is another case of me DNFing a book not because it’s bad, but because I was bored (yes, there’s a difference). And I mostly blame it on Rob, the main character. He’s the less extraordinary of the two brothers–no magical abilities and a very “straight man” vibe–and I found his narration dry and ill-fitting. I mean, this is a story about literary characters coming to life and mingling with modern society. A story about the complexity of stories. And I figure such a story should be told from the POV of a character who exudes a bit more passion, and less blandness, than Rob Sutherland.

Like his brother, Charley.

See, there’s this one little section that utterly blew me away. It’s an excerpt from Charley’s notebook, so it’s written entirely from his POV and it lasts a only handful of pages, and reading it was like stepping up to the gates of heaven and watching it open. I mean that with zero hyperbole.

There are three things that this section accomplishes:

1) It puts us in the head of Charley–this beautiful, sensitive person–and we get a glimpse of the way he views the world. The things he value and how he approaches his power. It’s the most concise snapshot of a character I’ve come across this year.

2) It neatly explains the ins-and-outs of Charley’s power.

3) It describes, with aching clarity and lyricism, the act of reading. How we process a story, and how that processing affects every part of us, and how fucking magical that is. It’s beautifully introspective and so, so on-point. I mean, look at this:

“So I”ll be drifting in words, absorbing, and the words I absorb will be racing through my bloodstream. Every nerve, every neuron will be sparking and catching fire, and my heart will be quickening to carry it through faster, and my eyes will be tearing ahead to take in more and more.

This isn’t magic yet, or whatever the word is…This is just reading a book.”

I realize I’m using most of the review to gush about six pages worth of words, but that’s how good it is. It’s also relevant because that was the moment I realized that I’m stuck with the wrong brother as the narrator. Charley’s words are emotional and raw and relatable in a way that Rob’s aren’t, and I’ll bet my right arm that I would have loved the book if it’d been told from Charley’s POV. It just feels like a lost opportunity.

But I know the book is, and will be, a hit with a lot of people. It’s got all the right ingredients: a very solid, very flowy style of writing; a plot that’s unique and attention-grabbing; fairly interesting side characters; and a sibling relationship at the heart of the story, which is always welcome.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone (And Helped Me Find New Ones)

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now being hosted by The Artsy Reader. This week’s topic is Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone, but I’ve modified it slightly to “books that took me out of my comfort zone but I didn’t necessarily enjoy.”

Comfort zones are funny. Sometimes I feel like I know exactly what I’m comfortable with and not. Other times I don’t even know where the boundary is until I’m suddenly standing outside of it, saying, “Uh, hello? I’d like to go back inside.”

Anywho, the titles = subjects/themes/character types that were (or still are) beyond my comfort zone.

 

Second Person POV

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The Fifth Season was the first book with an extended second-person POV (beyond choose-your-own-adventure books) that I liked, and it actually made me see it in a new light. I love that it goes beyond a gimmick, that it actually serves a purpose in the story, narrative-wise. And I love even more that we don’t find out what that purpose is until book 3.

 


Space Opera

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I was never a big space opera fan as a kid, and I only got into Star Wars and Firefly and all those other big scifi franchises as an undergrad. But then I played Mass Effect and it was like, oh hey, this spacefaring business is actually kind of cool and exciting and I think I want more.

So technically, Mass Effect is what took me out of my comfort zone. But in terms of books, it’s Karin Lowachee’s Warchild that did it. I talk about it quite a bit on the blog, and I cannot overstate just how brilliant the series is. Beyond the space opera aspect, it talks about war and identity, and it features the most disquieting exploration of abuse and its lasting effects that I’ve ever read.

Coincidentally, it also makes use of second-person POV (albeit a lot more sparingly than  Broken Earth and also in a different way), and the effect is very, very powerful.

 


BDSM, Sex, and Queerness

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I read this series when I was 18, and it was my first experience seeing BDSM, queerness, and sex mixed together, and so forwardly, in one place. And boy, did that mean a lot to me.

I’m not saying that the Beauty books are quality BDSM literature, because they’re not (I’m 90% sure I’ll end up hating them if I ever do a reread), and it’s absolutely not the series I’d recommend to anyone who wants to dip their toes in BDSM (I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard Kushiel’s Dart is a better alternative). But I grew up in a conservative Asian family where sex wasn’t a thing I should even be contemplating, let alone having. Add to that a strong penchant for a kink, and you have the prime recipe for guilt, self-hatred, and repression–a full-course meal. And these books did a lot to make me feel more comfortable in my own skin. “Thankful” is maybe not the right word–it feels weird and a little wrong to be thankful for something that’s kind of problematic–but my feelings are a close cousin to it.

Ironically, by pushing me out of my comfort zone, Beauty helped me find it.

 


Small Pawns in a Wide World

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I have a hard time dealing with stories that reek of helplessness. Where the characters are given the smallest margin of agency, and everything beyond that is too vast, too complex, too deeply seeded for them to change. That’s the main reason why I dislike Never Let Me Go (I struggle with enough feelings of smallness on my own, thank you), yet it’s also the reason why I can’t get it out of my head.

 


A Heartpuncher of an Ending

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Adam, what crime did I commit in a previous life for you to make me go through the ending of More Happy than Not? I’m 100% comfortable reading books that talk about depression and suicide as long as they give me a few rays of hope at the end. This…wasn’t that.

But now, with the initial shock of emotions faded, I can say that it’s a fantastic and crucial piece of fiction–one that talks about queerness and mental health with stark honesty–and I’m glad to have experienced it.

 


A Heartpuncher of an Ending 2 (Feat. Irish Stream of Consciousness)

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Here’s the thing: heartwrenching endings aren’t within my comfort zone and I don’t think they will ever be. I don’t think I can ever be comfortable with something that shreds me from the inside out and leaves me tattered on the ground. That is the definition of uncomfortable.

But here’s another thing: I can be uncomfortable with something and still love it and crave it.

The final thing: I love being broken by someone’s art.

At Swim, Two Boys left me insensate with tears by the end. I was hobbling around for days with my eyes puffy and glazed over. And I would gladly experience it hundred times more. Because this book is one of the most profoundly human things I’ve ever read, and that ending, and my reaction to it, is proof of just how deeply I connected with the characters.

 


Queer Pain (aka Why Do I Do This to Myself)

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I sorely underestimated how uncompromising and triggering Orpheus Girl would be and I paid the price for it. Which sounds kind of dramatic, but god, reading this was like trying to swallow nails: painful, and not in the way I described above.

I didn’t dislike the book and I’m glad that it exists, as it talks about atrocities that are still very present for queer teens today (in the form of gay conversion camps), but it’s also something I almost wish I could unread, and I stand by what I said in my GR review: you don’t have to read these heavy topical books if you don’t want to. You’re not obligated to hold pain–any pain, queer or otherwise–by the blade and bleed yourself to prove that you’re aware of its existence.

 


You’re Not the Character I Thought You Were

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You know what I love? Awful and seemingly irredeemable characters who, against all odds, win me over by the end of the story.

You know what I don’t love? The opposite of that. When there’s a character that I like and want to wrap in a blanket because “oh, he seems so troubled and sweet and he just needs someone to hold him.” And then it turns out he’s actually none of that. He’s actually an asshole with psychopathic tendencies and deserves a fireball to the face more than a hug. That’s a “I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU” moment and not something I’m terribly fond of.

So I should have hated The Court of Broken Knives (and its sequel, which I’m currently reading). The fact that I don’t–the fact that I love it, and it’s become one of my favourite fantasy series–is a testament to how good Anna Smith Spark is.

Mini Rants: His Cocky Valet & Idol Thoughts – How NOT to Write BDSM and Romance

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Title: His Cocky Valet (Undue Arrogance 1)
Author: Cole McCade
Publisher: Self-Published
Release Date: May 14th, 2018
Genre(s): Romance (M/M), Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: BDSM, Age Gap
Page Count: 347 (ebook)

Rating: 2.0/10

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Ash Harrington’s life is out of control.

At twenty-three years old, he’s suddenly the head of a multibillion dollar global corporation he is in no way equipped to run. His father is dying. His mother’s run away. He’s spent his entire adult life playing fast and loose with his life and his loves, but when he’s dragged into a position of responsibility with the fate of the company on his shoulders, he goes spinning into freefall.

And Brand Forsythe is the only man to catch him.

Icy, detached, nearly twice Ash’s age, the massive monolith of a British valet is impossible to deal with and like no servant Ash has ever met. Domineering and controlling, Brand quickly puts Ash’s life in order.

And quickly takes Ash in hand.

Even if by day Ash has to project authority, leadership, and calm…by night he’s discovering the breathless pleasure of giving up control. The shivering thrill of surrendering to Brand. The sweet taboo of being submissive to the man in even the smallest things. Ash can’t quite understand why it feels so good to put himself in Brand Forsythe’s capable, commanding hands.

He only knows, as he faces the hardest decisions of his life…the only thing that can save him is the love of his cocky valet.

 

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(Content Warning: If you don’t want to read me going on about BDSM, feel free to skip to the next review which is kink-free and also a lot shorter)

This is the first book in a while that’s made me properly angry. And of course it’s a romance book.

For those who don’t know, here’s a little backstory on His Cocky Valet. Cole McCade wrote this as a response to the #cockygate incident that happened last year, where a romance author tried to trademark the word “cocky” (“I’ll take ‘Shitty and Nonsensical Things People Do on a Whim’ for 500, Alex”), and he wrote and published the whole thing in a span of a couple of weeks. Which is, I admit, pretty remarkable. Even more so when you consider how solid the writing and pacing is. However, I don’t think that should excuse the awful BDSM rep.

With Ash, you have a character who’s kind of in a vulnerable state of mind–someone who’s been hit with tragic family news and thrust into a position of leadership he’s in no way ready for. Then you introduce D/s into the mix, which is like stacking vulnerability on top of vulnerability, especially because he’s new to it and aren’t really sure what he wants (only that he wants something). And there’s nothing wrong with that. Power play can be a source of a great deal of emotional support as long as there’s clear and constant communication throughout it all.

Well, in enters Brand. He’s a valet who hails from a family of valets, comes highly recommended by his previous employer, and he’s described as being meticulous and attentive and caring in all aspects of life. So surely he’d make a half-decent dom, right?

Yeah, no.

What should have happened is Brand, who’s older and more experienced and should fucking know better, explaining everything to Ash with zero ambiguity and easing him in. Which takes time and effort and exploration. NONE of which is exhibited here. Oh no no, the careful valet disappears and he turns into some vague and moody love interest who says one thing while meaning something else. There’s so little communication with regards to their relationship (not beyond the handful of pages where Brand talks about his wants and how this isn’t really a “Dom thing” because chains and collars aren’t involved, which is blatant misinformation). Like, at no point do they discuss whether or not Ash enjoys pain, and to what degree and in what context. Brand just assumes that he does and hurts him, and as it turns out, Ash does like pain and wow, Brand is a mind reader.

Fuck that shit.

Also, I’m heartily sick of romance writers portraying BDSM as this dark and almost dangerous activity that could break a person (and not in a fun way) if they’re not careful. It’s a poor attempt to make these stories “edgy” and all it does is hurt the community in the long run.

The most frustrating part of this is that I actually like McCade’s writing. His previous books have a lot going for them–from careful character development to engaging, lyrical prose–and I feel like if he’d just given himself more time with this one, a lot of the issues could have been avoided.

 

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Title:
Idol Thoughts (H3RO 1)
Author: J.S. Lee
Publisher: Axellia Publishing
Release Date: November 24th, 2018
Genre(s): Romance, Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: Reverse Harem, K-Pop
Page Count: 233 (ebook)

Rating: 3.0/10

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I had one job: get K-Pop group, H3RO, a number one single. Then I had to open my mouth and promise two. It’s only because of a technicality that the Vice Chairman of Atlantis Entertainment, (AKA my demon-spawn-half-brother, Sejin), didn’t terminate their contracts.

Now, more than ever, H3RO need to keep their focus. Tae, Dante, Minhyuk, Nate, Kyun and Jun are idols, working hard to maintain their rising fame. Caught in the public eye with fan meetings, promotions and performances, somehow, no one has noticed their attention is on me.

Even if I wasn’t their manager, I know I need to back away. A dating scandal will end their careers quicker than Sejin. The guilt is eating me up, but I can’t stay away.

And neither can they.

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Idol Thoughts, on the other hand, doesn’t even have the excuse of a self-imposed two week deadline. It’s just bad, period. Badly writing, bad romance, bad execution of an interesting concept.

The only thing going for it is that it’s probably the only reverse harem K-Pop romance written by a Korean author that exists in the western world. That and the fact that Lee put her glossary at the start of the book–something I found sexier than any of the sex scenes in the story. So if those are itches you need scratched, then voila, Idol Thoughts has you covered.

What in the Worldbuilding: Sports in Sci-Fi and Fantasy (Where are they?)

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I’m so, so excited to unveil What in the Worldbuilding, a new blog post series where I’m going to be discussing all things worldbuilding in stories. Because I love stories and I love worldbuilding and I love rambling about them even more.

For the first couple of posts, I’ll be talking about some elements of worldbuilding that, in my opinion, don’t get enough screen/pagetime in SFF media (and see where my brain takes things from there).

And we’re starting with sports. Because this is something that’s always been a mystery to me: how is that these elaborate SFF worlds come with their own ecology and political landscape and four fictional languages with five dialects each, but so rarely feature their own sporting events?

 

Okay, First of all: Sports? Who Cares?

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*Slowly raises hand*

A quick “you didn’t ask for my life story but here it is anyway.” My parents are massive tennis fans and they introduced me into the sport very early, with my dad coaching in the early stages. Same thing with swimming (well, minus the coaching. My dad didn’t fare well in water and I actually ended up teaching him once I got my lifeguard license, which was a nice little pay-it-forward moment). There’s a meditative, cerebral quality to both that’s belied by their physical intensity and that lends to a deep attraction for me.

So I grew up tangled in this hopeless relationship with the two–fueled in part by the fact that I was good at them, but mostly by the fact that I just loved the hell out of them–and they’re as much a part of my identity as books. And crazy enough, I like seeing my real-life passions and experiences represented in media.

But passion isn’t required for one to understand the worldwide significance of sports. And to talk about what sports can bring to a SFF world, I think we need to look at their significance in our world.

 

Sports and Cultural History

Sports can tell us a lot about a culture and its history. Asian martial arts, for example, are rooted in eastern religion and philosophy. I won’t be talking about dancing in this WITW post (that’s for a later one), but it is widely considered to be a sport, and many of the modern forms we see today have their foundations in historical, traditional dances.

Everyone and their grandmother knows Canada bleeds hockey. But curling is just as strong of a national symbol here. Brought into the country by Scottish immigrants, it spread westward as the Canadian Pacific Railway extended its reach and more and more small towns began appearing on the map. So, for us, curling represents long winter months and fledgling communities coming together in solidarity and friendly competition.

The nuances are endless and the inclusion of them in a SFF world can make it so much richer.

 

Sports and Nationalism

Sports is one of the major drivers of national identity and what often unites entire countries together. The Olympics, for example, have become homegrounds for national pride and displays of physical prowess that somehow translates to the overall excellence of a nation. And if we look at the measures that some countries would take, and have taken, in order to stamp and seal their supremacy in these events, it becomes impossible to think of sports as mere forms of entertainment. Authoritarian regimes make use of sports to propagate their ideology in a more palatable way. And even with a democratic country like South Korea there’s an intense nationalistic fervor when it comes to sports, which I often found ugly (because it’s led to mass harassment of athletes) and at odds with the general image of the country .

So many politically-driven stories out there where juggernaut nations vie for power, and so few of them utilize sports as a form of diplomacy and a show of nationalistic strength. That seems strange to me. Whether we like it or not, sports will always be intertwined with politics–its reflection and extension–and I desperately want to see writers use that more.

 


Putting the political implications aside, here’s an undeniable truth:

 

Made-up Sports are Cool

And they become especially cool when they involve magic and future technologies and pieces of a fictional culture. I love brainstorming all the different sports that could exist in a world with a specific magic system (how, for example, Allomancy from Mistborn might translate to a competitive setting), and how they would evolve as the magic evolves.

Also, I’m attracted to the idea that punchy, flashy, dangerous forms of power can be used for more than mass weapons of war. That they can be transformed into something equally physical, but in a more positive and fun setting.

So let’s take a look at some examples of SFF sports in media. Starting with the most famous of them all…

 

Quidditch

My thoughts on J.K. Rowling most days is an intersection of “Oh god, what now” and “Please just stop,” but there’s no denying Harry Potter has become an indelible foundation for modern pop culture and a well of inspiration for many, many writers. Since its inception, magical schools have become a staple of fantasy.

So what surprises me is that the series hasn’t also ushered in a wave of magical sports in fantasy. I mean, Quidditch is such an important part of the HP world. As a bastardization of soccer–sorry, “football”–and other real world sports, it offers familiarity alongside high octane speed and the thrill of microviolence, with an unexpected sweetness to the idea of players protecting teammates from homicidal balls (aka bludgers). It’s brilliantly constructed.

And fans love it so much they turned it into an actual international sport.

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Credit: Scott Audette/Reuters

(Fun fact: I joined my university’s Quidditch club during undergrad and played for a couple of sessions before deciding that running around and inadvertently crashing into people with a stick between my legs was bound to send me to the hospital at some point.)

So why don’t we see more Quidditches in fictional worlds? If there’s room for intricate magic systems and made-up history that goes back thousands of years, surely there’s room for more inventive forms of sports that go beyond gladiatorial combat and racing.

Speaking of which….

 

Racing — Lots and Lots of Racing

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Left to right: Death Rally (Tales from the Borderlands); Chocobo racing (Final Fantasy); Podracing (Star Wars)

Racing is probably the most common one you’ll find in these stories. And with a simple format that allows for such a wide breadth of customization, it’s not hard to see why. Swap a horse with a giant yellow bird, or a car with a small flying vehicle, and you have yourself a made-up sport that’s unique enough to engage and entertain but doesn’t require a lot of meticulous ground-up writing.

Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a somewhat recent sci-fi book that features racing. Via race cars, specifically, which might seem pretty mundane if you don’t count the fact that they require magic to operate.

 

The Gentleman Bastards

I’m going to be talking more about The Gentleman Bastards in future WITW posts because Lynch does a lot of small yet effective things with his worldbuilding that add an incredible amount of depth to the series.

And The Lies of Lock Lamora is the one example I can think of that features sports with regional and class distinction.

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Let’s take the Teeth Show, a gladiatorial sport unique to Camorr in which female fighters, and only female fighters, go head-to-head with leaping sharks. It’s a grisly, gaudy show of acrobatics and power, and while it’s enjoyed by the poor and rich and everyone in between, there’s a distinct middle to upper class flavour to it–aristocrats and merchants watching from their boats, sipping wine and conducting business while the fight plays out in the background. The luxury of partaking in violence without actually partaking in violence.

Then there’s Handball, which is a team sport played by the lower classes of southern Therin. There’s nothing showy or magical about handball (it’s pretty similar to our world’s version), and we never actually see any of the characters playing it, but what I love about it is that it comes with its own little history of origin and an allegory that may or may not be true but still serves as a valuable lesson for the audience (i.e. when it comes to revenge, either have a long memory or don’t procrastinate). That’s what makes it unique to this world.

The teeth show and handball serve three purposes: they add layers to the worldbuilding, they entertain the readers, and, perhaps most importantly, they tie in with the story that is being told, making it richer and more dynamic.

 


So why do sports get overlooked?

Let’s put on our speculation hats, shall we?

Possibility 1: SFF writers aren’t sports fans.

I’ll scribble in a big fat “REJECTED” for this one. The idea that geeks and sports don’t mesh is an outdated one, and I know for a fact that there are writers who are also sports fans. That being said, I’ve yet to meet another SFF nerd who also plays and watches tennis. But statistically speaking they have to be out there somewhere (and I will find you).

 

Possibility 2: SFF writers enjoy sports, but not enough to be comfortable and interested in writing about them.

…Maybe? At least, I’m sure it applies to some writers.

 

Possibility 3: Sports isn’t something people consciously associate with SFF stories

When we see “sci-fi and fantasy,” we immediately think space battles and gods and dragons and political intrigue and quests to save the world. Maybe sports just don’t cross people’s minds. And maybe people feel, especially with linear stories, there just isn’t room to showcase an activity that’s meant to be for recreation and competition. Not when there are life-or-death events brewing around every corner.

 

Possibility 4: Lack of a solid foundation for sports in SFF stories

I don’t know, maybe if Tolkien and Lewis and all those other classic SFF authors had included made-up sports in their stories, we’d see more of them today.

 

Possibility 5: A combination of multiple factors (including the ones above)

Probably a lazy answer but also probably the best of the bunch.

The thing is, I’m really not sure what deters writers from including sports in their worlds. It’s not like I can snap my fingers and pin the problem on societal hangups or prejudices. Sports is…sports. Innocuous (for the most part), exciting, and popular in the real world but not so much in fictional ones, evidently.

And I don’t know about you, but I would really like to see that changed.

 

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What are your thoughts on all this? Also, sneak me your sport-centric SFF recommendations!

Review: All the Bad Apples – Smoky with Old Magic

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Title: All the Bad Apples
Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Release Date: August 1st, 2019 (UK); August 27th (NA)
Genre(s): YA Contemporary, Magical Realism, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Family, Women’s Rights, LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian mc, queer side characters)
Page Count: 319 (hardback)

Rating: 8.5/10

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CW: Rape, homophobia, and a myriad of casual atrocities against women (historical and modern)

When Deena’s wild older sister Mandy goes missing, presumed dead, Deena refuses to believe it’s true. Especially when letters start arriving–letters from Mandy–which proclaim that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions but a curse, handed down to women from generation to generation. Mandy’s gone to find the root of the curse before it’s too late for Deena. But is the curse even real? And is Mandy still alive? Deena’s desperate, cross-country search for her beloved sister–guided only by the notes that mysteriously appear at each destination, leading her to former Magdalene laundry sites and more–is a love letter to women and a heartbreaking cathartic journey.

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“This novel was, in part, fueled by rage”

It’ll be a cold day in hell when I don’t finish a blog tour book at the last minute, it seems, so this is gonna be shorter and less effusive than I want it to be. But don’t let my procrastination take away the fact that I loved this book.

All the Bad Apples checks all my boxes: a road trip to uncover family secrets, a spotlight on women, ancient magic bleeding into the modern, and the use of past tense in a contemporary(ish) YA. It’s also the closest thing to Kali Wallace’s The Memory Trees I’ve read in the past two years, and I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the prose alone makes me want to read everything Fowley-Doyle has written and will ever write in the future (and I’m kicking myself that she hasn’t been on my radar until now). It’s quiet, addicting, and sensual, and it winds through you like a drug. Add to that the atmosphere of it all–curses and storms and the scent of apples moving through the air–and you have a recipe for pure decadence.

The story is contemporary interspersed with magical realism, and the latter are appropriately magical and chilling, but what amazes me is that even the contemporary bits feel textured and rich. So very old and loaded with everything–magic, history, the lives of their ancestors reaching forward to touch them. The book understands that there are places in this world that share a space with the past. Places where the past is so looming and loud that you almost feel it as a physical presence. You move from one rundown location to the next throughout the story, all of them spilling with history, and the author makes sure that you feel the weight of each one. It’s beautifully done.

At the core of it, though, is a poignant story of a teenage girl’s attempt to break a cycle of bigotry and secrets and abuse that left me touched and seething in each equal measure.

“You tell your story and the story of your family. You speak your truth. You shatter the stigma. You hold your head up to the world and speak so that everyone else who was ever like you can recognize themselves. Can see that they aren’t alone. Can see how the past will only keep repeating itself as long as we’re kept powerless by our silence.”

I do wish the second half of the book had been a bit longer, though, and that the events leading up to the end were more drawn out. The follow through on the side characters (minus Deena’s sisters) was also kind of disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all very interesting and had the foundation to be complex characters, and the romance between Deena and Cale (“short-haired punky witch girl,” in Deena’s words) was developing nicely, but their stories get neglected in the last 1/3 of the book, which is a massive shame because I feel like they had so much more to offer.

But those are small complaints.

Ultimately, All the Bad Apples is a book that deserve a place on your shelf. It’s got the atmosphere of a fable and the anger of the best feminist stories that exist in the world, and it’ll leave you with the lingering taste of apples in your mouth.

 

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Website|Goodreads|Twitter|Facebook|Tumblr|Instagram

Moïra Fowley-Doyle is half-French, half-Irish and made of equal parts feminism, whimsy and Doc Martens. She lives in Dublin where she writes magic realism, reads tarot cards and raises witch babies. Moïra’s first novel, The Accident Season, was shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize & the North East Teen Book Awards, nominated for the Carnegie Medal & won the inaugural School Library Association of Ireland Great Reads Award. It received two starred reviews & sold in ten territories. Her second novel, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, was published in summer 2017, received a starred review from School Library Journal and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards.

 

Giveaway (UK/Ireland)

You can win 1 of 3 copies of All the Bad Apples HERE.

 

Tour Schedule

Check out all the other stops on this tour HERE.

Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently it Needs to Be Said)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Originally I wasn’t going to write an entire post about this because I don’t like voluntarily courting drama (unless it involves someone coming after a person I care about. Then I start sharpening knives), but the more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. So I’m just gonna get it all out into the open.

I was browsing through my feed early last week and clicked on a Wilder Girls review from a relatively new blogger I’ve been following. At first I thought it to be a really well-written post, and I was nodding along with a lot of their points.

But then I came cross a passage that looked eerily familiar:

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See, here’s what I wrote in my Wilder Girls review:

The main characters are a bit of a hit and miss. Power describes the girls’ relationships beautifully, and I really appreciate that she took the time to explore intense friendships and romantic love and the idea that there’s room for both in your life. I also love the fact that all of these characters are allowed to be selfish and mean–not because they’re terrible people but because their circumstances aren’t kind and there’s only so much kindness you can dredge up when it feels like your life is teetering on a knife’s edge. Forever give me all the flawed female characters who aren’t always nice.

 

Huh. Okay. So they took my sentence and reworded it slightly. Kind of sucks, but it’s nothing to lose my head over.

And then came this paragraph:

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And here’s my corresponding one:

…And I really wish I can end this review here. I really do.

But I got to talk about that ending.

This is where things go off the rails for me. And I’m trying to purge it from my brain because just thinking about it ruins the experience I had with the rest of the book. From Hetty’s actions and how it wraps things up with the other characters, to the very sudden, very shoddy explanation for the Tox, the ending is the equivalent of strolling along a creek, tripping on a rock, twisting my ankle, and landing face-first into water that’s filled with piranhas–painfully unexpected, makes zero sense (because piranhas in Canada, what?) and puts an abrupt end to what was turning out to be a nice afternoon walk. It tried to go with a scientific route, in which case the explanation should have been doled out in small pieces over the course of the story instead of just dumping it onto your lap at the end. It’s almost as if the author wasn’t sure how to close things off, so she just went with an explanation that’s popular and topical (spoiler: climate change), and it feels so incredibly tacked-on. I’d rather have had no explanation than the ones we got. As for the ending it gives to the characters, it’s one with zero emotional payoff.

Oh boy.

What really gets me is that they took my dumb little scenario of falling into a piranha-infested creek and changed it to crocodiles. It’s just so ridiculously blatant.

So I wrote them a comment, talking about how their plagiarism is kind of hurtful, and could they remove the passages in question, please and thank you. In response, they got rid of the crocodile sentence, left everything else intact, and deleted my comment, all the while holding radio silence.

Which made me feel really fucking great.

I don’t mind people using my reviews as a kind of a guideline for what they should talk about in their own posts. But this? This is straight up copy-pasting. And aside from the obvious “plagiarizing other people’s content is a breach of ethics” issue, it also calls into question the originality of all their past and future reviews.

I guess one could make the argument that ultimately it’s just a book review. But I could also take that sentiment and lob it back, ask why you’d go to the trouble of making someone feel shitty just for the sake of a book review. I don’t think my blog posts are deserving of literary awards (hell, I don’t even like my reviews half the time), but they’re still mine, and I hold a modicum of pride for them.

So I’m not writing this to be all, “How DARE they steal and tarnish this masterpiece.” I’m writing it because most of the time this community is wonderful and supportive, and we as a bloggers do a lot of work for very little, and all we ask from each other in return is at least a semblance of respect. I don’t think that’s that difficult of a bar to reach. And yet.

Your reviews don’t have to be the best (because what does that even mean?) They don’t have to be funny. They don’t have to be inspiring. They just have to be yours.

So. Plagiarism.

Don’t do it.

 

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Well, enough of that. Moving onto more fun things!

 

Etsy Store

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about my plans for selling This is How You Lose the Time War prints, because the authors and a couple of other people have been asking about them (which is incredible and humbling).

And I’m happy to announce that my Etsy store is LIVE and you can order your very own time traveling gay birds!

http://www.etsy.com/listing/714417854/this-is-how-you-lose-the-time-war

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Books to Read (feat. cover porn)

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I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this past week, and I’m still chugging away at Crier’s War and The Ventriloquists.

I’ve also started The Ten Thousand Doors of January and All the Bad Apples (about a girl who goes searching for her missing older sister). And so far I’m utterly charmed by the prose of TTTDOI as I am by its cover.

 

Five Reasons Why You Need to Read Desdemona and the Deep

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Title: Desdemona and the Deep
Author: C.S.E. Cooney
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: July 23rd, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Fae, LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian mc, trans side character)
Page Count: 224 (ebook)

Rating: 9.5/10

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In Desdemona and the Deep, the spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below. On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

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My god, what an absolute treasure trove this book is.

I’m a little review-weary at the moment and don’t feel like doing elaborate paragraph transitions, so I’ve made this into a “X Reasons Why” post!

 

1. The Prose

The prose, guys. The prose. If you want to see blushing described as “double roses of reverence and rapacious cupidity,” then you’re in for a treat because that’s the whole book. Rich, charismatic, whimsical, and the very definition of purple, the words melt hot in your brain and on your tongue. It’s been a while since I had this much fun with language.

 

2. A Larger-than-Life Protagonist

Desdemona is one of my favourite characters I’ve encountered this year, and hands-down my favourite female protagonist of 2019.

The thing is, she starts out as a pretty shitty person–rich and spoiled, with a dismissive let-them-eat-cake attitude. My definitive “Oh, I really don’t like you” moment was when she mentioned how she enjoys collecting art and artists, not because she cares for them, but because they make her feel prestigious and wanted.

But she grows over the course of the story, as did my opinion of her. Because despite being a prissy heiress, she’s also fun, and stubborn as heck, and her relationship with her best friend Chaz is endearing from the start (they are a magnificent duo). And she’s not some hapless heroine who inadvertently stumbles into another world. Oh no no, Desdemona will march up to the threshold of worlds and obnoxiously demand that they let her in.

There’s really no box you can shove her into, and I love that so much.

 

3. The Worldbuilding

Three worlds exist in this story. Athe for mortals; Valwode for the gentry (a mishmash of fae-adjacent creatures); and Bana, the kingdom of goblins.

If I were to sit here and write out everything I love about the worldbuilding, I’d be siting here typing out the entire book for you. So trust me when I say that it’s incredible. There are details that left me grinning and wanting to roll around in its richness. Like the notion that the fae are as affected by human art as humans are by fae magic. So things like poetry become a weapon and a shield in Valwode.

But my favourite part? How, despite all the beauty, the story doesn’t let you forget that magic has fangs. That these worlds aren’t just about glitter and gold, and their brutality goes hand in hand with beauty. There’s an almost alien quality to it that you don’t fully understand, but one you’re drawn to regardless. And those are the fae stories I want.

 

4. Themes of Justice and Art Prevailing in Darkness

This is a story about a mortal who ventures into another realm for a rescue mission. And usually, with those types of stories, the object of said rescue is a loved one–a spouse, a sibling, a child. Here, it’s not a rescue mission for the heart, but a mission to right a wrong. Because Desdemona was party to an injustice she initially ignored, and she wants to fix that. That to me is incredibly refreshing.

And from there we see the class struggles of the mortal realm (a kind of an alternate early 19th century Europe) being echoed in the magical realms, the idea that compromises exist, and Desdemona giving life back to the women who had it taken from them.

 

5. Just the Utter Joy of It All

Everything about this story, from the language to the characters to the worldbuilding is gaudy in the best way. It’s ostentatious, it’s heartfelt, it’s beautiful, and most importantly, it’s entertaining. You turn your head and you find something new and even more wondrous and strange than the last.

This book made me incredibly happy during a time when I desperately needed to feel happy, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

So, please, PLEASE. Give your brain a treat it sorely deserves. Go pick this up.

 

Blog Tour Review: Rotherweird – Plenty of Weird, Not a Lot of Enjoyment

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Title: Rotherweird
Author: Andrew Caldecott
Publisher: Quercus (US)
Release Date: June 9th, 2019
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Alternate History
Page Count: 456 (hardback)

Rating: DNF @ ~50%

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1558: Twelve children, gifted far beyond their years, are banished by their Tudor queen to the town of Rotherweird. Some say they are the golden generation; some say the devil’s spawn. But everyone knows they are something to be revered – and feared. Four and a half centuries on, cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I and still bound by its ancient laws, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history. Then an Outsider arrives, a man of unparallelled wealth and power, enough to buy the whole of Rotherweird – deeply buried secrets and all . . . Welcome to Rotherweird.

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Oh boy. I tried really hard with this because I’d never DNFed a blog tour book before and the idea made me feel incredibly guilty. So I pushed myself to the halfway mark before throwing in the towel. Here’s the way I’m trying to look at it. The book clearly isn’t for me, and an extra 200+ pages probably isn’t going to change that. And if I keep reading, it’ll forever be embedded in my brain as not only “that book I disliked,” but also, “that book I disliked and was forced to finish.” And that’s a badge of resentment I don’t think the book deserves.

Well, enough assuaging my conscience. Let’s get to why Rotherweird didn’t work.

I think you’ll have to enjoy a particular writing style to get into the book–scholarly, with dense descriptions that are far too dry for my tastes. There are definitely sections where the story benefits from the prose, adding to the richness of Rotherweird and its inhabitants, but for the most part they pile up into a thick wall of Too Much, and I found myself glazing over a lot of it.

As for the characters, they’re varied and quirky but in a very distant, sterile kind of way. There are also far too many of them, and none are distinct enough for me to become invested in their story.

The plot has to be my biggest gripe, though. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m just an idiot. But when it comes to books that have complex, criss-crossing plotlines, I prefer the ones that are more…accessible. The ones that cordially invite you to partake in their mystery. Because that’s what stories are–a conversation between the reader and the writer. But when a plot becomes too convoluted, too inaccessible, and you lose the readers in the process, the story starts morphing into a monologue, and no one wants that. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens here.

Overall, the premise of the book is fantastic and it’s got individual elements here and there that I liked, but none of that gelled together into a story that I could enjoy.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday Chatter: Pride Parade and Death By TBR

(Pride Parade and Death By TBR performing at your nearest city. Get your tickets now!)

A bit of a late post today because we had our Pride Parade here in Vancouver yesterday and I stayed out really late walking, eating, melting, and dancing–not necessarily in that order. There were some controversies surrounding the parade this year because both the Vancouver library and the University of British Columbia (deservedly) got banned from the event for hosting two different transphobic speakers (because something something freedom of speech). And some have been arguing against the decision, saying that politics should be uncoupled from Pride, which…I’m not sure whether to laugh or rage at? Pride is politics, people.

Other than that, though, it was a TON of fun as usual, and a much needed break from all the heavy events that have been headlining my life this past couple of months.

Also, happy civic holiday to all my fellow Canadians! I’ll be going out to the ocean with a friend in like…fifteen minutes. So let’s see how fast I can write the rest of this thing. 😛

 

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This Week – Books

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Wicked Fox by Kat Cho:
THIS IS IT, GUYS. I’m finally reading this. This is the first (English) fantasy book set in South Korea with Korean mythology with Korean characters that I’ve held in my hands, and I can’t even begin to explain what that means to me. It’s a monumental occasion and I feel like I should be lighting candles and making offerings or something. Tears are definitely on the menu.

Also, two chapters in and we get to see characters playing StarCraft at a PC bang. YES. YES. YESSSSSS. (My only criticism so far = the writing style. But I’ll get to that in the actual review)

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry:
Inkheart but for adults, starring two brothers. So far I really dislike Rob, the older, more normal brother of the two, and also the narrator of the story. But that’s not at all a bad thing because I like seeing what writers do with unlikable characters.

Crier’s War by Nina Varela:
I’m part of the blog tour in September and I selected the review + fanart option, so I want to get a head start on it. I’m not super far into it so I can’t say much, but I’m definitely not unhappy with what I’m seeing.

 

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  • The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor:
    I’m really excited for this one. It’s a WW2 book about a Belgium resistance newsprint that turns Nazi propaganda into satire, and it’s being blurbed as a WW2 Ocean’s Eleven. Also, because I haven’t seen people talk about the representation in this book and I had to find out from an article on Lambda Literary, I’d just like to mention that FYI, the story is prominently queer.

 


Recent Games

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So I’m almost close to finishing a game called Outer Wilds (currently only available on Xbox One and Epic Games). There’s a bit of controversy surrounding it because it was initially sold as a Steam game to the backers on Kickstarter, and people were understandably pissed that the devs reneged on their promise and decided to release it on Epic Games first. And I have thoughts on Epic Games that are mostly…not positive, but here’s one thing I can’t deny: Outer Wilds is an incredible game.

You play an alien astronaut exploring the reaches of the solar system, trying to uncover the secrets of an ancient civilization. It’s an unexpectedly deep and beautiful narrative hidden behind a really quirky, cartoony art design, and I adore what it says about walking through life with curiosity in your heart.

Seriously, go play it. I’m obsessed with its world and I promise you will be too.

 

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And now I’m off! What are your plans for this week?