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I recently happened across a discussion of the old "Appendix N" from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, published in 1979. The appendix is a list of recommended reading from Gary Gygax, particularly books that inspired the game. I realized that while some of the inclusions on the list are authors I cut my fantasy teeth on (Norton, Tolkien), others I've never read, and still others I wonder about holding up to my current taste for fantasy.



I tried to create a checklist from one of the various list internet sites already populated with books, and many of these titles weren't included--which may say something about their lifespan. Barring a handy checklist, here's the listing.
  • Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
  • Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
  • Brackett, Leigh
  • Brown, Frederic
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Pellucidar" series; Mars series; Venus series
  • Carter, Lin: "World's End" series
  • de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al
  • de Camp & Pratt: "Harold Shea" series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
  • Derleth, August
  • Dunsany, Lord
  • Farmer, P. J.: "The World of the Tiers" series; et al
  • Fox, Gardner: "Kothar" series; "Kyrik" series; et al
  • Howard, R. E.: "Conan" series
  • Lanier, Sterling: HIERO'S JOURNEY
  • Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series; et al
  • Lovecraft, H. P.
  • Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al
  • Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" series (esp. the first three books)
  • Norton, Andre
  • Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
  • Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
  • Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
  • St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
  • Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; "Ring trilogy"
  • Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al
  • Weinbaum, Stanley
  • Wellman, Manley Wade
  • Williamson, Jack
  • Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" series; et al
How many have you read? How many of those would you still recommend? What books would you recommend in their places?

I think one of the series that most heavily impacted my D&D style of play was definitely Tamora Pierce's "Lioness Quartet." Possibly also Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons and Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. I'd include those on any list of recommended fantasy for role playing gamers.
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Reminder: Tomorrow's guest blog is Alayna Williams, who will have a contest along with her post. Pop back by!

--

David Weber (who I've mentioned here before) writes the "Safehold" series, a really excellent set of books (if the first is a representative example) that poses all sorts of questions about religion, faith, gender identity, technology, politics, and the nature of men and kings. It's science fiction, but it feels like high fantasy, in no small part due to the Arthuriana that gets wrapped in. There's a lot to talk about in Off Armageddon Reef, the first novel, alone, and I have a feeling if I were still in college, I'd probably try to see how the book could get worked into a paper. But as I'm a blogger, my musings here are pretty off-the-cuff, far less formal, and deal with just one aspect of the book (until something else comes up that sparks my bloggerly interest).

So I've picked just one thing I've been thinking about as we've been reading the novel (as I mentioned, this is our current family read-aloud at Casa Abbott) to discuss in this entry. The main character of the novel is, arguably, Merlin Athrawes. To give a brief explanation (instead of the detailed one), Merlin is effectively a robot in the pass-for-a-human style who contains the personality and memories of a now-deceased biological human. That human was Nimue Alban. Nimue, as the name would imply, is a female, and in order to be able to accomplish her mission on Safehold, Nimue-as-a-robot took on the role of Merlin, a male (whose form the robot's hardware does, in fact, make anatomically accurate). In many ways, Merlin and Nimue are the same – only Merlin can't think of himself as Nimue (despite remembering to be her, and having her sexual preference, for example). In order to believe that he is who he says he is – who he's become – he has to think of himself as Merlin.

And yet, Nimue is still relevant to the story, because it's Nimue's mission that Merlin is enacting. The circle this forms in the narrative is brilliantly done, and the gender work is really interesting. Nimue was a soldier – a tactics officer – and someone who studied military history and kendo. She has a lot of knowledge that might be considered traditionally in the masculine interest range – and those references crop up in the way she thinks, both as herself and as Merlin. Nimue was also a woman of faith, and that aspect of her personality – and her seeking to redeem the truth – provides as much frame of reference as her military background. As Merlin, she's emotionally attached to the people she's become friends with, even as she knows she has to use them to accomplish her own mission – which she believes is to their betterment as well. So, even while she's Merlin, thinking of herself as male and interacting with the world as a male character, her frame of reference is from her former, female personality.

We talk a lot about "men with boobs" as a female archetype in a lot of SF/F, and I think Nimue is a brilliant example of how not to write a man with boobs type character. Even while she's interacting with the world as her male persona – and sometimes it's easy to just think of Merlin as Merlin, without thinking of him as Nimue – that female identity is providing the framework within which the male persona works. But there's also a potentially interesting comment lurking here – one that got covered in real life by Norah Vincent in her research for her book Self Made Man, and is a trope of those great hero journeys I grew up with in Tamora Pierce's "Song of the Lioness" books. Nimue Alban is easily able to pass for male. Granted, she has what are considered a male skill set and knowledge, in the world of the novel, and she has the advantage of being able to actually have a male body, courtesy of the robot's hardware. But there's never any question, from any of the characters (who do question other aspects of her abilities and knowledge) that she's a man. To me, that says something very interesting about assigned gender identity – that it's more a way of interacting with the world, and of the role that other people expect you to take on, than it is about anatomy, or even personality.

I don't know if I think that's true, but I do think it's an interesting way to present the idea, and I'm having fun pondering it.
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It was a wacky week, with Bug's baptism this past Sunday. The ceremony involved the baptism gown that I wore when I was a baby, and my sister wore when she was a baby, and now my daughter has also worn. It also involved the christening bowl from Twostripe's side of the family, which has been used now over the course of three centuries, with the first baptism taking place in, I believe, the 1880s. Three adults were also baptized in the same service, and all of the candidates had water poured over their heads with sea shells. It was quite lovely.

The biggest joy for me was having my family out to visit from Michigan/Chicagoland. They visited for nearly a week, and it was great to have them. It did impact my ability to get writing done, of course, so there's not much to report for KSC this week.

I do have some sooper sekrit news, though, which I'm hoping to announce soon. I never get to be the writer with sooper sekrit news, so it's totally exciting to post that! One hint: it involves pictures. Vague enough?

But here's the reason for my post today: there's a fantasy cage match going on that features two awesome duos: Alanna of Tortall vs. Meliara of Tlanth/Remalna and Aerin from The Blue Sword vs. Astrid from Rampant. Man, talk about tough choices between heroines I admire! Go visit and see the other duels -- and vote!

Edit: Just found out that Aerin was withdrawn from the competition by the author. Congrats to Astrid (whose author is [livejournal.com profile] dpeterfreund) on the default progression. (I'm assuming y'all know that Alanna's author is [livejournal.com profile] tammypierce and Mel's author is [livejournal.com profile] sartorias.)
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I'm paging through all the e-mail in my inbox that can't just be archived and realizing that I've been keeping some of it around to post here in a link soup edition. Things are looking up, as far as finally getting caught up is concerned, but I'm taking it easy, because I think everyone needs a day or two, now and again, to just breathe.

On to the links!


  • I did an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith ([livejournal.com profile] cynleitichsmith) about the autobiographies project. It's at her lj and associated other places (like her main blog) that she syndicates to. I hope you enjoy reading about the project as much as I enjoy talking about it!

  • Egyptian author Marwa Rakha, whom I met over at SheWrites, has uploaded a new English edition of her novel, which she's released independently due to troubles with Egyptian publishers. She's giving it away for free, so if you're interested in Egyptian fiction, check it out!

  • The big Baeg Tobar relaunch is scheduled for October 2nd. I'm really excited to see the stories that I've been working on come into existence in a public sphere -- along with tales by Max Gladstone ([livejournal.com profile] lyster) and Daniel Tyler Gooden, among others. The art work previews are, as I expect from the BT artists, stunning, and I'm excited to see the project up and alive again.

  • [livejournal.com profile] cinda_cite did a great entry about how books you're reading influence each other by proximity, mentioning her contest win from here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything. I've not had the time to actually comment on it over there, but I hope you'll pop over to read it.

  • C. E. Murphy also had a great blog post up recently about how she never noticed a lack of women in fantasy, which I think is a nice counterpoint to all the discussions about how strong women aren't present in the genre. Like Murphy, I've always been able to find strong female heroes in my fantasy novels, but I acknowledge that this is because I grew up in the era of Alanna the Lioness, Lady Aerin, and Harry Crew. In younger books, there was almost always a mix of girls and boys as heroes (Narnia, Edward Eager's novels, etc.), and by the time I was reading YA fantasy (still a new genre), there were scores of girls taking on traditional boy roles to be their own heroes. This isn't to say that there isn't a lack of women heroes, written by men, in epic fantasy (which seems to be part of the argument), but that I find Murphy's perspective on the thing refreshing, and pretty reflective of my own experience. (She doesn't mention Robert Jordan's women, who are politically the power of the world [and include some admirable heroines, despite the weird love trinity that forms around the central hero], nor Brandon Sanderson's ([livejournal.com profile] mistborn's) women, who show up as capable, independent heroines with as much meat as his men [at least in what I've read so far -- he has books out I haven't had the chance to read yet]. I think the gender work of those two epic fantasy writers are at least worth noting.)



Now, off to convince the day that I've begun, and to prepare for my pre-natal exercise class in New Haven. I've been itching for some new Nalini Singh, and she's among the authors featured in Must Love Hellhounds (as is Ilona Andrews/[livejournal.com profile] ilona_andrews, who I'm always glad to have more fiction from), so I may stop at the B&N downtown and pick up a copy, to further encourage relaxing alongside catching up. :)
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First off, there are just a ton of great author interviews out there this week. Tiffany Trent is all over the blogosphere this week (she'll be here on Friday), and has the listing of her events here, along with information about a contest that none of you are allowed to enter, as I want the prize. So there. (Just kidding. Definitely go visit her blog and read the interviews.)

Ilona Andrews ([livejournal.com profile] ilona_andrews) has an interview up on Nalini Singh's blogspot page. There, you will learn the secret of her duplicitous identity! (It is also readily available on her website, but I hadn't visited before today, so I didn't know!)

But now, for something completely different. Browncoat Jessica posted a fun meme over on her blog that I am going to completely change to suit my own purposes. (You are, of course, quite welcome to take my version and spread it around, or go use her original.)

If I were to invite ten fictional characters over to dinner, they would be*:

1) The unnamed bard from Jane Yolen's "Liavek" short stories, because rarely have I had the pleasure of hearing tales from such an endearing voice.
2) Schmendrick the Magician from The Last Unicorn, because I suspect he is as good a listener as he is a contributor, and I also would wager that he likes his food. (But he probably does not like *good* food as much as Vlad Taltos from Steven Brust's series, whom I would be afraid of offending by not offering appropriate courses.)
3) Ilona from the "Hallowmere" books (thus far by Tiffany Trent, though she'll be written by another writer shortly as well), because though I suspect she'd be a shy guest, anything she had to add to the conversation would be worth hearing.
4) Lissy James from Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, because I wouldn't want Ilona to be the only teen at the table, and I imagine that Lissy's power could do wonders for making sure all the guests got along.
5) Warbeak from Redwall by Brian Jacques, although I'd get her her own bird feeder or berries a little to one side, as the Sparra are not known for eating politely.
6 & 7) Shevraeth and Meliara from Crown Duel (and other titles) by Sherwood Smith. Though I doubt my ability to serve up a meal fit for royals, I'm so very fond of both of them that I hope they'd excuse my rather humble provisions.
8) Princess Cimmorene from Dealing with Dragons (and others) by Patricia C. Wrede, because as long as I'm inviting my favorite royalty, why stop?
9) Alanna of Tortall (from a variety of Tamora Pierce's novels), because she has always been first among lady knights in my mind, and because Ilona from "Hallowmere" would, I suspect, enjoy her company.
10) Shepherd Book from Firefly, because someone really ought to say the grace.

I would consider inviting Bilbo Baggins, but everyone knows how hard it is to keep hobbits well fed....

Others who didn't get invited to dinner this time around but are worth mentioning:

I would love to see Eowyn (Lord of the Rings), Cat Crawfield (Halfway to the Grave), and Kate Daniels (Magic Bites) spar.

--

*Disclaimer: If I were given this exercise tomorrow, it might change as I thought of other characters I'd love to have over to dinner. In fact, at 3 a.m., I'll probably wake up, feeling bad that I didn't "invite" someone. But in this moment, that list is absolutely accurate. ;)
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On the trip home, I finally finished Depths of Madness by Erik Scott de Bie ([livejournal.com profile] eriksdb). This novel was far less linear than his previous book, Ghostwalker, and had a lot more character development--in sort of an odd way. Only one of the main characters who shares the story from his/her POV continues to be a main character right through the very end. The whole story, being about madness, keeps reality spinning from the very beginning. Is any of it really happening? If it is, who's the spy among the group? Even as the story ended, I wasn't sure if the villain would twist into a different identity, leaving one of our heroes innocent after all. The novel is extremely creepy, darker than a lot of the sword and sorcery novels in the Forgotten Realms line, and sets up the potential for more stories with the main character--an incredibly bitchy, independent anti-hero who is utterly likable despite her flaws (perhaps because of them).

I've mentioned here a couple of times that I've been reading this novel, and to tell the truth, it took me awhile to get into the story--not due to any real fault of de Bie's, but because there were so many references to Forgotten Realms gods, places, and words that I had no connection to (I'm not a big Realms reader, as I decided ages ago that there was no hope of my ever catching up; I've enjoyed Douglas Niles, a chunk of R. A. Salvatore, and a little Ed Greenwood, but they're the only ones besides de Bie that I read). Realms fans will have no trouble keeping up, but I struggled with figuring out why some things that were said were cause for contention inside the group.

Overall, if you enjoy fantasy with a healthy does of creepy, a non-linear plot, mixed with a little bit of mystery as you second guess what's going along right along with the characters, definitely pick up Depths of Madness. Particularly if you're already a Forgotten Realms reader.

--

Upon arriving home, I finished Senrid, which I started before I left but didn't pack, as I didn't have room for another hard cover. When I started the novel, I was worried that I wasn't going to like it--an emotion I hated because I've always enjoyed Sherwood Smith's ([livejournal.com profile] sartorias) writing so much! As stated on the back of the novel, Senrid was written when Smith was only fifteen, so it lacks the polish of her later works (despite its being published more recently). Unlike Crown Duel and Inda (and even in her online novel Shevraeth at Marloven Hess), magic is far more powerful and accessible in Senrid. Several of the main characters come from other worlds--a detail that no one seems to think is unusual. Of the other worldly characters, several are actually from Earth, instantly putting the novel in the category of "earth kids have adventures in fantasy worlds," something I hadn't been prepared for when I picked up the book. But as my brain adjusted to the ideas, the way the world worked during this time, and the idea that this story in fact happened in the middle of several other tales, I was able to suspend my disbelief in a way that hadn't been required of me by Smith's other books.

After I left, having read half of the book, I kept thinking about it. What was Senrid doing while I was away? Would we meet Sartora in this book? Was Kitty the simpering little girl she seemed to be, or would she actually develop a spine? The more I returned to the story in my head, the more I was desperate to read the novel when I got home. When I arrived home, I eagerly snatched it up and read the rest of the story, watching Senrid's conversion from outright villain to anti-hero to something approaching an actual, kingly hero.

The quote on the back of the book, explaining that Senrid is a peek into Smith's imagination as a teen, is spot on. Taking it in that frame of mind and accepting that yes, there are Earth teens involved, the novel is absolutely wonderful. I would recommend it to the "Redwall" crowd, anyone who enjoyed Smith's "Wren" books, and readers who have grown out of the Narnia books but don't yet read more sophisticated books like Smith's Crown Duel or any of Tamora Pierce's series. I'd also recommend it to anyone who has read the other works set in the world, with the warning that despite its label as YA, it's more of a novel for children than young adults. Had I known all of that, I would never have had to worry about not liking it--I'd have loved it from the first page.

Now, of course, I'm desperate for more. When was Senrid a captive of the Norsundarians? When did he meet Sartora? There are gaps in my understanding of the world, so I hope that Senrid does well enough that we'll see the other texts from Smith's teen writing years to fill out the holes.

--

I watched two movies on the flight home: Eragon, which I'd missed in theaters, and Music and Lyrics, which I don't really have anyone to watch with me, as my chick-flick buddies live in California and Boston. There's really only one way for me to describe Eragon: OAV. As explained to me, and OAV is an anime that is designed just so that fans of a manga can see their favorite characters animated. It's fine to leave huge gaps in the plot, because everyone already knows what's going to happen, and it's just the novelty of their favorite characters moving that keeps people watching.

Eragon the movie stripped the Eragon story of everything that made it interesting to me as a reader. This is not in any way the fault of the actors, who I thought were quite good. Jeremy Irons was great, and the new actor playing Eragon did a nice job with the script he was handed. The script, however--ugh. Part of what makes Eragon (the book) interesting is that Paolini plays with the idea of consciousness and makes Saphira, the dragon, feel qualitatively different than her human companions, just by the way she thinks and talks. The other part that I remember being extremely appealing to me is that Eragon questions whether he's doing the right thing by going to the Varden. Only a very little bit of that moral quandary comes across--it's mostly swept by in the effort to show more special effects. Angela, one of the most intriguing characters in the novel, is completely ruined.

General assessment? If you can see it for free and have three hours of your life that you don't have to spend on anything else, sure, go ahead and watch it. It worked for me, and it was at least diverting if not enjoyable.

Lyrics and Music, on the other hand, had me in stitches. I think it's one of the best romantic comedies I've ever seen. Drew Barrymore, who I usually don't much care for, is stellar in her performance of a completely nutty writer. The commentary on the music industry (both in the eighties and now) is hysterical, as is the use of things like VH1's Pop up Video. It's a movie I think Shanna Swendson ([livejournal.com profile] shanna_s) would approve of, and as she's had some rather harsh criticism of the romantic comedy industry as of late, I think that's probably a good sign.
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When I was in late grade school, I made the discovery of the young adult section at my local library, in good part due to Marilyn Butjer, the wonderful children's librarian, and Tamora Pierce. (Alanna: The First Adventure was shelved in the children's room; the rest of the series were rightfully shelved in young adult.)

Of the series that I discovered in YA, two disappeared for awhile and have miraculously made it back into print, much to my delight. The first are Christopher Stasheff's "Warlock" books (his "Wizard" series--which happens after the "Warlock" series--never went out of print, though the first half vanished for nearly a decade). The second books were the "Wren" series by Sherwood Smith. After trying to hunt them out in college and being told they no longer existed, I was delighted back in, oh, 2002, when they suddenly reappeared on the shelves at the Barnes and Noble where I worked. Alongside them appeared a book called Crown Duel.

Whether or not I read Crown Duel when I was, myself, a YA, I don't remember, but after having just reread it again this weekend, I can safely say that it has become one of my favorite books. (I haven't done a top ten list of my favorites in awhile, so I'm not sure where it would score, but it has climbed higher since last count.) One of the things that makes the book rank so highly is exactly what Smith had worried would make the book unsaleable: the prickliness of the narrator. Mel is a real heroine for her bravery and her stubbornness, but that same quality that serves her so well when facing her adversaries makes it difficult for her to change her mind--to realize that what she had long believed isn't necessarily true. It's exactly that resistance to change that makes her so appealing to me, because it makes her feel so honest to me. She's far from perfect; she acknowledges her faults (sometimes abusing herself a bit much over them) and is her own harshest critic.

It also features one of my favorite romances in YA literature. (It ranks alongside The Perilous Gard. These aren't primarily books about romance, but the romantic element is one I keenly feel, in part because the heroines don't think of themselves as possible objects of affection, which is how I felt into my teenage years.)

After finishing, I did what I normally do when I remember a YA book that I feel we should have in the local library--looked it up and e-mailed the youth services librarian. Doing a little extra research, I discovered that Smith has a grown-up book out! Set in the same world as Crown Duel, Inda is an adult fantasy novel that came out sometime late last year; the sequel, The Fox, is due out in August. I also discovered that Smith is on live journal. (Ha ha! Another famous author enters "famous author cafe," where I can overhear her innermost thoughts and feelings, so long as she publishes them.)

All this is largely to say, if you haven't read Sherwood Smith, put her on your reading list. (You can also find her at [livejournal.com profile] sartorias.)

--

Doesn't it just figure that after finally getting caught up reading lj, I've fallen behind again? This time I blame my knee--I tore a ligament doing tae bo (cheesy, I know) so now I'm in a brace for a week. It's hard to ice the leg and read all my industry news online at the same time, so the former has won out over the latter. Alas; I'll just have to catch up all over again.
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Philip Pullman: This is where editors come in. Their function is to snatch the book from you and run away quickly!
Tamora Pierce: Yes, and then to come back and say, "Okay, here's what you were doing." And you're sitting there: Wow. I'm smarter than I thought.
-Powells.com interview

Edit: Here's the link. http://www.powells.com/authors/paolini.html. It's from an interview called "Philip Pullman, Tamora Pierce, and Christopher Paolini Talk Fantasy Fiction."

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Alana Joli Abbott

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