The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week, I bought 2 books from my wishlist (or, rather, convinced my husband to buy them when he told me he was ordering something online that required spending more money to order) and received 3 more books in the mail.

It’s been a busy week so I didn’t quite finish the book review I was working on last week. However, I hope to finish it soon and put it up this week!

Now, for this week’s books!

Obsidian & Blood by Aliette de Bodard

Obsidian & Blood: The Collected Acatl Novels by Aliette de Bodard

When I read this year’s Hugo nominated novellas, novelettes, and short stories, I read Aliette de Bodard’s writing for the first time and loved it. I’ve been interested in reading the first book in her Obsidian and Blood trilogy for awhile, and reading her short story “Immersion” and novella On a Red Station, Drifting convinced me to buy the omnibus edition containing her entire fantasy trilogy:

  1. Servant of the Underworld (Read an Excerpt)
  2. Harbinger of the Storm
  3. Master of the House of Darts

It’s available in ebook and gargantuan trade paperback (about 1,000 pages long).

 

A massive fantasy omnibus containing all three novels in the Obsidian and Blood series:

SERVANT OF THE UNDERWORLD
Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

HARBINGER OF THE STORM
The year is Two House and the Mexica Empire teeters on the brink of destruction, lying vulnerable to the flesh-eating star-demons – and to the return of their creator, a malevolent goddess only held in check by the Protector God’s power. The council is convening to choose a new emperor, but when a councilman is found dead, only Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, can solve the mystery.

MASTER OF THE HOUSE OF DARTS
The year is Three Rabbit, and the storm is coming…
The coronation war for the new Emperor has just ended in a failure, the armies retreating with a mere forty prisoners of war – not near enough sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods. When one of those prisoners of war dies of a magical illness, ACATL, High Priest for the Dead, is summoned to investigate.

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

This is actually historical fiction, not speculative fiction, but I’ve been interested in reading more historical fiction lately and I’ve heard this debut novel about Empress Theodora is wonderful. It came out earlier this year and is available in trade paperback and ebook, and the first few pages from The Secret History can be read online.

(As an aside, what are some of your favorite historical fiction books?)

 

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke

The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke

This award-winning science fiction novel by German science fiction writer and editor Wolfgang Jeschke will be available in English for the first time on October 15 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from The Cusanus Game can be read at Tor.com.

 

Biologist Domenica Ligrina fears her planet is dying. She might be right.

An atomic disaster in Germany has contaminated Northern Europe with radioactivity. Economic and political calamities are destroying the whole planet. Human DNA is mutating, plant species are going extinct, and scientists are feverishly working on possible solutions. It becomes increasingly apparent that the key to future salvation lies in the past. In 2052 a secret research facility in the Vatican is recruiting scientists for a mission to restore the flora of the irradiated territories. The institute claims to have time travel. When Domenica’s sometime-lover tells her that he knows her future but that she must decide her own fate, she enlists despite his ambiguous warning.

The Middle Ages hold Domenica spellbound. She immerses herself in the mysteries, puzzles, and peculiarities of a culture foreign to her, though she risks changing the past with effects far more disastrous than radiation poisoning. Perhaps there is more than one Domenica, and more than one catastrophe.

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

This young adult novel was just released on October 3 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). A brief excerpt from Man Made Boy is available on the publisher’s website.

 

Love can be a real monster.

Sixteen-year-old Boy’s never left home. When you’re the son of Frankenstein’s monster and the Bride, it’s tough to go out in public, unless you want to draw the attention of a torch-wielding mob. And since Boy and his family live in a secret enclave of monsters hidden under Times Square, it’s important they maintain a low profile.

Boy’s only interactions with the world are through the Internet, where he’s a hacker extraordinaire who can hide his hulking body and stitched-together face behind a layer of code. When conflict erupts at home, Boy runs away and embarks on a cross-country road trip with the granddaughters of Jekyll and Hyde, who introduce him to malls and diners, love and heartbreak. But no matter how far Boy runs, he can’t escape his demons—both literal and figurative—until he faces his family once more.

This hilarious, romantic, and wildly imaginative tale redefines what it means to be a monster—and a man.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown

Red Rising, the first book in a trilogy, will be available for purchase on January 28, 2014 (hardcover, ebook). More information, including an excerpt, can be found on the Red Rising website.

 

Darrow is a miner and a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he digs all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of the planet livable for future generations. Darrow has never seen the sky.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better future for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow joins a resistance group in order to infiltrate the ruling class and destroy society from within. He will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought a few books, including one I pre-ordered in February. Since I very rarely pre-order books especially months in advance, it’s one I am very excited about!

Three of this week’s books have already been discussed in other posts but are now either available in stores or soon to be released. Here are the links in case you are interested in reading more about them:

The first two are links to the cover/blurb in other posts about books, but the last one is to a guest post by Jan DeLima in which she talked a bit about her book. Jan worked at my local library, and we started to meet for coffee and book talk after running into each other quite often on our lunch breaks. I was thrilled for her when Ace decided to publish her book, and it was quite exciting to see her book in print with a shiny cover!

Celtic Moon by Jan DeLima

Even better was actually reading it—I just finished reading the ARC last week and enjoyed it very much. I love books that incorporate mythology, and as the title indicates, there’s a lot of Celtic influence in this one. Sophie is an awesome character, and I love that she is a bit older than many characters in fantasy (“older” being 36) with a teenage son. Sue from Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers (who also joins us for coffee and book talk!) wrote an excellent review of it at her blog that I recommend checking out since she explains very well why Sophie is such a compelling character. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series!

Now, on to the rest of the books!

Book of Iron by Elizabeth Bear

Book of Iron by Elizabeth Bear

Hooray for a new novella by one of my favorite authors! This is, of course, the book I pre-ordered in February. It’s set in the same world as Eternal Sky, which contains my favorite of Elizabeth Bear’s books so far, and is a prequel to the novella Bone and Jewel Creatures.

Book of Iron is available in two editions: Deluxe Hardcover Edition and Signed, Limited Edition. I was ridiculously excited when I looked at the back cover flap to see it mentioned “Signed, Limited Edition,” but alas, it appears I just got the Deluxe Hardcover.

 

Bijou the Artificer is a Wizard of Messaline, the City of Jackals. She and her partner—and rival—Kaulas the Necromancer, along with the martial Prince Salih, comprise the Bey’s elite band of trouble-solving adventurers.

But Messaline is built on the ruins of a still more ancient City of Jackals. So when two foreign Wizards and a bard from the mysterious western isles cross the desert in pursuit of a sorcerer intent on plundering the deadly artifacts of lost Erem, Bijou and her companions must join their hunt.

The quest will take them through strange passages, beneath the killing light of alien suns, with the price of failure the destruction of every land.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson

This young adult book was just released this past week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). There is a free Kindle sample containing the first few chapters, and the prologue, chapter 10, and chapter 11 are all available to read on the author’s website.

I actually hadn’t heard about this book until I opened a package containing it a few days ago, but it sounds quite intriguing and I’m now pretty interested in reading it!

 

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

The Eye of Minds (The Mortality Doctrine #1) by James Dashner

This young adult book will be released on October 8 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from The Eye of Minds is available.

 

An all-new, edge-of-your seat adventure from James Dashner, the author of the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series, The Eye of Minds is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine, a series set in a world of hyperadvanced technology, cyberterrorists, and gaming beyond your wildest dreams . . . and your worst nightmares.

Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

Once Upon a Time: Behind the Magic

Once Upon a Time: Behind the Magic

This paperback about the TV series Once Upon a Time will be released on October 1. It’s full of glossy photos, and it contains information on the story in the first two seasons and an inside look at the series from the perspective of cast and crew. Many of the actors and actresses tell about playing their respective characters, including Lana Parrilla (Regina), Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan), Emilie de Ravin (Belle), Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin), and Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook).

 

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, writers of Lost, have created a modern take on fairy tales with a female lead character, Emma Swan, who has moved to Maine. The show revolves around the adaptation of fairytale characters such as Snow White and Prince Charming who have been brought into the real world with no knowledge of their true identities, due to the Evil Queen.

I have one copy of XO Orpheus: Fifty New Myths to give away! This anthology of retold world myths is edited by Kate Bernheimer, who also edited the 2011 World Fantasy Award-winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Berenheimer

About XO Orpheus:

Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions.
 
Aimee Bender retells the myth of the Titans.
 
Madeline Miller retells the myth of Galatea.
 
Kevin Wilson retells the myth of Phaeton, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
 
Emma Straub and Peter Straub retell the myth of Persephone.
 
Heidi Julavits retells the myth of Orpheus and Euridice.
 
Ron Currie, Jr. retells the myth of Dedalus.
 
Maile Meloy retells the myth of Demeter.
 
Zachary Mason retells the myth of Narcissus.
 
Joy Williams retells the myth of Argos, Odysseus’ dog.
 
If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.

Read an Excerpt from XO Orpheus

Courtesy of Penguin, I have one copy of XO Orpheus: Fifty New Myths to give away! This giveaway is open to those with a mailing address in the US.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “XO Orpheus Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Saturday, October 5. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

(Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.)

Today I am pleased to have a guest post by Barbara Friend Ish! She is the founder, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of Mercury Retrograde Press and the author of The Shadow of the Sun. Recently, she had to make the choice to either continue with her work as a publisher and editor at Mercury Retrograde or continue writing, and the press will no longer be publishing books by other authors starting the beginning of next year. However, she still believes that small presses are valuable, and today she is discussing the reasons small presses are important to her as both a reader and an author.

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish

I Still Believe in Small Press

Long before I understood how publishing works, I was frustrated by the choices available to me in bookstores. Most stores, independents in particular, have painfully small amounts of shelf space allocated to SF and Fantasy. Even when I found large-footprint bookstores with big sections for genre fiction, they never seemed to have just what I was looking for.

Part of the problem, of course, was that I was craving the books I needed to write. No bookstore could have helped me with that. But the bigger problem was that bookstores, particularly big chain bookstores, must serve the popular taste or die.

My tastes have never run towards the popular. When all the book bloggers in the SF blogosphere are reviewing the same six books in any given month, I find myself seeking out the bloggers who delve into the off-the-beaten path stuff. Many of these rare gems are published by small press publishers; and once you understand a bit about how publishing works, it’s easy to understand the reasons why.

Publishing, like running a bookstore, is a business. Big publishers have big staffs: people who depend on them for paychecks. They can’t afford to run businesses that don’t make money. They’re not there for the love, even though individual members of the staff may be. They must choose works and authors that they know will sell many, many books: those books that all the book bloggers will review at once, that all the bookstores will carry, because many, many people can be counted on to buy them. They can’t choose the books that make them swoon; not unless they can bet that the rest of the genre book buying public will swoon, too.

This problem doesn’t just affect bookstores and readers: it is the central problem of many writers’ lives. If a writer has arranged her professional life in such a way that she must depend on her books to pay her bills, then she must write what she can sell. She must write what the publishers are willing to buy, which in turn means she must choose to write for the popular audience. With very few lottery-winning, golden-ticket-holding exceptions, all writers who want to be published by big houses must choose this route.

As a reader, I know my tastes are unusual. As a writer, I know my work is not mainstream. My bookish needs, as reader and writer both, can’t be met without the help of small press publishers.

Small press publishing is a labor of love. Except for the lucky few, it’s not a day job: it’s something done around the edges of the work that pays the bills. But because the people who work in small press aren’t relying on the books they publish to pay their bills, something magical happens: they can choose books that move them, rather than always asking whether a book will make enough money to sustain their staffs and pay their electric bills. They can champion writers who don’t want to work mainstream, at least on this particular novel; they can create opportunities for writers who still need guidance in their craft, the way publishers used to do a hundred years ago. They can bring to press works of limited appeal, and nurture them in the marketplace to give them the best chance available.

I’ve spent the past six years doing that work. As publisher and editor-in-chief of Mercury Retrograde Press, I spent my days finding, developing, publishing and nurturing works and writers that were either too early in their careers to go it alone at bigger houses or whose visions were too audacious for the safe, comfortable tastes of the popular market. As a publisher, I have taken great pleasure and a bit of pride in making spaces for these writers and works to succeed, and it makes me happy to see their stars rising into the heavens. As an editor, I revel in the opportunity to take the time to work with a writer to develop craft, to hone story, to stop and do it again, and sometimes yet again, when the work isn’t yet one that will stand the test of time. And as a writer, I treasure working in a place that is safe for creative people: knowing that I need not limit my work in order to ensure it’s sufficiently safe for the mainstream; knowing that I will be supported by an editor who won’t send me out into the world unprepared, to wait for the inevitable embarrassment when my mistakes are revealed; knowing that I can take the time to bring my work to its best potential.  One of the greatest rewards of this phase of my creative life has been the feedback from readers who appreciate all of this as much as I do, who revel in fresh and frequently audacious visions, who would rather wait while a writer does her best work than storm poor George R. R. Martin’s house when a book is late. All of these things are precious to me; none of them would be possible without the freedom that comes from small press.

After years of trying to be both a publisher and an author, I have realized I must choose between them: that even if small press publishing is a thing that can be fit in around the edges of another job where necessary, it requires intense and sustained creative energy—and that it isn’t possible, for me at least, to devote myself utterly to two different creative enterprises. Having found it necessary to choose, I choose the thing that is the core of my creative life: writing fiction. But this doesn’t mean I’ve concluded small-press enterprises aren’t important, in fact necessary: quite the opposite. I think it’s too important to do halfheartedly; that if as a publisher I can’t give the writers and other creative people I work with, not to mention the readers, the full potential of what small press has to offer, then I will make way for someone who can.

As a writer, I can’t imagine working anywhere but small press. As a reader, I know that is where many of the greatest new books will always come from. I live in gratitude for the people who are able to make small-press publishing the center of their creative lives. I can’t wait to see what risks they take, what all-but-impossible gems they uncover and share with us next.

Barbara Friend Ish is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for Mercury Retrograde Press, a small press dedicated to writers and works that might undeservedly slip through the cracks at larger houses. She is also the author of Compton Crook Finalist novel The Shadow of the Sun and the forthcoming The Heart of Darkness. She founded Mercury Retrograde in 2007; in January 2014, the company will cease publication of other writers’ works. You can learn more about Barbara and her work at www.barbarafriendish.com

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought a few books, two of which have already been discussed. Here are the links in case you are interested in reading more about them:

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

This stand alone novel by the author of the Milkweed Triptych (Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, and Necessary Evil) will be released in December (hardcover, ebook).

 

Something More Than Night is a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler-inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas’s vision of Heaven. It’s a noir detective story starring fallen angels, the heavenly choir, nightclub stigmatics, a priest with a dirty secret, a femme fatale, and the Voice of God.

Somebody has murdered the angel Gabriel. Worse, the Jericho Trumpet has gone missing, putting Heaven on the brink of a truly cosmic crisis. But the twisty plot that unfolds from the murder investigation leads to something much bigger: a con job one billion years in the making.

Because this is no mere murder. A small band of angels has decided to break out of heaven, but they need a human patsy to make their plan work.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of Bayliss, a cynical fallen angel who has modeled himself on Philip Marlowe. The yarn he spins follows the progression of a Marlowe novel — the mysterious dame who needs his help, getting grilled by the bulls, finding a stiff, getting slipped a mickey

Angels and gunsels, dames with eyes like fire, and a grand maguffin, Something More Than Night is a murder mystery for the cosmos.

Old Mars by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Old Mars edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This anthology of science fiction stories will be released on October 8 (hardcover, ebook).

 

Fifteen all-new stories by science fiction’s top talents, collected by bestselling author George R. R. Martin and multiple-award winning editor Gardner Dozois

Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Heinlein’s Red Planet. These and so many more inspired generations of readers with a sense that science fiction’s greatest wonders did not necessarily lie far in the future or light-years across the galaxy but were to be found right now on a nearby world tantalizingly similar to our own—a red planet that burned like an ember in our night sky . . . and in our imaginations.

This new anthology of fifteen all-original science fiction stories, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, celebrates the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do. Before the advent of powerful telescopes and space probes, our solar system could be imagined as teeming with strange life-forms and ancient civilizations—by no means always friendly to the dominant species of Earth. And of all the planets orbiting that G-class star we call the Sun, none was so steeped in an aura of romantic decadence, thrilling mystery, and gung-ho adventure as Mars.

Join such seminal contributors as Michael Moorcock, Mike Resnick, Joe R. Lansdale, S. M. Stirling, Mary Rosenblum, Ian McDonald, Liz Williams, James S. A. Corey, and others in this brilliant retro anthology that turns its back on the cold, all-but-airless Mars of the Mariner probes and instead embraces an older, more welcoming, more exotic Mars: a planet of ancient canals cutting through red deserts studded with the ruined cities of dying races.

FEATURING ALL-NEW STORIES BY

James S. A. Corey • Phyllis Eisenstein • Matthew Hughes • Joe R. Lansdale • David D. Levine • Ian McDonald • Michael Moorcock • Mike Resnick • Chris Roberson • Mary Rosenblum • Melinda Snodgrass • Allen M. Steele • S. M. Stirling • Howard Waldrop • Liz Williams

And an Introduction by George R. R. Martin!

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Bernheimer

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Bernheimer

This anthology of retold myths will be released on September 24 (trade paperback, ebook). An excerpt can be read on the publisher’s website.

 

Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions.

Aimee Bender retells the myth of the Titans.

Madeline Miller retells the myth of Galatea.

Kevin Wilson retells the myth of Phaeton, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Emma Straub and Peter Straub retell the myth of Persephone.

Heidi Julavits retells the myth of Orpheus and Euridice.

Ron Currie, Jr. retells the myth of Dedalus.

Maile Meloy retells the myth of Demeter.

Zachary Mason retells the myth of Narcissus.

Joy Williams retells the myth of Argos, Odysseus’ dog.

If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.

Today I’m delighted to have a guest post by Emma Jane Holloway, author of The Baskerville Affair trilogy, in which she discusses incorporating plausible details and reality in fantasy fiction.

The Baskerville Affair, described on the author’s website as “one part mystery, two parts adventure and a wee pinch of romance,” begins in London in 1888 and focuses on the adventures of the niece of Sherlock Holmes, Evelina Cooper. Even though the first book will not be released until next week, there is not a long wait for a finished trilogy at all since the books will all be available by the end of this year—A Study of Silks will be released on September 24, A Study of Darkness in October, and A Study of Ashes in December.

The uses of macaroni in fantasy, at least sometimes
By Emma Jane Holloway

Baskerville Affair Macaroni Battle

I’d like to claim that Gandalf visited me in my dreams and bestowed upon me the magic gem of Zod, and henceforth I wove enchanting tales of wonder. Sadly, no. It was more like the lack of enchantment in public school drove me to read under my desk while the teacher was talking. Short of (metaphorically) chewing off my own limb in search of escape, my best option was to stealthily slip away into everything from Alan Garner to Robert E. Howard. If a book had swords I liked it, and when I ran out of stories to read I started writing them. Needless to say, I turned in some curious English essays.

And while that inspired me to dream stuff up, I probably should have paid more attention during physics and chemistry. Then at least I’d be better prepared to write about blowing things up. What I didn’t understand was that even fantasy is made up of information, and one of the pitfalls of telling lies for a living is that there is a limit to how much one can fake it. Characters are inevitably bound by what their creator tells them to do, and if the author is clueless, sooner or later it shows.

For me, this came to a head while writing my trilogy, The Baskerville Affair. The first book, A Study in Silks, was relatively easy—there is magic and derring-do, but the young protagonists are in nineteenth-century Mayfair worrying about careers and courtship because that’s what young folks do. No problem. Book 2 is darker and the physical action ramps up, but we get through it fine. Book 3—the grand finale—was different, because it truly launched into fantasy territory. Major battle scenes. Death sorcery. Crashing steampunk monsters. Airships. Multiple armies. High magic. All very groovy, if you like things that go boom.

I confess, I stalled. It was the first time I’d really tackled battle scenes on such a large scale. Furthermore, I do not have direct experience with earth-shattering cataclysms, unless you count deadlines. So there I was, all my characters staring at me with “what now?” written on their faces. The answer was beer and macaroni, and a lot of patience. The beer was for me. The macaroni was for research purposes.

Maybe I hadn’t been at an apocalyptic battle lately, but I could recreate one in miniature. I needed a tactile, visual way to work out what was happening. Sure, I did some reading about actual battles (navy battles in particular—if you think vertically as well as horizontally, they work pretty well for airships) and the 1830s in Paris is a rich source of detail about nineteenth-century urban rebellion. But the whole thing came together for me when I spread out a map of London and slowly began plotting the action move by move. I’d been to the relevant parts of the city recently, and that helped, but I needed more since I wasn’t actually there during an attack by clockwork monsters. In fact, I’d avoided most of the tourist season altogether.

Beans, pasta, lentils, and chickpeas became my forces. By moving them around the map, I got a far better sense of how my scenes should play out, and especially what would go wrong. Just try getting all those chickpeas–er, steampunk death spheres–across a bridge fast enough to cut off the rebel macaroni.

The point? Despite what I believed in school, good fantasy requires a lot more reality than one suspects. To make it good, I need plausible details. Sometimes that means research, and sometimes that means thinking a campaign through as if I was really going to fight it. I need to believe in the story, down to the smallest detail. It’s the only way my characters can figure it out. And until Gandalf shows up with some spiffy magic—or more lentils—finding the truth in my fiction will always require curiosity and a willingness to be both serious and absurd. And, occasionally, a lot of work.

So, given the importance of fact to fantasy, would I tell my younger self to get her nose out of that book and pay attention in class? Maybe some, but not completely. The other thing that any writer requires is a fierce desire that will carry a dream from page one to The End, and that doesn’t flourish without a little rebellion. So what if my memories of plane geometry are inextricably mixed with Conan the Barbarian? By Crom, it’s a consequence I’m more than willing to bear.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

A Study in Silks
September 2013

Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society, but there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse . . .

In a Victorian era ruled by a Council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask . . .

Read about the trilogy & read an excerpt from A Study in Silks

Read the prequel short story


Emma Jane Holloway

Ever since childhood, Emma Jane Holloway refused to accept that history was nothing but facts prisoned behind the closed door of time. Why waste a perfectly good playground coloring within the timelines? Accordingly, her novels are filled with whimsical impossibilities and the occasional eye-blinking impertinence—but always in the service of grand adventure.

Struggling between the practical and the artistic—a family tradition, along with ghosts and a belief in the curative powers of shortbread—Emma Jane has a degree in literature and job in finance. She lives in the Pacific Northwest in a house crammed with books, musical instruments, and half-finished sewing projects. In the meantime, she’s published articles, essays, short stories, and enough novels to build a fort for her stuffed hedgehog.