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Reading Idea: Invisible Planets

Invisible Planets

Invisible Planets
by Ken Liu
$11.99 on Kindle

What I've been reading - Marginal REVOLUTION

  1. Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu.  A strong collection, with two stories by Cixin Liu.  Here is a new article on Chinese science fiction.

Tyler Cowen's recommendations are always worth considering. And this one is a two-fer, as they say: it's science fiction and it's genuinely a glimpse into another culture.

Reading Idea: The Berlin Project

The Berlin Project

The Berlin Project
by Gregory Benford
$7.99 on Kindle

I know Gregory Benford as a writer of top-notch, hard science fiction. He's also an astrophysicist. And now he's written an alternate history of the development of the atom bomb. This book is self-recommending. On John Scalzi's site, he described the book and what prompted him to write it.

The Big Idea: Gregory Benford

I got the idea for this novel when I was working on nuclear matters as a postdoc for Edward Teller. Then decades later, heard it from the guy who was at its center, and who became my father in law, Karl Cohen. All that came together when I decided to go back to writing novels in 2012.

The year 1967 seems so distant now. I was finishing my PhD thesis in theoretical physics when two of my thesis advisors took me aside and said that, just to be safe, I should apply for two postdoc positions, not just one. It was that long ago. I turned down UC Berkeley, a professorship at Royal Holloway College, London (which had read a published paper and wanted someone in that area; I’d never heard of them).

So I decided to work with Teller. In the course of many calculations and conversations, he told me of a turning point in World War Two that few knew. I heard it later from Karl Cohen:

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the effect on the US atomic program (Manhattan Project) was a one-year delay. The US Army was preoccupied with the new war in the Pacific; they failed to appoint a person to head the Manhattan Project with enough power.  In 1941 the people in charge favored Urey’s centrifuge approach to producing the fuel instead of gaseous diffusion. 

By 1942, General Groves was in and Urey was out of favor.  Building the gaseous diffusion plant took longer than expected, and the result was a one-year delay in the project. The delay meant that the target changed away from Germany. The object of dropping an A-bomb over Germany was to prevent an invasion.

How many more concentration camp victims would have survived if the war had ended one year earlier?  For one, Anne Frank. Most CC victims succumbed eventually to the rugged conditions… The difference between 1944 and 1945 as the end of the war is probably quite significant in terms of lives.

The central context for this novel came from the protagonist I chose to follow through it, Karl Cohen. I also folded in my experience of living in the US occupation of Germany in 1955-57, where my father commanded combat units.

Karl’s words made me think, because in the last year of war, whole societies collapsed. A million died each month, the Soviet Union captured many countries into subjugation, and the devastation of the Axis powers took decades to repair.

Reading Idea: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
$11.99 on Kindle

I heard about this book on an episode of The Cato Daily Podcast. I've roughly transparaphrased the description that Kimberly Hurd Hale and Caleb Brown gave during the episode.

WARNING: Their description is filled with spoilers, so don't read it if you would like to just read the book.

The Politics of Perfection: Technology and Creation in Literature and Film

The book describes children at Hailsham, which is a boarding school, but not really a boarding school. It's gradually revealed that the wonderful education they are receiving at Hailsham is just a cover for the very dark destiny that awaits them.

The story is set in the late 1990's, in Britain. The premise is that following World War 2, rather than the breakthroughs in nuclear power that we experienced, there were breakthroughs in medicine. We figured out a way to clone human beings and use their organs to, essentially, cure cancer, cure heart disease, and all of the other great, mass killers of our society. We can use the clone organs to cure them. This means that ordinary human beings no longer have to fear cancer, or heart disease, or liver disease. They no longer have to worry that their family members will die prematurely from these things. The society is willing to accept this program of breeding and raising and slaughtering clones in exchange for longer, healthier life.

It's told from the point of view of one of the clone children. It's not a story of revolution. It's a story of her growing up, having friends, falling in love, and reconciling herself to the fact that she will die before she reaches middle age. She will donate her organs, one at a time, in a very cruel manner. She will spend her last years caring for her fellow clones, as they make these organ donations. She will have to watch her friends be slaughtered by this bureaucratic system. It has been solely responsible for her creation and education and has controlled every aspect of her life, to the point where she does not resist it. None of the clones resist it. They accept their fate and show no indication that they would be able or willing to escape their destiny. They think that that is what they were bred to do and, really, there's very little indicating that they find it morally objectionable.

Never Let Me Go examines it from the point of view of a society that wants these organs desperately but also seemingly recognizes that it is a serious inhumane, unethical thing that they are doing. Then you get Hailsham, you get the idea that if we educate these clones in a classical sense, give them a classical education where they read the great novels, learn about philosophy, spend most of their time doing art, then, somehow, what we're doing to them is more humane. They're given names. It's recognized that they have human drives, that they benefit somehow from these educations.

Reading Idea: God: A Biography

God: A Biography

God: A Biography
by Jack Miles
$14.99 on Kindle

Adam recommended this one to me, while we were discussing religion on our podcast. I've already added it to my short list for the year.

Reacquainted: 4: Like a Jenga Game

A man who won the Pulitzer Prize, Jack Miles, wrote a book called God: A Biography and a second book called Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God. God: A Biography won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1996. What he does is almost the opposite of what Dr. Robert Alter does. Whereas Dr. Alter finds the storytelling in the books of the Bible, Jack Miles takes the books of the Bible and finds the story.

Unburdened by the need to keep rigidly stuck to theological principles, he tries to read the whole Bible with a fresh set of eyes and write the story of God as a literary character. If God is a literary character and the Bible is His story, what does He go through? What is His character arc? Can you form a coherent one? Jack Miles does. It's a really enjoyable read.

Reading Idea: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman
$12.99 on Kindle

Growing up, somewhere around the age of 10, I was a huge fan of Norse mythology and read several different versions and retellings. I'm also a big Neil Gaiman fan. So, really, all Goodreads had to do was send me an email letting me know that Neil Gaiman had written a novelization of the Norse mythology. Sold. It was, as they say, self recommending.

I'll give you the Goodreads blurb anyway, just in case you're not already as excited as I am.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Reading Idea: The Saga of Recluce

The Magic of Recluce

I've somehow never managed to hear of L.E. Modesitt Jr, even though he's written over 60 books. The Tor blog helped me to overcome my ignorance. I read the first book earlier this year and I'm looking forward to reading more.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Fantasy Worlds of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

“The most important thing you need to know about Recluce—both the saga and the island—is that there is a neverending battle between chaos and order. In their natural state (a.k.a. Balance), these qualities make up all matter; but as white wizards unleash the entropy of chaos and black mages harness the structure of order, these forces become imbalanced. Modesitt’s intention was to subvert fantasy tropes by having the “good guys” wear black, though, as he points out, there is a lot more gray area to it—and not just the “grays” who can manipulate both chaos and order. Even as the first book, The Magic of Recluce, establishes Recluce’s tenets of uniformity and repetition in order to keep chaos at bay, such monotony—even with the safety it provides—bores protagonist Lerris. His lack of engagement with order gets Lerris sent away from home on the dangergeld, or ritualistic journey to learn more about the world before deciding if he will follow Recluce’s rules. But ennui aside, what we’ve learned from all of the dystopian fiction that has been released in the 25 years since the first Recluce book is that order can be just as dangerous as chaos.

While Lerris’ dangergeld is the focus of the first book, he is by no means the series’ protagonist; in fact, each of the characters in the 18 books to date get only one or two novels. In a recent piece for Tor’s Fantasy Firsts series, Modesitt challenged the notion that The Saga of Recluce is a series, considering that they neither follow one protagonist nor take place in “a single place or time”—instead spanning 2,000 years, and the rise and fall of empires worldwide in 20 countries on five continents. And even then, he adds, “the Recluce books aren’t really a ‘saga,’ either, because sagas are supposed to be tales of heroism following one individual or family. And that’s why I tend to think of the Recluce books as the history of a fantasy world.”

The internal chronological order is also vastly different from the publication order—if you’re going by timeline, the series starts with 2001’s Magi’i of Cyador and concludes with 1995’s The Death of Chaos. Modesitt says it’s the reader’s choice to read the books in either order, or neither, the only caveat being that one should read the first book of a certain character before going on to the second.”

I'm going to list out the books in chronological order. I'm a sucker for knowing where in the timeline everything happens.

  1. Magi'i of Cyador ($8.99)
  2. Scion of Cyador ($7.99)
  3. Fall of Angels ($8.99)
  4. The Chaos Balance ($8.99)
  5. Arms-Commander ($7.99)
  6. Cyador's Heirs ($8.99)
  7. Heritage of Cyador ($9.99)
  8. The Mongrel Mage (coming October 31, 2017)
  9. The Towers of the Sunset ($8.99)
  10. The White Order ($7.99)
  11. The Magic Engineer ($9.99)
  12. Colors of Chaos ($7.99)
  13. Natural Ordermage ($7.99)
  14. Mage-Guard of Hamor ($8.99)
  15. The Order War ($7.99)
  16. The Wellspring of Chaos ($7.99)
  17. Ordermaster ($7.99)
  18. The Magic of Recluce ($9.99)
  19. The Death of Chaos ($8.99)

Reading Idea: Aubrey–Maturin Series

Master and Commander

After reading the Hornblower series, it only seems natural to read the other major naval series set during the Napoleonic era.

Aubrey–Maturin series - Wikipedia

The Aubrey–Maturin series is a sequence of nautical historical novels—20 completed and one unfinished—by Patrick O'Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centering on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, a physician, natural philosopher, and intelligence agent. The first novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969 and the last finished novel in 1999.[1] The 21st novel of the series, left unfinished at O'Brian's death in 2000, appeared in print in late 2004. The series received considerable international acclaim and most of the novels reached The New York Times Best Seller list.[1] These novels comprise the heart of the canon of an author often compared to Jane Austen, C. S. Forester and other British authors central to the English literature canon.

  1. Master and Commander ($8.87)
  2. Post Captain ($10.07)
  3. H.M.S. Surprise ($8.47)
  4. The Mauritius Command ($9.47)
  5. Desolation Island ($9.48)
  6. The Fortune of War ($9.47)
  7. The Surgeon's Mate ($9.46)
  8. The Ionian Mission ($9.47)
  9. Treason's Harbour ($9.46)
  10. The Far Side of the World ($9.47)
  11. The Reverse of the Medal ($9.54)
  12. The Letter of Marque ($10.99)
  13. The Thirteen-Gun Salute ($10.99)
  14. The Nutmeg of Consolation ($9.88)
  15. The Truelove ($9.49)
  16. The Wine-Dark Sea ($10.04)
  17. The Commodore ($9.46)
  18. The Yellow Admiral ($10.39)
  19. The Hundred Days ($9.85)
  20. Blue at the Mizzen ($9.89)
  21. The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey ($10.74)

Reading Idea: Sharon Kay Penman

Here Be Dragons

I heard of Sharon Kay Penman last summer, when George R.R. Martin recommended multiple writers of historical fiction. Reddit comments backed up Martin's recommendation.

I have read some of Sharon Kay Penman's books. If you're into history, they are really really wonderful. She creates a captivating story while also keeping true to much of the history within the time periods she specializes in.

Reviews on Goodreads concurred.

AJ

It is incredibly accurate with regard to characters and events they were a part of, precipitated, and were involved in, impressively so.

Cassy

Did I mention this book is heavy on the history? It is honest-to-goodness historical fiction. Joanna, John, Llewelyn, and the other big players are the real deal. Sometimes Penman’s commitment to accuracy and completeness bogs down the story. There would often be a gap of years between chapters. And characters would give these odd monologues to catch readers up on what happened. What a beautiful day. It reminds me of last June when my father, the Earl of Whatever made a pact with Duke of Wherever. Of course, Papa would only consent to such an alliance, because Prince Whoever was taken hostage by Evil Guy. It was exhausting, but I loved it.

Meeting Penman last week confirmed the obvious: this woman knows her stuff. She was out promoting her latest book, Lionheart. Most authors start off talking about their writing process. Not Penman. She dove into a history lesson. When someone from the audience asked her opinion on a couple of obscure historical figures, she knew exactly who they were and broke down their life in great detail. And trust me, no one was yawning. She was really fascinating.

Penman had two series that caught my eye: Welsh Princes and Plantagenets.

Welsh Princes

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king's beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales—and Llewelyn—Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.

  1. Here be Dragons ($9.99)
  2. Falls the Shadow ($9.99)
  3. The Reckoning ($9.99)

Plantagenets

A.D. 1135. As church bells tolled for the death of England's King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry's beautiful daughter Maude, Countess of Anjou. But before Maude could claim her throne, her cousin Stephen seized it. In their long and bitter struggle, all of England bled and burned.

Sharon Kay Penman's magnificent fifth novel summons to life a spectacular medieval tragedy whose unfolding breaks the heart even as it prepares the way for splendors to come—the glorious age of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Plantagenets that would soon illumine the world.

  1. When Christ and His Saints Slept ($7.99)
  2. Time and Chance ($5.99)
  3. Devil's Brood ($12.99)
  4. Lionheart ($6.99)
  5. A King's Ransom ($11.99)

Reading Idea: The Red Sphinx

The Red Sphinx

The Red Sphinx
by Alexandre Dumas
$12.99 on Kindle

Newly translated, a sequel to ‘The Three Musketeers’ is as fresh as ever

Originally called “The Comte de Moret,” “The Red Sphinx” first appeared during 1865 in Les Nouvelles, but it was never quite completed after the magazine folded. For this handsome new edition — the work’s first translator since a wretched 19th-century version — Lawrence Ellsworth appends a related novella titled “The Dove,” which brings the adventures of the Comte de Moret and his beloved Isabelle de Lautrec to a dramatic, nick-of-time close.

Yet the Red Sphinx himself, as the historian Michelet dubbed Cardinal Richelieu, wholly dominates the book’s 800-plus pages. The action begins in December 1628, shortly after the French victory at La Rochelle chronicled in “The Three Musketeers.”

From the start, Dumas presents Richelieu as a man of cool analytic intelligence, who is nonetheless devoted to France and beloved by those who serve him, including his next-door neighbor, the courtesan Marion Delorme. Like a modern spy master, the cardinal seeks data about everything happening in Europe. In some of Dumas’ best chapters, Richelieu even acts as a detective, trying to crack a cold case: Who actually planned the assassination of Henri IV? The search for information gradually leads him to the dark secret of the Convent of Repentant Daughters.

Since so much of the pleasure of this novel involves its slowly unfolding plot, I won’t say too much more. But there are scenes of farcical comedy (usually involving the cardinal’s servants), France nearly topples because of a peevish boy-favorite of the king, two old enemies sword-fight while seated in sedan chairs, and young love blossoms.

In the final third of this continually enjoyable novel, the action moves to the battlefield, as the armies of France enter Italy. Here several guerrilla operations behind the lines should thrill even fans of Bernard Cornwell. Here, too, Richelieu encounters a young papal officer named Mazarino Mazarini, who will eventually become a French citizen and ultimately Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin.

So, en garde! In Lawrence Ellsworth’s excellent, compulsively readable translation, “The Red Sphinx” is just the book to see you through the January doldrums. And maybe those of February, too.

​I love The Three Musketeers. There's no way I can avoid checking this out.

Reading Idea: Northlanders

Northlanders

Northlanders
by Brian Woods
$40 on ComiXology

I heard about this series on a 4-year old episode of The Incomparable podcast. I'm not going to try to transcribe Lisa Schmeiser's comments, but you can visit this link to listen to them: The Incomparable #126: A Dark, Dark Narnia. (Her comments start at 42:33 and the link should jump you to right to them.)

The idea of a comic that tells interrelated stories about the historical Viking culture was a fascinating one. I read quite a bit about the Vikings (and Norse mythology) growing up. I'd love to read more about them and the visual storytelling aspect of comics should be valuable as well.

Reading Idea: The Accursed Kings

The Iron King

The Accursed Kings
by Maurice Druon
$45 on Kindle

Reading Recommendations from George R.R. Martin (emphasis added)

Fantasies are not the only books I recommend to my readers, however. It has always been my belief that epic fantasy and historical fiction are sisters under the skin, as I have said in many an interview. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE draws as much on the traditions of historical fiction as it does on those of fantasy, and there are many great historical novelists, past and present, whose work helped inspire my own.

Look, if you love A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and want "something like it" to read while you are waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for me to finish THE WINDS OF WINTER, you really need to check out Maurice Druon and THE ACCURSED KINGS.

I never met Druon, alas (he died only a few years ago, and I regret that I never had the chance to shake his hand), but from all reports he was an extraordinary man. He was French, highly distinguished, a resistance fighter against the Nazis, a historian, a member of the French Academy... well, you can read about his life on Wikipedia, and it makes quite a story in itself. He wrote short stories, contemporary novels, a history of Paris... and an amazing seven-volume series about King Philip IV of France, his sons and daughters, the curse of the Templars, the fall of the Capetian dynasty, the roots of the Hundred Years War. The books were a huge success in France. So huge than they have twice formed the basis for television shows (neither version is available dubbed or subtitled in English, to my annoyance), series that one sometimes hears referred to as "the French I, CLAUDIUS."

Hers the publisher's description for the first novel, The Iron King.

Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”

The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.

A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…

That sounds … wonderful. It's even better because it's all based on real history. The past is an experience that we can never have or see. I love historical fictional for its ability to make the past live and breathe again. (It's not a perfect reproduction of the past, but it's far better than nothing.)

The entire series is available on Kindle, for just $45.

  1. Books 1-3: The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown; $9.90
  2. The Royal Succession; $6.99
  3. The She-Wolf; $7.99
  4. The Lily and the Lion; $7.99
  5. The King Without a Kingdom; $11.99

Reading Goal Achieved: THE WHEEL OF TIME

I started reading The Wheel of Time on April 12, 2014. I finally finished it today, 2 years and 2 months later. I may have some reflections on the whole thing later. Right now, I'm glad to be done and to have the project behind me.

From:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

To:

This wind, it was not the ending. There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending.

Reading Idea: The Traitor Baru Cormorant

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

$12.99 on Kindle

Seth Dickinson explained the conceit of his novel, on Scalzi's blog. I'm a sucker for subverting expectations this way.

“My master plan would’ve changed the course of history! I put my life into this — I leveraged politicians, I conjured up shell corporations, I put puppets on every throne and agents in every council. I built something! I had a vision!

And they call you a hero. What did you do? You stumbled in at the last moment and broke everything.

If heroism means standing up for the status quo, then I’ll have no part of it. The world’s full of suffering. Someone must act.”

“The Traitor Baru Cormorant is the story of a young woman trying to tear down a colonial empire, avenge her fathers, and liberate her home. The Masquerade wants to rule the world, so that they can fix it. Baru can’t beat them from the outside, killing them one by one with a sword the way Luke Skywalker or Aragorn might — unlike most evil empires, they’re smart people who take sensible precautions. Baru wouldn’t stand a chance against a single Masquerade marine.

Being surpassingly clever and excitingly ruthless, Baru decides to destroy the Masquerade from the inside. She’ll join their civil service, prove herself as a really awesome operative, and secure enough power to get what she wants. (She thinks Luke should do the same thing.)

Baru will, in short, become an evil overlord: a brilliant superspy plotting triple-cross operations right under the noses of her masters, conspiring to topple nations with banking schemes, daring heists, ornamental men, secret alliances, private armies, napalm, pirates, and the occasional sword duel, when absolutely necessary. An evil overlord working for good!”

Reading Idea: The Library at Mount Char

$10.99 on Kindle

Here's the hook: apprentice librarians, practically living in a magical library, learning lots and of powerful magic. How would that change you? Here's how author Scott Hawkins describes his novel.

Along those same lines, what if the guy you room with has, through diligent study of his corner of the magic library, become the most dangerous person alive? He’s invulnerable-ish. Maybe he’s not quite at the Superman level, but he’s more than a match for, say, a battalion of infantry with artillery and air support. Your roommate is the absolute pinnacle of the Earthly food chain, and he just drank your last beer. Again.

Maybe when you first moved in together he was nice enough—or not. But over time, the knowledge that he’s completely immune to any sort of discipline has had an impact on his manners. He never vacuums. There are dishes in the sink. The last time he stole your beer you left him a polite note. He broke your arm. Your buddy who resurrects people fixed it—you got her a pint of Haagen-Dazs the last time you bought groceries, so she didn’t even keep you waiting for long–but it still smarted like a sonofagun.

Do you leave another note? Or just suck it up and go to bed?

…What if you decided you wanted out?

How would that even be possible? Even if you did escape after a lifetime in that environment, what would normal people seem like to you?

What would you seem like to them?

…Still, even with their access strictly controlled, these librarians learn some interesting stuff. One guy talks to animals. Another spends weekends commuting to the twenty-third millennium to go clubbing with friends. There’s a woman who keeps a spy army of ghost children, invisible to anyone but her.

Unless you’ve got the soul of a Peter Parker, just living in the vicinity of that kind of power would affect your personality.

The hook and description caught my interest. The editorial reviews solidified it.

“A spellbinding story of world-altering power and revenge…Hawkins has created a fascinating, unusual world in which ordinary people can learn to wield breathtaking power—and he's also written a compelling story about love and revenge that never loses sight of the human emotions at its heart. A wholly original, engrossing, disturbing, and beautiful book.”
Kirkus (starred)

“An extravagant, beautifully imagined fantasy about a universe that is both familiar and unfamiliar…Hawkins makes nary a misstep in this award-worthy effort of imagination. You won't be able to put it down.”
Booklist (starred)

"A bizarre yet utterly compelling debut...might remind readers of Robert Jackson Bennett's or Neil Gaiman's horror/fantasies.”
Library Journal (starred)

“A first-rate novel… a sprawling, epic contemporary fantasy about cruelty and the end of the world, compulsively readable, with the deep, resonant magic of a world where reality is up for grabs. Unputdownable.”
Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother and Makers

"The most genuinely original fantasy I’ve ever read. Hawkins plays with really, really big ideas and does it with superb invention, deeply affecting characters, and a smashing climax I did not see coming."
—Nancy Kress, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Beggars in Spain

“A pyrotechnic debut...The most terrifyingly psychopathic depiction of a family of gods and their abusive father since Genesis.”
Charles Stross, Hugo and Locus Award-winning author of Accelerando and The Apocalypse Codex

Reading Idea: Enter the Janitor

$4.99 on Kindle

Josh Vogt pitches his fantasy novel, over at Scalzi's site.

In Enter the Janitor, the Big Idea was that magic is actually hiding in plain sight. It’s evolved alongside humanity and taken on quite a different role than it used to hold. Rather than a religious function or mystic mumbo-jumbo, magic could be connected to our history of sanitation and hygiene. Think about how many little health rituals we practice every day; at the same time, keeping things clean is often done on auto-pilot, meaning we may miss very obvious clues that something supernatural might be in the works. How many commercials and ads treat cleaning tools and chemicals as literally magical implements? Animated soap bubbles…talking sponges…even the genie-like Mr. Clean.

Magic also could have become more of a corporate affair, staffed with janitors, plumbers, maids, and more who dedicate their lives to the craft, much like ancient wizards and mages and witches would’ve. Rather than saving the world from eldritch towers, they began to do so in plain sight, one clean window and one mopped floor at a time. They swapped out wands and staffs for squeegees and mops and spray bottles.

…The more I thought about this, the more I realized I needed to revel in exploring this ridiculous version of reality. And that’s when both the characters and the world they inhabited came fully to life in my mind. Janitor closets could be mystic portals. Garbage dumps could be repositories of power. Sewers could be…well…still sewers, but with stranger creatures slithering through them.

I think that's a very clever concept. I'm always suspicious of self-published works. (Was there something wrong with it, that a traditional publisher wouldn't grab it?) But this one has an interesting enough concept that I may give it a chance.