Welcome to Smugglivus 2015! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2015, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2016, and more.
Who: Rhonda Mason, author of The Empress Game, a 2015 book Thea loved very much.
Rhonda Mason divides her writing time between fantasy, science fiction and any combination thereof. Her debut novel, The Empress Game, is the first novel in her space opera trilogy of the same name. The second novel, Cloak of War, is due out in summer of 2016. She has an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University where she specialized in Epic Fantasy. She could talk for days about bulldogs, her family, snorkeling the Florida Keys and her obsession with efficiency—consider yourself warned!
Happy Smugglivus! Very excited to be part of a great discussion on the highlights of 2015. At first I was stumped by this because I tend to be a few years behind on my reading pile. (I might be the only person in the SF universe who hasn’t finished Anne Leckie’s amazing Imperial Radch trilogy yet!) But once I thought about it, there were quite a few things that rocked my world in 2015.
Here’s a list of “Rhonda’s Five 2015 Must-Haves!” It is at times gritty, at times kickass, and at times whimsical. But hey, aren’t we all?
In a World Just Right, by Jen Brooks – YA Contemporary Fantasy
This is my absolute favorite read of 2015, which is somewhat surprising because I read very little YA. This book appeals to the lost and hurting child in all of us, the lonely soul who sees the world through a distorted lens. In a World Just Right tells the story of Jonathan, a teenager who lost his entire family in a plane crash when he was young, and who has since discovered that he has the ability to create entire new worlds and slip seamlessly between these worlds and the real world.
It’s in these created worlds that he hides, seeking the love, friendship and acceptance denied him in the real world. But when the unthinkable happens – when his worlds begin to collapse in on each other – Jonathan has an entirely new reality to deal with.
What I loved about this book: The plot twists! Brooks is a master plotter, and just when you think you have everything figured out, she surprises you yet again. Jonathan is such a compelling character. My heart ached for him and the choices he had to make, and I cheered out loud for each little triumph.
Verdict: Impossible to put down, and I challenge you to get to the end and deny that something inside of you hasn’t shifted, just a bit.
Mad Max: Fury Road, Starring Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy – Action/Adventure SciFi Movie
I admit to being addicted to any sort of speculative fiction movie. (I even saw Jupiter Ascending … *shudders* …don’t tell anyone that!) I also love any story with a badass female lead, so I knew I had to see this. I did, however, go into it expecting Fury Road to be a so-so typical action film. I was not ready to be impressed.
Of course once I saw it – BAM! I loved the hell out of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. It’s worth watching just for that character. As a writer and a movie-goer, though, the single most impressive thing to me was the film’s ability to maintain a high level of tension throughout. I constantly found myself gripping my hands in my lap, figuratively on the edge of my seat.
Even for an action/thriller film, maintaining tension is a tricky feat. Somehow Fury Road starts high, and keeps it high, all the way through. I don’t know how they did it, but that is what stood out most in my mind.
What I loved about this movie: Imperator Furiosa’s indomitable spirit and the high stakes that just kept on climbing.
Verdict: See it or face my wrath.
“Sadness,” by Timons Esaias – SF Short Story
This short story appeared in Analog’s July/August 2014 edition, but it hit two “Best of” anthologies this year, so I say it’s legit to include it. You know Esaias is setting you up for a unique ride when you read his first two lines:
I hadn’t seen one of the New People in years, and this wasn’t the best time for one to drop by. I’d planned to go out to the Wall and think about killing my lover.
What struck me most about this story was the pervasive, effortless world-building. Esaias immerses us immediately in a world that should be familiar but instead is subtly, frighteningly alien. That feeling of Other, of human life being inexorably changed from the knowable to the alien, threads its way through the entire narrative.
What I loved about this story: The New People. Esaias’s aliens are so uniquely imagined that I’d pay double to read more stories about this race.
Verdict: If you only read one short story this year, do yourself a favor and read this. If you read two short stories, read it again. The complexity begs for more than one read.
Cinderella, Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden – Fairytale Movie
You might be thinking, “holy moly, what is this doing here?” I’m a girl who likes hand-to-hand combat, weapons, and badassery of all sorts.
I do also have a heart, and a super strong connection to my nuclear family which consists of me, my Mum Beverly, my older sister Rosemary and my younger sister Andrea. The four of us got together to see this movie on one of my too-few trips home to New England, and all 4 of us cried. I am NOT a crier at the movies, and I’m pretty sure Rosemary has never cried at a movie in her life, but all 4 of us were moved to tears. I cried at least twice.
This movie was so beautifully done, I couldn’t think of a single criticism (and I do like to pick things apart.) The costume, hair, make-up, set, special effects, etc. are the most fantastic eye-candy. The telling is emotional without being overwrought. I was swept along from beginning to end and transported to a wonderland where dreams come true, but not without pain and sorrow. It felt real and fantastical at the same time.
It also brought to mind one of my favorite childhood memories: watching a recording of the Lesley Ann Warren version of Cinderella and dancing and singing around the house with my family.
What I loved about this movie: The love stories. And I’m not just talking about the Cinderella-Prince romantic love story. The most profound and emotionally moving aspect of this film was the different love stories. First, love between a little family: Cinderella and her mother and father. Then later, love between a widowed father and his daughter (Cinderella), united by the loss of her mother/his wife. Also, the love between a father and a son: the king and the prince. And even the lack of love the Stepmother feels from her husband in her second marriage and how that harms her. This was a story of love in its many forms.
Verdict: Unless you have a heart of stone, you will enjoy this emotional, sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting, tale.
A Hero for the Empire, by Christina Westcott – Science Fiction Romance
As a Space Opera writer I have to give a nod to the sister-from-another-mother cross-genre category, Science Fiction Romance. SFR is basically space opera where the romance gets more screen time. Sure, it has some familiar romance genre conventions, but the best SFR novels blend the SF elements and romance elements 50-50. Christina Westcott’s novel is definitely one of the best.
Westcott’s heroine is as badass as they come, an augmented human with deadly combat skills and a temperament to match. The story involves an intergalactic empire taken over by darker political elements, a dormant alien army leftover from a previous war, and the hunt for a long-dead soldier of legend who might just save them all. Throw in a crotchety ship and a telepathic cat too big for his britches and you’ve got an action-packed thrill ride.
What I loved about this book: Westcott’s trademark snark. The characters, cat included, have some great lines. Add to that great hand-to-hand combat scenes between augmented fighters and you have SFR gold.
Verdict: If you liked The Edge of Tomorrow, this is a book for you.
Looking Forward to in 2016:
The Many and The Few, by Diana Dru Botsford – Stargate Media Tie-in Novel (2016)
Cheating by adding just one more item to my list, the above mentioned Stargate title. Botsford’s first two SG-1 novels, Four Dragons and The Drift, are the penultimate SG-1 works. For this new novel, Botsford is jumping forward to the Stargate Universe timeframe, but all the beloved characters will be there. With Botsford’s unmatched command of the characters’ unique voices, Jack O’Neill in particular, this is sure to be gold.
Hope you all had just as great a time reading and watching in 2015 as I did!
Courtesy of the author, we have one signed copy of The Empress Game to giveaway. Use the form below to enter and good luck!