I’ve spent a long time away from epic fantasy.
I heard about the The Mirror Empire from the same people that pointed me toward Ancillary Justice, so I immediately added it to my To Be Read list. But then one of those same people RT’d a promotion that Kameron Hurley was doing with Barnes and Noble:
An autographed bookplate, and an electronic ARC of the sequel (coming next year)? That was an awesome deal, so I picked it up that weekend. The Mirror Empire was precisely what I’d been hoping to stumble upon for years: epic fantasy that wasn’t reconstituted from the stuff I’d already read. It’s got pacifist religious cannibals, brutal matriarchal societies, world-ending cataclysms, half-sentient trees, satellite-based magic systems, parallel worlds, and cultures that have more than the familiar number of genders.
The magic in the book is based upon the ascendancy of four celestial bodies: Para, Tira, Sina, and Oma. The gifted can call upon the magics of those bodies for attack and defense, healing, and other applications, and the effectiveness of the chants depend upon the user’s skill and the ascendancy of their linked body. A skilled parajista under an ascendant Para might transform into a whirling death machine on the battlefield, but be rendered almost defenseless fifteen years later, after Para has declined in the sky. The temple system and the training that Dhai -jistas undergo might be fodder enough for someone else’s epic fantasy, but Hurley has her sights set a whole lot higher than that: genocide, civilization-destroying war, and more than that. The book earns the “epic” in its epic fantasy.
The Mirror Empire isn’t without its problems. There are a lot of things going on at once, and since so many of them are new and different it can be hard to put together the bigger picture early on. If you’re not adept at memorizing fantastical names, you’ll be using the glossary of characters found at the back to help you along. But I also get the feeling that if I’d read a bit slower, I’d have been just fine. Adulthood has made me a sloppier reader than I like.
It’s an ambitious book. It’s got a few problems, but… it’s also sharp, vivid, vicious, brilliant, and I love it. I finished it and immediately wanted to read another epic fantasy like it (since I can’t have the sequel until next year). As luck would have it, the Twitterfolk that recommended this book have been enthusiastic about Robert Jackson Bennett’s The City of Stairs. So I guess I know what I’ll be picking up soon.
The Mirror Empire is fantastic, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel. Highly recommended.
I may have mentioned that I liked Ancillary Justice, just a little bit. (Spoilers: I liked it A WHOLE LOT. It was my favorite book from last year, and my pick for the Best Novel Hugo.)
Short story made even shorter, I entered a Goodreads giveaway by the author, Ann Leckie, and won an ARC of the sequel, Ancillary Sword. It is pictured above, on my desk shelf in front of other awesome things that I like.
I couldn’t be happier about it.
I’m square in the middle of Mirror Empire. I have 300 pages to go, and I’m really enjoying it. I have Lock In and The Lies of Locke Lamora downstairs, waiting for me. And I just won a GoodReads.com giveaway of an ARC for Ancillary Sword.
The only downside to this is that Lock In and Locke Lamora are both library books, and I’m going to eventually give them back. I’m hoping to be able to get to them before I have to return them.
This article came up in my Twitter feed this morning, and it points out exactly the thing that was bouncing around in my head on Sunday, but couldn’t quite nail down.
Hachette is a huge company that also has a publishing business, and a win for them is probably not good news.
Amazon is an enormous company that carries the Silicon Valley ethos, and that is: make something awesome until everyone is using it, and once your competitors are dead, lock the the doors and start raking in the money because your customers can’t go anywhere else.
I can’t say that I know very much about the production of books, but from what I understand a lot of the labor comes before the book is printed and shipped to bookstores. Cutting out printing, storage, shipping, and buy-backs might not make a large dent in the price of an e-book, especially if you consider that in its place you have to pay for the servers to store those books, and the bandwidth to let people buy them. (Bandwidth isn’t cheap, and neither are data centers.)
I’ve started about half a dozen blog posts about the Amazon/Hachette dispute. My reasons for trashcanning those drafts run the gamut from: Who cares what you have to say about it? to Everyone you’ve RT’d on Twitter has already said what you’re going to say, and they’ve said it better and They have actual experience with these things, and you don’t And those are all true, but I’m still gonna hit the big Publish button on this post.
I don’t have a book for sale through Amazon. I’m not published by Hachette. If you want to read something I wrote, you have to buy a game on Steam. I don’t even have a finished first draft on my first novel, for the love of all that is coffee. I’m a beginner, trying to break into a new field. But I read. I read a hell of a lot, thanks to my local public library.
With those qualifications, I can say without equivocation that Amazon’s post on ReadersUnited.com is disingenuous bullshit.
Amazon are not crusaders seeking to free customers from the tyrrany of high ebook prices, or to lavish starving writers with a larger percentage of sales. Hachette are not knights in shining armor, protecting their authors from the slavering barbarian hordes. Amazon wants ebook prices to top out at $9.99 because it benefits them and their position in the marketplace. It gives them leverage to squeeze the life out of their competitors. Hachette doesn’t want Amazon to do that, for obvious reasons.
Both Hachette and Amazon have put out propaganda to support their positions. But the nonsense Amazon has posted on ReadersUnited.com is an insult to my intelligence as a reader. I buy books at Barnes & Noble, my local comics shop, and on various online realtors. I read a lot more of them by borrowing from my library. A multitude of outlets makes for a healthy market. It gives me options to get the books that I want, which is nice, because sometimes a retailer does something I consider thoroughly dumb and I want to go elsewhere. The fewer outlets, the fewer options I have.
Amazon has had that domain in their pocket since January 17th, 2013 – months before the court case against Apple and the big publishers concerning their e-book pricing was decided. (This has since been debunked — see the update below.) Amazon has had this move in mind for a long time. They’re playing a long game, and they are attempting to use me to further their agenda – which pisses me off.
I am not their footsoldier. This is not a war. This is two corporate enties fighting over profits in a contract negotiation. Amazon is one of, if not the, biggest retailer in the world. Why does Amazon need to beg little old me to throw rocks at Hachette?
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t buy your books from Amazon. If that’s what toots your fruit, then go forth and read. But don’t confuse your favorite retailer’s motives — or Hachette’s, for that matter. They are fighting over the ability to set the price for e-books. I’ve got my eye on the fight because it affects one of my favorite pastimes.
This is going to affect the authors you love to read, one way or the other. If that bothers you, then pay attention, and don’t take one party’s word on it.
Update: Over on Whatever, John Scalzi has posted a great piece on the current round of Amazon vs. Hachette. He also links to this article concerning Amazon’s ownership of ReadersUnited.com. (Short version: Amazon has only owned the domain for 8 days, and the information provided by the whois I did yesterday to get the info is out of date.) As Mr. Scalzi says in the linked article: Amazon and Hachette are not your friend.
Ann Leckie won the Best Novel Nebula Award for Ancillary Justice last night. I’m very excited about this, for a number of reasons.
This is the first time that I’ve read a Nebula Award winner before it won the award. (I spent a lot of time during high school reading science fiction and fantasy as if I’m going to catch up with the entirety of the published genre and finally be able to read the new ones as they come out with a full understanding of everything that has come before. I was not, in fact, able to read ALL OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY THAT HAS BEEN PUBLISHED, EVER, but the tendency to pick up an older book before I pick up a new one has stuck with me.) That is a very cool feeling.
Second, Ancillary Justice is amazing. You should go read it, post-haste. It’s a debut (!) novel, it’s solid science fiction of a kind that I thought had fallen out of favor (it is possible that I am just looking in the wrong places), and it’s amazing.
Thirdly, the Nebula Awards themselves: of all the nominees this year, only 10 of them were men. And all of the winners in the major categories — best novel, best novella, best novelette, best short story — were women. Which is amazing, wonderful, and many (many) other superlatives.
None of the winners know me from anyone, but congratulations to all of them nonetheless.