Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jane Lindskold

Jane Lindskold is the bestselling author of the Wolf series, which began with Through Wolf’s Eyes and concluded with Wolf’s Blood, as well as many other fantasy novels. Her latest novel is Five Odd Honors.

Some time ago I asked Lindskold what she was reading. Her reply:
This year for Christmas my sister-in-law gave me a lovely blank notebook crafted from handmade paper. I decided to use it to keep track of what I’m reading. What I discovered is that I read more than I even realized, so this is going to be a sample with an arbitrary focus on books by authors I know here in New Mexico.

I’m not much of a short fiction reader, but I can honestly say I really enjoyed the anthology Golden Reflections, edited by Joan Spicci Saberhagen and Robert E. Vardeman. Full disclosure: Not only was I a contributor to this anthology, I was also one of its “godparents.” Golden Reflections is based around one of my absolutely favorite SF novels, Fred Saberhagen’s alternate history Mask of the Sun.

That said, if you think about it, that doesn’t mean I’d automatically like the end result. After all, I have an emotional investment not only in Fred’s original material, but also in how the anthology itself came out. What I can say is that it came out very well indeed.

Golden Reflections is a unique form of anthology in that, in addition to the novellas inspired by Fred’s work, the entire text of Fred’s Mask of the Sun is included. Participating authors include Daniel Abraham, John Maddox Roberts, Dean Wesley Smith, Harry Turtledove, Walter Jon Williams, and David Weber. Settings are mostly in Central and North America, but Ptolemic Egypt gets a nod, too.

The one element each story has in common is the Mask, a strange probability-calculating device that enables the wearer to achieve his or her goals – if not always in the manner the user might have envisioned. In some stories, the characters know precisely what they’re up against. In others, they are completely unaware that they may be pawns in a far larger conflict. This variation kept the stories fresh and bright – a treat from end to end.

Another recent read was Pati Nagle’s Heart of the Exiled, the sequel to her 2009 release, The Betrayal. Both of these are books that, quite honestly, I would not have picked up if Pati wasn’t someone I know. The cover art and copy are just too Romance Novel for this reader. However, here’s a serious lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The Betrayal and Heart of the Exiled are good reads, far more adventure fantasy than romance as the cover might suggest.

They deal with the fictional aelven, a culture that owes a nod to Tolkien’s elves, but has plenty of unique elements of its own. Their rivals are the “alben,” a group that once belonged to the aelven, but were exiled after developing a mysterious craving for blood and inability to tolerate the light of day.

For years the alben have taken their exile with resignation, if not contentment. Now they have a strong leader in the beautiful and ruthless Shalar. Shalar plans to retake the alben’s ancestral lands – a task that will bring her and her people into battle with the aelven. The best hope of the aelven are a pair of young, untried lovers – Eliani and Turisan – who share the rare gift of mindspeech.

Both novels are complex and intelligently written, showing the influence of the author’s experience as a historical novelist – she has written four excellent Civil War novels as P.G. Nagle – as well as her love for her current material. I will definitely read the third novel when it comes out.

I also read Walter Jon Williams’s Deep State. I was a fan of Walter’s stuff long before I moved to New Mexico and we got to be buddies. In fact, many years ago, when I taught an SF course, my students and I did Walter’s Hardwired – a book I still think is among the best of the cyberpunks, far better than those of William Gibson who has great ideas but not much in the way of characters.

Deep State is a stand-alone sequel to 2008’s excellent This is Not a Game. Both of these books are centered around Dagmar Shaw, a former science fiction writer who now makes a very good living creating alternate reality games. These are multi-player real-time games that don’t stay in your computer. Clues may arrive in any form – phone calls from fictional characters in the middle of the night, e-mail messages, even real people asking you to meet them somewhere.

Aside: Walter Jon Williams has worked on alternate reality games. He, however, is not a former science fiction novelist, for which we all have reason to be grateful.

In This is Not a Game, Dagmar is mostly “off duty,” so to speak – thus the book’s title – but in Deep State she’s very much on the job. The problem is, somewhere along the line, she learns that her job isn’t just to design a game, it’s to foment revolution via social networking.

Sound familiar? You should have heard Walter curse when various revolutions of that sort occurred last year. Reality had caught up with near future science fiction. I think he worried too much. Deep State is about far more than that single idea. Besides, one of the creepiest elements hasn’t yet shown up in reality.

And I really hope it never does.

Dagmar’s adventures will continue in The Fourth Wall, which is already on my reading list. I will note, however, that I thought the original title – Mister Babyhead – was much more interesting. In fact, that’s the biggest problem I can see about the Dagmar novels. Walter has a real sense for the weird and peculiar. Packaging these novels with “thriller” style covers and the sub-heading “A Novel of Greed, Betrayal, and Social Networking” sells them short.
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jane Lindskold (February 2009).

The Page 69 Test: Thirteen Orphans.

The Page 69 Test: Five Odd Honors.

--Marshal Zeringue