Book Review: The Mirror Empire

20646731I will say this: with The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley definitely tried to step outside the classic boundaries where fantasy is concerned. True to form, if there was a trope or type to be twisted, she at the least inverted it.

This was my first experience with Kameron Hurley, despite certain implorations from friends. As such, I went in without any expectations, and what I found gave me swift hopes. Stylistically, the script flows easily, with poignant prose and snappy, fast-moving dialogue. Playing with the traditional concepts of gender was slapped right up front—one culture had five, another three. Male and female role reversal was leading the charge. To top it all off, there was the lush opportunity of a world consumed, not by Hell or another Plane or that shadowy kingdom to the south, but by an alternate version of itself. Furthermore, the magic system features a litany of powers derived from the various stars themselves, and whichever was ascendant at the time, turning literal the classic quip of “celestial magic.”

In essence, it is a book set to challenge many of the long-standing conventions of epic fantasy, while presenting a backdrop with action-packed potential beyond cultural revolution.

To begin, the story itself: it hops around a goodly bit, but we are granted the advantage of world-building spanning not just one, but two worlds. Herein, the world of the main characters is in the grips of a major cataclysm, heralded by the rising of a dark star which allows alternate versions of that planet to essentially align with one another and break the boundaries like spirits on Halloween. Enter Lilia, a young woman shunted between two of these worlds and left with an unshakable determination to rejoin her mother. Meanwhile, alternate versions of everyone she knows and meets are essentially plotting the doom of…well, everyone she knows and meets. Enemies are everywhere and countries are tearing themselves apart trying to stop armies on the march and root out spies wearing friends’ and lovers’ skins. The story bounces between these nations, from the perspectives of Lilia, a newly-crowned Kai (king), a masochistic but devoted general, and one of Lilia’s powerful but rather clueless friends.

Perspective, perspective, perspective is key here. There’s plenty of it—which, let’s be honest, is fairly standard these days. Unfortunately, these are a touch hit or miss. We never quite get inside characters’ heads, no matter how much time we spend with them. The particular POV gives us thoughts, at times, but never fully immerses us in the person we are tailing; there is always some aloofness. There’s a number of times the POV shifts to one-off characters, who appear only long enough to be snuffed out. Furthermore, some of the main characters slouch a bit when it comes to impressions. (VAGUE SPOILER FOLLOWS) In the case of Zezili, the general-savior-man raper of an empire, the only admirable quality she really shows is her loyalty, and her whole arc is based around the necessity of breaking that quality for the greater good. Lilia, our focal point for the series, starts off strong, and she had a lot of potential, but as more characters came in, her single-minded focus seemed to railroad her development more than a bit, only to be rushed toward evolution at the end. It felt…haphazard. As for the less than kingly Kai? Much of his arc is others solving problems while he laments his ability to pursue one polyamorous love.

Which…honestly is another thing that gave me pause. I loved the potential of the gender bending dynamic here. When Hurley began to mention the genders, as well as relationships, and scratch the surface of their roles and meanings, I got giddy. So many possibilities. It could have had a real opportunity to expand self-consciousness and find new ways at considering how we identify. Instead, this…didn’t go to the depths I wanted it to.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some examination. The polyamorous style of relations, the inherently bisexual quality of most characters, the submissive quality of the male role—while far from subtle, were an interesting dynamic to see played out. Women were decidedly the guiding factor in most lands. Yet that seemed to be as far as it went in most cases. There was no real expansion on the genders, no depth given to lend them individual intricacy. People talked frequently of the partners they wished to mate with, the various structures of love they wished to enter into, but aside from one case, where it was more of a harem, we never got to see how this structure worked, how people entered into them, where these roles actually put people in terms of sexuality and relationships, and their place within them. It allowed for power role reversal, but never brought these identities to life.

That said, there is plenty of originality here, and a vivid, sweeping quality of culture that cannot go unnoticed and unrecognized. In terms of worldbuilding, it was top notch, and without a trace of the western aligned molds fantasy so often falls so neatly into. Cannibalistic Buddhism, dog horses and bear cavalry (though tragically we never got to see them at war), and organic structures woven of vines, mushrooms and magic, along with the prevalence of blood magic made for a dizzying array of structural uniqueness that immediately tosses the reader out of Kansas and into a magical realm. This is no Uncanny Valley; this is 100% fantasy.

Also, sentient plants that like to eat people. Take THAT, vegetarians.

Overall? I’d recommend it for the exceptionality and the issues it prods, as well as the start it embodies in stepping outside cultural norms. The worldbuilding is solid, and even if you have some trouble connecting with the characters, the pace should be enough to sweep you along.

(But seriously: bear cavalry in an adult fantasy novel. This is where you slow clap.)

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The Hollow March Anniversary Photoshoot

Yes, you read that right. This frigid little month marks the fourth anniversary of The Hollow March‘s debut, and for that, I decided to have a little fun (AKA be a dork and play with sharp, pointy things). For those of you lurking about Facebook and Twitter, of course, this will come as no surprise, but yesterday I garbed up and got medieval on the Internet, essentially cosplaying as one of my novels’ main characters, Rurik Matair.

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The results were filled with grim shadowplay, filters, and were ruddy mysterious, but had the added advantage of a fancy hat and a scimitar. I would like to have kept both, but alas, neither was within my photographer’s purview to grant (woe is me).

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It has been a long, strange ride friends. In these four years I have not only seen birthed a series I had been dreaming up for the better part of a decade, but concluded it as well. Three books in four years; not too shabby for someone still fending off the latter half of their twenties, wouldn’t you say?

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Like the silliness? Want more? Want to dress up, too, or have great cosplays from other literature to share? Pop your thoughts and links into the comments, and share around. It’s an anniversary, after all, and that means it’s time for a party.

And for those of you that have stumbled across this site for the first time, and for whom this is their first introduction to me: where have you been? Here’s the link to my books, so you know who I am: http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Galford/e/B007A9XDXK/

These 10 SFF Magazines Will Change The Way You Look At Fiction

Short Fiction is where novels have their beginnings. Or endings. Depending on how you look at it. Some authors make short stories of what might have been a novel that never got off the ground. Others thrust forth from single ideas given room to play. They come in all shapes (and ironically) sizes, but they are, at their heart, authors’ playgrounds. Novels are where the public acclaim lies, but short stories are where true progress in the genre is made.

Of course, nowadays one can’t even call them products of magazines. Some are, certainly, but there are podcasts and anthologies and e-zines—modernity has really diversified its portfolio on the fiction telling front. Some are paid. Some aren’t. Some are cobbled together by the resources of universities, others independently operated, and still others funded through advertisements, donations or Kickstarter.

Regardless of their roots, here follows a list of 10 personal favorites as a reader. Please note, they are in no particular order, nor does their presence here reduce, in any way, the standing of any other magazines.

  1. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

If I didn’t have the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on here, you couldn’t take me seriously. An absolute beast of a magazine, this market’s story has been running since 1949, with hundreds of pages between its covers. Nowadays F&SF is perhaps best known for giving us Stephen King’s Gunslinger tales and the classic for schools everywhere, Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. This magazine (digest, really) is the unshaken epitome of a fiction short story publisher, with stories that range drastically in length and topic, genre and style.

I have been reading F&SF since high school and I have never regretted the decision.

  1. Daily Science Fiction

These fellows have a simple but effective model: give them your e-mail, they’ll send you a story every weekday, generally in the wee hours of the morning. Nothing longer than 1,500 words and, despite the name, they have a pretty diverse collection of both sci-fi and fantasy works. It makes for a great way to start your morning, getting you settled in outer space before the 9-5 grinds you back into that desk.

Sorry. I’m a little bitter. That desk is contained within a cubicle.

  1. Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is a weekly magazine, and more than short stories, it comes to the table full of fiction, poetry, essays and reviews. They offer a comprehensive collection of goodies that covers pretty effectively the state of modern sci-fi and fantasy. If I want industry news or a breakdown of perspective relevant to issues facing genre writers and readers alike, this is my go-to.

  1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Literary adventure fantasy. What does that mean? Secondary worlds, with the story focus on the journey, the struggle, and the beautiful, enticing prose. Tolkien’s works would soar here, if they weren’t so bloody long in the first place. Despite the fairly specific focus, too, the magazine’s authors manage to find a rather eclectic approach to the voyage. Fellowships optional.

  1. Clarkesworld

Like the Magazine for Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld is on pretty much every list. That’s because it delivers consistently. Also like the aforementioned, it takes in stories from across the speculative board (although the bulk of its material do tend toward harder sci-fi roots), and at greatly varying lengths. Small novels are not uncommon in its pages (novellas) and the website also hosts a delightful amount of podcasts for those who have things to do and places to be.

  1. Lightspeed

Lightspeed holds a special place in my heart. I remember when it first came out. It was just a few months before I graduated from college. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been trying to get published there ever since, but given the talent crammed between its pages, it’s certainly an uphill battle. Begun as the sci-fi counterpart to the simply named Fantasy Magazine, it eventually absorbed its sister and today ranges across the speculative plains (though horror is still relegated to Editor John Joseph Adams’ other magazine: Nightmare). Selected stories are made into free podcasts.

Also notable for its recent production of “Destroy Science Fiction” anthologies, which have highlighted the plights of gender, sexual orientation, minorities and, more generally, DIVERSITY issues in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi. I couldn’t begin to list the number of awards this magazine has won.

  1. Apex

Normally, I’m not a big fan of contemporary fantasy. Apex seriously makes me reconsider that notion. While open to sci-fi and fantasy alike, they do seem to have more than their fair share of contemporary, and the one thing linking it all together is the superb writing. A monthly magazine, Apex kindly puts up more than half of each issue for free on their website.

It also has the distinction of hosting one of my straight up favorite short stories: The Bread We Eat in Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. Dark fantasy, it combines demons, American history, time-lapse and nature to enchanting effect. It builds. Oh does it build.

  1. Uncanny Magazine

Behold the dreams Kickstarter can give life! The newest market on this list, Uncanny Magazine is only on its second birthday, but thanks to its space unicorns (backers) it was funded enough to become an SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) approved market right off the bat, with a strong debut. Guided by the husband and wife duo Michael and Lynne Thomas, it features podcasts, poetry, essays and all the fantasy and sci-fi a growing reader could eat. Like its improbable birth, this magazine exists in the uncanny valley, with just the right amount of quirk to keep things engaging.

You can also read about Uncanny Magazine’s journey through Kickstarter here.

  1. Grimdark Magazine

Bless the Australians, because they’ve taken one of the most popular twists on the old school genres right now and given it room to grow. The offspring of dark and low fantasy, it’s exemplified by people like Joe Abercrombie and R. Scott Bakker…the former of which has had pieces within Grimdark’s pages. Moral ambiguity, savage heroes and gritty situations abound. If you want to feel the borders between the real world and your fantasy disappearing, this is the light to head toward.

  1. Drabblecast

Drabblecast is one of those podcasts I spoke of, a broad collection of fantasy, sci-fi, horror and downright silly that set the standard for narrative. If you’re elbows deep in another project, or otherwise engaged, but need some good background sound or something to carry you away for a bit, let the voices of the Drabblecast readers give your eyes a chance to recover. They even have Drabbles and Twabbles, which are 100 word and 100 character stories, respectively…if you really want to just machine gun through some story ideas.

What are some of your favorite magazines? There are plenty of others I could name, but I had to draw the line in the sand somewhere. Hopefully this will give you plenty of literary food for thought for a drizzly Thursday morning, though.

(And while I’m plugging stuff, let me point out that if you haven’t yet, you should definitely check out my friend Bryce David Salazar’s debut novel, She Sees Metaphors. It’s short, it’s contemporary fiction (fantasy?), and its images will devour you. You need this book badly. Go now.

The Pedigree of a Novel Family

Do you know what doesn’t last long? A half-way decent emperor. They drop like flies. They kick the bucket. They are…well, incinerated. Troubling, that.

Fortunately, if you haven’t noticed, the royal family in my books is rather extensive. Bearing that in mine, I thought I would give you an idea of the scope you’re working with in my books for their maddened political frenzy.  If you couldn’t tell: today, we’re talking The Hollow March and its sequels, so bust out those fantasy hats, people. Now, some of the folks below don’t even appear in the books, mind you—either fled or already dead, and the list is far from complete. This is not nearly so complete as something George R.R. Martin would whip out, for example. This list references those mentioned in the books and, in some cases, more prominent offspring. It does not capture the full embodiment of spawn, grandspawn, or the namesakes of the reigning house’s offshoots—the lines of Mauritz and Portir.

It is but a recording to give you some semblance of the House of Durvalle, and the uphill battle anyone (Cullick lions, perhaps?) facing them must surmount.

But really, do you see how eye squinting an experience this COULD have been?

But really, do you see how eye squinting an experience this COULD have been?

House Durvalle (Royal House of the Idasian Empire)

Foremost of the houses of Idasia, following their rise to power in “The Children’s War” a little over a century prior. Few still name them pretenders, though, largely due to the success of their reign. Three Durvalle Emperors have claimed the throne since then, with the current Emperor Matthias having the distinction of being the longest reigning monarch in the history of the Empire. Their descent is traced through the southwestern Duchy of Dexet, where a branch of the family still rules.

Emperor Matthias Rogimer Durvalle, styled “the Bold” and “He Who Rides,” aged 77 years.

  • His wife, Empress Noelia Tirozzi—deceased 15 years. Visaj.
  • His wife, Empress Surelia Jerantus. Binding their house to the Kingdom of Banur. Farren.

And their children: (13 children and 3 known bastards)

  • Joseph, aged 54 years. A Lord General. Visaj.
    • His wife, Mariline Debourge, binding their house to the Kingdom of Asantil.
    • His son, Prelate Barise
    • His son, Ser Haruld
    • His son, Yorne, the youngest, considered lost at sea.
  • Sarre—Deceased 30 years. Visaj.
  • Moira—Deceased 12 years. Visaj.
  • Leopold (later Emperor Leopold II), aged 38 years. Prelate. Visaj.
    • His wife, Ersili
    • His son, Anatole, aged 8 years
    • His daughter, Fiore, aged 6 years
  • Heinrich, aged 37 years. Principal Secretary to the Chancellor. Visaj.
    • His wife, Marren Certeri, binding their house to the Principalities of Ravonno.
  • Sara, aged 32 years. Handmaiden to Empress Surelia. Farren.
    • Her husband, Count Hernando of al-Saif, of the court of Narana in exile.
  • Gerome, aged 28 years. An Ambassador. Visaj.
    • His wife, Jesmere Turgitz.
  • Matthias, aged 25 years. Visaj.
    • His wife, Mecthilde Rusthöffen
  • Rufus, aged 23 years. A Count and Cavalry Officer. Visaj.
    • His wife, Anna Marie Venier, binding their house to the Principalities of Ravonno.
  • Molin, aged 20 years. A Cavalry Officer. Visaj.
  • Kanasa, aged 18 years. A Maiden. Visaj.
  • Rosamine, aged 9 years. Farren. (From the line of Surelia)
  • Lothen, aged 5 years. Farren. (From the line of Surelia)
  • Kyler Tessel, a legitimized bastard, aged 36 years. Styled Ser Tessel of Affing. Farren.
  • Gerhard of Torruf, a bastard.
  • Ilse of Anscharde, a bastard.

His brothers, Mauritz, called “the Wild,” aged 75 years. Master of Arms and Lord Justiciar. Visaj.

Portir, called “the Devout,” aged 70 years. Master of the Imperial Treasury. Visaj.

  • His grandson, Duke Urtz of Dexet

His sister, Atilde Debourge, wife of King Jon III of Asantil, aged 63 years.

Symbol: Two white, coiling, snake-like Gryphons, their heads ringed by the silver halo circlets of the Holy Church, a scepter in one’s claw and a sword in the other’s.

Traits: It has been said that all Durvalle eyes are green. This is baser rumor than earnest truth, but it is a trait which holds strong in their line, regardless.

The Hollow March Audiobook

Fantasy bandwagon: activate!

Fantasy bandwagon: activate!

There comes a time in every book’s life when it needs–nay, deserves!–to be adapted into the realm of vibrant verbosity. That is to say: the time has come for an audiobook up in this house. Over the next however long it takes I’m going to be converting The Hollow March into appropriate audiobook format, now that I have the proper equipment and it doesn’t sound like a day trip through the whistling Mammoth Caves when I drop into my narration voice.

Yes, that is a reference to my previous reading of the prologue, in its present incarnation on Youtube. Go there. Bask in it. Chuckle haughtily at what once was the peak of Galfordian recording technology, because I lack the connections or mad money for bigwig narrators and voice actors. I’ll wait.

Got that out of your system? Good. It will be replaced in due time.

At the same time, I’m also currently working on transforming my short story, New Frontiers, into an audiobook as well, which I intend to submit to Audible and opening up a new market for it, beyond its current Amazon debut. With all of these books currently in production, suffice to say, it’s shaping up to be a busy Autumn.

It wouldn’t do to make such an announcement without proof and tasty treats, though, so I would like to present to you all the new, improved, revamped version of The Hollow March’s audiobook prologue! Enjoy.

https://soundcloud.com/galforc/the-hollow-march

Book Review: Kalimpura

Would it suffice to say that I wanted (and hoped for) so much more from this series?

Kalimpura is the grand finale to the three book series on Green, the miscreant ninja girl punching her way through the conventional and divine worlds alike in the search, ultimately, to find a place for herself. As Endurance left off on some cliffhangers, Kalimpura picks up just after—and quickly pulls us away again from the city Green spent all of last book getting reacquainted with. That happens to probably be for the best, though, as things in Kalimpura have taken a turn for the worse, with the Temple of the Lily Goddess at its lowest point yet, and the gruff folks in the Bittern Court taking up a page from the megalomaniacal playbook.

A mess ensues. And I don’t mean for Green—I mean for us, the readers.

Lake has always had trouble with pacing in these books. Is Kalimpura’s more on-point and to par than the initial, scattered endeavor of Green was? Yes. Yet the trouble that arises in Kalimpura goes well beyond between random bouts of action and immovable characterized disconnection, to the actions of those characters themselves. You will want to ask them questions—you will not get the answers you desire, or more often, many answers at all. The baddies, as I said, are kind of in that megalomaniacal camp, with the classic baddy mentality—“What do you want? Everything! Why do you want it? Cause! When do you want it? Now!”

Where is the character? The personality? There is no growth here—and certainly not in the form of the myriad cast of red shirts and other randoms that traipse through to little end. Implausibilities (and I do try to use that word sparingly in fantasy) abound, and for the most part, there’s just no accounting for them beyond poor plotting.

As it has been all along, gender and religion (spirituality) are still critical here, and these are undertaken with the same interesting poise they have always been under Lake’s pen. Naturally, these raise more questions than answers, but they are points that get one thinking.

And then there’s Green. Green, Green, Green.

Green has been a frustrating character for me from the very beginning. She is detached, willfully disengages, and yet claims the contrary. She bemoans, and fighting always seems to be the first impulse—which is to say, she’s a fighter not a thinker; impulsive to the utmost. Her sexuality is always at the fore of her thoughts—even in the most awkward, inappropriate situations. Seriously, it’s this woman’s cure to all things. I have no problem with sexual situations in fantasy, but they are just poorly handled in these books, and feel, above all, like they’re there for the sex itself, not for any real purpose or advancement of the plot. Green is not an intricate character, and when one factors in her superwoman capabilities matched with the luck and incompetence of the world around her, things can seem…well, downright boring at times. Pre-supposed.

In all? This was a series with a lot of potential. There is a rich world lurking beneath the pages, that puts a lot of important questions to the forefront of our own investigative minds—but what we get is a poorly plodded, disappointing adventure, populated by characters lacking the staying power of personality.