Category Archives: book characters

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 1

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These are not in any particular order, or definitive – I reserve the right to add another world to this list at any time. But the reason why these fantasy worlds have made it onto the list, is that they feature as an extra character, or are simply an outstanding backdrop to the action.

The Discworld by Terry Pratchett
smallgodsOkay, then there might just be an order – because the moment I thought of this idea for a series of book blogs, this world is the one that immediately jumped into my head. For starters, they don’t get much madder, namely a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, which in turn are standing on the back of the giant turtle, the Great A’Tuin. And yet so much is cosily familiar about the goings on in the large city of Ankh-Morpork, which is the busy city where a whole cast of extraordinary characters have a series of adventures. If you have never sampled any of the Pratchett magic, then start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic. I envy you your journey, where you will find yourself laughing out loud and, at times, weeping. My favourite book is Small Gods, yes, it is funny but also profound with all sorts of important things to say about religion, without being remotely moralistic.

The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
This is the world in which a number of her series were set, those being The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders dragonkeeperTrilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and the latest series, the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. As you might imagine, there are a whole number of settings in this world. Hobb is a superb writer and while there are a number of authors who do dragons just as well – nobody does it better. My favourite book is Dragon Keeper – see my review here. I also highly recommend The Soldier’s Son series, which is simply remarkable and set in quite a different world.

The Midnight Mayor and Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
These two series are linked and share a rich London backdrop where the city itself is personified by straysoulsa range of deities, some reasonably benign – others less so. And the super-natural guardian of the paranormal side of London is Matthew Swift, the troubled and very powerful Midnight Mayor. She is a remarkable writer with an impressive range – since 2014, she has reinvented herself as Claire North writing a number of literary speculative fiction books. While I really enjoyed the Midnight Mayor books – see my review of the first one, A Madness of Angels, here – I absolutely loved the Magicals Anonymous books featuring Sharon Li, who runs a self-help group for a bunch of disparate magic-users, who tend to get caught up in some of the paranormal high jinks that happen around London. There is the same extraordinary setting, but with dollops of laugh-aloud humour as well – see my review of the first book, Stray Souls, here.

The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huffenchantment emporium
This is a delightful series about the Gale family, a highly magical matriarchy run by the aunts, a formidable cadre of powerful, sexy ladies who oversee all family details… Younger family members, understandably, would like an opportunity to break free and flex their own magical muscles, which lead to all sorts of adventures. If you open yet another fantasy book with a sigh, wishing you could read something different, then hunt down this series, starting with the first book, The Enchantment Emporium – see my review here.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott
The worldbuilding in this world is extraordinary. To use Elliott’s own words: An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk coldmagicRegency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage. However, intriguingly, the full extent of the world isn’t explored during this trilogy, though I don’t have a particular problem with that. If an author of Elliott’s imaginative scope wants to create a deeply textured world that her narrative doesn’t fully explore, that’s great. The result is a memorable, vibrant setting that works very well as an intriguing backdrop to the adventure series – read my review of the first book, Cold Magic, here. However, she is used to working on an epic scale – her seven volume epic fantasy The Crown of Stars series, is also worth reading – see my review here.

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Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 2

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This is the second half of my rundown of favourite aliens – so far – in the books I’ve read. What defines the creatures that have made this list? That fact that I’ve remembered them, to be frank. I have a shocking memory – leakier than the Pobble’s sieve – so any creature that has lodged in its recesses means that it struck a chord. I’m also very interested in the concept of the ‘other’, so am always fascinated how other writers tackle this difficult topic. So in no particular order…

The Morrors from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
Yes… I know it’s a children’s book – but that doesn’t prevent it being a cracking, insightful read and this non-child absolutely loved it.

mars evacueesWhen I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

The Morrors are cooling down Earth to make it habitable for their species, causing Alice and her companions having to be evacuated to Mars. McDougall has produced an exciting adventure story, with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns and a memorable alien species. And if you are wanting a bit of enjoyable escapism during this everlasting January, then track this down. Read my review here.

Xenocides in The Xenocide Mission – Book 2 of The Ark series by Ben Jeapes
I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, xenocidedespite the fact that I hadn’t read the first book, His Majesty’s Starship. The story is told in multiple viewpoint – and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them – and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans.

The depiction of the Xenocides is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. Read my review here.

Tao from The Lives of Tao – Book 1 of the Tao series by Wesley Chu
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he lives of taowas losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

This is another memorable offering that stood out for me because Roen isn’t some lantern-jawed alpha-male, but a rather overweight desk jockey whose adventure comes in screen form. His conversion to the other type is both painful and hilarious, although that doesn’t alter the fact that the struggle for Earth is a gritted, serious business. I haven’t got around to tracking down the second book in the series – yet. But I really must, as I want to know what happens next. Read my review here.

Kirizzo from The Trilisk Ruins – Book 1 of Parker Interstellar Travels by Michael McCloskey
This Indie offering caught my eye when sampling the extract on Amazon. Telisa Relachik studied to be a thetriliskruinsxenoarchaeologist in a future where humans have found alien artifacts but haven’t ever encountered live aliens. Of all the aliens whose extinct civilizations are investigated, the Trilisks are the most advanced and the most mysterious. Telisa refuses to join the government because of her opposition to its hard-handed policies restricting civilian investigation and trade of alien artifacts, despite the fact that her estranged father is a captain in the United Nations Space Force. When a group of artifact smugglers recruits her, she can’t pass up the chance at getting her hands on objects that could advance her life’s work. But she soon learns her expectations of excitement and riches come with serious drawbacks as she ends up fighting for her life on a mysterious alien planet.

Except the book doesn’t start in Telisa’s viewpoint – the Prologue pitchforks us into the head of the intriguing forty-legged alien, Kirizzo, whose strangeness is engrossing and memorable.
Read my review here.

Portia from Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in childrenoftimethe footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

But the creature who actually are uplifted in an unforeseen twist, are not monkeys at all. And Portia is one of them… This witty, enjoyable adventure both charts the gradual evolution of a creature into sentience and the journey of a generational ship desperately trying to hang on until they reach a suitable planet. Both stories are engrossing, but I do find Portia regularly skittering through my head at all sorts of odd moments. Read my review here.

So there you have it – a selection of my favourite aliens. What about you? What ‘other’ creatures have ticked your boxes, and why?

My Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 1

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I initially published this article back in September last year. But other events rolled over me around that time, so I didn’t get around to providing the second half of this list. So as I’ve now completed it, I thought I’d reblog the original today, before adding the second half of the list.

Yalda from The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – Book 1 of The Orthogonal
theclockworkrocketIf you really enjoy hard science fiction with a strong, coherent and utterly different world and haven’t yet encountered this series, then do so. By tweaking a mathematical sign from minus to plus in an equation that governs space time, Egan has created a universe where light behaves completely differently – he writes at length about it on his website. To people his world, he also creates a species that don’t look like us and don’t breed like us. Once fertilised, the females bodies break down into two breeding pairs, effectively dying. So it is the males who are left with the task of raising the young and keeping society running. This creates tensions among women who don’t wish their lives to end prematurely, so refuse to mate with their co. Yalda is born without her opposite, larger and stronger than average and regarded as a freak in the farming community where she is raised. I loved her story from the first page. Read my original review here.

Illisidi from The Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
This is another extraordinary series. I need to catch up on it, because I’ve read the first six, but now realise to my foreignerdelight that since I last read them, Cherryh has written a whole bunch more. Yippee! These books are about a human outpost on a planet already settled by tall, predatory dark-skinned aliens who use numbers and maths to make sense of their world. The protagonist is the diplomat, Bren Cameron, who lives among them, constantly striving to ensure communications between the two species stays peaceful. Illisidi is grandmother to the ruler, a stately, enigmatic lady very heavily involved in politics. Scary and stately by turns, she is intrigued by Bren. Cherryh is superb at writing tension and miscommunication.

The Fithp from Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
footfallThis famous alien invasion book lodges in my mind as the elephant-like aliens may superficially resemble the grazing beasts that live in Africa and Asia, but the Fithp are far more lethal. They don’t understand the concept of diplomacy, regarding species as either prey or predators. Prey are to be turned into useful slaves and predators are to be subjugated. A frightening species I loved to hate…

The Thranx from the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean FosterNorcrystaltears
These insectoid species stumble across a human crew while waging war with the AAnn. After scooping them up, they tweak humanity’s DNA a tad and then forge a close alliance with them. Foster is one of a handful of science fiction authors completely comfortable with producing a whole slew of remarkable and original alien lifeforms, but the Thranx is the one that stick in my mind.

The Ariekei from Embassytown by China Miéville
EmbassytownThis is another book about a small enclave on a planet already settled by an alien species, but differs markedly from Cherryh’s Foreigner series in all sorts of important ways. The Hosts are large, powerful crablike creatures, who communicate with pairs of specially raised and trained humans. Until it all goes terribly wrong when a new pair of ambassadors turn up from off-planet and attempt to communicate with the Hosts… This offering blew me away with its sheer inventiveness and worldbuilding – particularly around the alien species. Miéville has also lots of interesting things to say about language and how it is used, along the way. Read my review here.

Once I started writing this, I realised it would be far too long if I included all my favourites in one article. So this is the first half… I’ll be adding the next tranche in due course.

My Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 1

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Having started writing lists about all things writing – especially connected with speculative fiction, I can’t seem to stop… So today I’m presenting my favourite aliens that crop up in books, in no particular order.

Yalda from The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – Book 1 of The Orthogonal
If you really enjoy hard science fiction with a strong, coherent and utterly different world and haven’t yet theclockworkrocketencountered this series, then do so. See my review of The Clockwork Rocket here.By tweaking a mathematical sign from minus to plus in an equation that governs space time, Egan has created a universe where light behaves completely differently – he writes at length about it on his website. To people his world, he also creates a species that don’t look like us and don’t breed like us. Once fertilised, the females bodies break down into two breeding pairs, effectively dying. So it is the males who are left with the task of raising the young and keeping society running. This creates tensions among women who don’t wish their lives to end prematurely, so refuse to mate with their co. Yalda is born without her opposite, larger and stronger than average and regarded as a freak in the farming community where she is raised. I loved her story from the first page.

Illisidi from The Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
foreignerThis is another extraordinary series. I need to catch up on it, because I’ve read the first six, but now realise to my delight that since I last read them, Cherryh has written a whole bunch more. Yippee! These books are about a human outpost on a planet already settled by tall, predatory dark-skinned aliens who use numbers and maths to make sense of their world. The protagonist is the diplomat, Bren Cameron, who lives among them, constantly striving to ensure communications between the two species stays peaceful. Illisidi is grandmother to the ruler, a stately, enigmatic lady very heavily involved in politics. Scary and stately by turns, she is intrigued by Bren. Cherryh is superb at writing tension and miscommunication.

The Fithp from Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournellefootfall
This famous alien invasion book lodges in my mind as the elephant-like aliens may superficially resemble the grazing beasts that live in Africa and Asia, but the Fithp are far more lethal. They don’t understand the concept of diplomacy, regarding species as either prey or predators. Prey are to be turned into useful slaves and predators are to be subjugated. A frightening species I loved to hate…

NorcrystaltearsThe Thranx from the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster
These insectoid species stumble across a human crew while waging war with the AAnn. After scooping them up, they tweak humanity’s DNA a tad and then forge a close alliance with them. Foster is one of a handful of science fiction authors completely comfortable with producing a whole slew of remarkable and original alien lifeforms, but the Thranx is the one that stick in my mind.

The Ariekei from Embassytown by China Miéville
This is another book about a small enclave on a planet already settled by an alien species – see my review here – but Embassytowndiffers markedly from Cherryh’s Foreigner series in all sorts of important ways. The Hosts are large, powerful crablike creatures, who communicate with pairs of specially raised and trained humans. Until it all goes terribly wrong when a new pair of ambassadors turn up from off-planet and attempt to communicate with the Hosts…
This is another extraordinary book that blew me away with its sheer inventiveness and worldbuilding – particularly around the alien species. Miéville has also lots of interesting things to say about language and how it is used, along the way.

I started this and realised that this article will be far too long if I include all my favourites at once, so these are the first five. What about you? Are there any aliens you particularly loved reading about? Have you encountered any of my favourites and if so, did you also enjoy them?

Favourite Dragons in Literature

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I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time and decided to give a quick roundup of my favourite dragons. I happen to have a really soft spot for these critters and am always fascinated how different authors approach them. So, in no particular order…

Tintaglia from The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobbdragonkeeper
I love this superbly arrogant blue dragon and the whole backstory of how the dragons come back into being, starting with the Live Ship Traders trilogy and then continuing through the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet. I’m not in the business of giving spoilers, so I won’t say too much more. But if you have a weakness for dragons and enjoy a really intelligent, nuanced world featuring them, then consider reading Hobb’s books.

TheWhiteDragon(1stEd)Ruth from the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey
This clever blend of science fiction and fantasy features dragons used in the fight against Thread, a terrible alien infestation that periodically threatens to wipe out the colonists. The alliance between riders and dragons is very close and a number of dragons are featured throughout the series, but the little white, Ruth, stole my heart. This classic series has stood the test of time and is highly recommended for anyone who has not yet encountered it.

Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowellhow to train your dragon
Yes, I know these are children’s books. Yes, I know you’ve probably seen the films. But if you have, don’t go away with the idea that Cowell’s version of Toothless is remotely like the cool, sensible creature depicted in the films. Toothless in the books is snarky and disobedient, only coming to Hiccup’s rescue when their lives depend upon it. Indeed, the relationship between the Viking youngsters and the dragons in the books is far more nuanced and chaotically funny than the rather tepid versions depicted in the films. Reading sessions of these books with grandchildren regularly descend into giggles.

TemeraireTemeraire from the series by Naomi Novik
This alternate historical series is starts off during the Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used as men of war by both the English and French. Temeraire is a dragon that hatches prematurely so that his rider and lifelong companion is William Laurence, a Royal Navy captain. Novik has moved the story arc on, having her intrepid duo ranging all over the globe during their enjoyable, well written adventures.

The Blessed Penn from Tooth and Claw by Jo Waltontooth and claw
This marvellous gem from Walton, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004, is set in a world not dissimilar to Anthony Trollop’s Framley Parsonage. But you don’t need to have read Trollop’s book to appreciate Tooth and Claw, which inserts dragons and their need for meat and ambition into a world bounded by Victorian sensibilities. It is wonderfully observed, full of delightfully witty touches and one of my most memorable reads.

Other strong contenders – I love Gralen from White Mountain by Sophie E. Tallis, whose strong, outspoken character provides some delightful moments in this enjoyable epic fantasy read. I also really enjoy Jack from The Future FallsBook 3 of The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff – though I am cheating a little here, because he is somewhere between a dragon and a person. The other dragon series worthy of mention is Stephen Deas’ riveting, if disturbing series The Memory of Flames, where the rather unpleasant humans have been subduing the dragons by magical means…

What about your favourite dragons in literature? Who have I left off this list that has you wincing in disgust? I’d love to hear from you!

My Top Ten Literary Villains

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Being a fan of lists and having recently covered my favourite heroines here and my favourite heroes here, I thought it was about time I produced a list of my favourite villains. There is a caveat to this list – I avoided wandering into Spoiler Territory by divulging a villain that isn’t immediately apparent at the start of the book or series, so there are one or two omissions that I would have otherwise included. To make this list, the character in question has to be opposed, at least part of the time, to the aspirations of the protagonist(s). In no particular order, here they are:-

1. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yep. I know everyone cites Voldermort, or He Who Must Not Be Named. And I’ll agree that he is dislikeable and Harrypotterclearly opposed to Harry. But he is also utterly unredeemable and behaves so outrageously obnoxiously, I keep waiting for him to twirl a moustache and cackle evilly. Rowling packs her books with plenty of antagonists, ranging from Draco Malfoy through to Gilderoy Lockhart. But Severus Snape, the horrible Potions Master is outstanding, both in his blatantly unfair behaviour and the heartbreaking backstory that explains his feelings towards Harry.

2. The Vogons from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams hitchhikersguideThe Vogons certainly tick all the boxes regarding sheer unpleasantness. These nasty aliens decide that Earth needs to be destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace by-pass – and are completely unmoved by the fact that the humans inhabiting our planet were unaware of their intention. In addition to vaporising the planet as per their planning regulations, they then compound their hatefulness by inflicting their atrocious poetry on everyone. They are truly memorably horrible villains.

3. Saruman from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkeinreturnoftheking I regularly read that Sauron is the Big Bad in the Lord of the Rings. But as a villain, his threat is very diffuse and while he makes Sam and Frodo’s life hellish while they are carrying the ring, it is The White Wizard who causes a lot of the actual chaos they have to deal with. Initially he is working alongside Gandulf to keep the forces of Mordor at bay – until he is bribed with the promise of greater power to turn to the dark side. So he is not only a villain, he is a traitorous villain, who is also responsible for the scouring of the Shire – and don’t we love to spit on those rascals?

4. Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte WutheringheightsYes, I know – his reputation is as the starcrossed lover who is claimed by the ghostly Kathy, mostly thanks to the fey song by Kate Bush and the 1939 film adaptation starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe. But if you go back to the book, Heathcliffe comes across as a boorish, embittered bully who makes his ward and his child’s life hell. Ellen, the servant telling the story, deeply dislikes him and as she recounts the story, the prickly boy who is picked up on the streets has a dire impact on the family who take him in. Catherine may have run wild on the moors with him and she may have even loved him, but she knew he would make a really bad husband, which is why – I think – she latched onto any excuse not to marry him…

5. President Snow from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne CollinsHungergames_poster And isn’t he a really nasty piece of work? While there has to be a very large organisation at his beck and call to run this autocratic, unfair system of government, President Snow is the public face of this system. And the private despot who arranges killings for those who fail to carry out his wishes. It is President Snow’s dislike of Katniss that influences what happens to her after her initial win, with ultimately catastrophic consequences…

titusgroan

6. Steerpike in The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake This gothic series, set in Castle Gormenghast, is something of an oddity in that although it is often described as a fantasy novel, there are no magic or paranormal elements. It’s an examination of what happens when those in power get complacent and far too steeped in tradition, allowing a villain like Steerpike to worm his way in and wreck far too many lives.

7. Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip PulmanNorthern-Lights The beautiful, accomplished and very charming Mrs Coulter is a deadly villain who only spares Lyra because she is her daughter. It doesn’t stop her imprisoning other children and torturing them in the name of science, though. Time and again, throughout the various adventures that befall Lyra, Mrs Coulter pops up to try and thwart the scientific investigations into Dust by any foul means she can.

8. Mr Teatime from Hogfather by Terry Pratchett hogfatherJonathan Teatime is the assassin hired by The Auditors to kill the Hogfather – Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. He seems a quietly spoken, mild mannered young man who insists his name is pronounced “Te-ah-tim-eh,” and gets very bothered when they don’t. And you really don’t want to upset him, because he is very, very casual about killing people, even when the Assassin’s Guild recommends they should be left alive… Terry Pratchett’s villains often have a redeeming feature or a thread of humanity about them – there are a select few that are beyond redemption and Mr Teatime is one of those few.

9. Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verneverne-20000 I read this book more years ago than I care to recall – but it has always stayed with me. Mostly because of Captain Nemo, whose wonderful submarine took his captors to parts of the planet they had never seen. But this depressed visionary is also an early template for all those mad geniuses who kept cropping up in James Bond films, building empires of incredible beauty and vision that would advance their own craving for power so that Bond was able to destroy them in a welter of death and fiery destruction with impunity.

10. Queen Jadis/The White Queen from The Chronicles of Nania by C.S. Lewis themagiciannephewQueen Jadis initially appears in The Magician’s Nephew and very nearly conquers Earth when she follows Digory and Polly back to their own time. And when she reappears in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe she has managed to become ruler of Nania, condemning the land to everlasting winter and being the cruel, capricious ruler that had depopulated her first conquered state of Charn, whose inhabitants all were killed by Jadis, rather than be ruled by anyone else. Truly, a very, very villainous character – and don’t let’s start on what she did to Aslan…

The near misses include Madam Mumblechook from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, whose casual cruelty towards the animals she tortures and deforms is truly shocking; the Grand High Witch from The Witches by Roal Dahl who takes a lot of beating for plain sheer nastiness and would definitely have made the list, but for the fact that I’d already mentioned her in my article about who I’d snog, marry or kill here; Alec D’Urberville from Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy, whose initial rape of poor Tess causes such havoc in her life; and Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost – the depiction of the beautifully patterned, upright serpent who manages to charm Eve into disobeying God is mesmerising and chilling. So there you have it, my top ten choices for the bad’uns that crop up in books. Do you agree with me? Who are the villains you love to hate?

Jezell Campo from Running Out of Space – to be released Summer 2015

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My pal Sara Letourneau had blogged these answers for her character and mentioned they were part of the Beautiful People section of the Further Up and Further In blog, designed to help writers get to know their characters better. This is the July crop of answers and given that Jezell is going to see the light of day sometime this summer, I figured I’d give it a whirl… Thanks to Sky and Cait for taking the trouble to draft these monthly questions.

beautiful-people-11. What’s their favourite ice cream flavour?
Jezell likes the red wine and blueberry flavour as the alcoholic content helps to mask the blueberry, as she isn’t all that fond of fruit. Not that she often gets to taste this particular ice cream flavour at home – anything remotely tasting of wine disappears down her mother’s throat well before she gets so much as a sniff at it. So now she’s away on her father’s spaceship, she makes a point of ordering it. Because she can.

2. Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where are they going? What are they wearing? Who will they be with?
She’ll be out with her amigas – Donice, Alita and Efra. Left to herself, she’d probably set off wearing ship’s overalls, but the chicas won’t let that happen. They’ll take her in hand – she and Donice are more or less the same size, although Donice is more generously proportioned, so she’ll borrow one of Donice’s off the shoulder blouses and flared skirts. She will also wear a wig to hide her shaved head, part of ship’s regs for all serving crew. Wherever the ship docks, she and her amigas will end up at a bar or dancing venue previously approved by the shipboard chaperones and fiercely protected by the hombres from the ship.

3. Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Do they wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Are they in socks that are ratty and full of holes? What do they consider comfortable and what do they consider agony?
When on duty, Jezell has to wear military grade boots. The Captain, who is her father, used to serve in a mercenary force and has a penchant for all things military, especially as surplus gear can be bought for a generous discount – something that appeals to his merchanting, cred-hugging instincts. When she is off duty she would wander around  barefoot if she could get away with it, but it’s against ship’s regs, so she wears non-slips. They are often odd colours as she tends to lose one of a pair, which has Alita rolling her eyes over her untidiness.

4. Do they have any birthmark or scars? Where are they and how did they get them?
She has a small mark on the pad of her left palm and a small star-shaped scar behind her ear which she only got to know about when undergoing the extensive physical before joining the merchanting space ship, Estrella Fugaz some 9 months earlier. She doesn’t know it, but both scars were inflicted by her brother Duardo when he was an 18-month-old infant, a long time ago, now. These days, any wounds going to be inflicted, it’ll be Jezell doing the deed, that’s for sure – especially where Duardo’s concerned…

5. What kind of music do they listen to? Does it change depending on their mood or is it always consistent? (Feel free to share samples!)
She loves music, particularly the Old World stuff from pre-Diasporan times. The modern multi-tonal bot-compositions leave her cold – apart from anything else, they are next to impossible to sing unless you have your voice artificially aug’d and she’s no intention of letting some bot-brain tinker with her voice, muchas gracias for asking…

6. Do they have any musical talent? Play an instrument? How’s their singing voice?
She sings a lot. Often at the end of an evening, when the wine is flowing and people want to hear the old songs from Homespace, she is asked to sing, which she enjoys doing. Although she gets very fed up when fast-talking hem-huggers overpraise her performance, just to get on her shiny side because she is The Cap’s daughter.

7. What kind of book would you catch them reading?
Ha! As if she’d ever be given any slack time to prone around with a book. Back home, she was always pressed into service to help out with her baby brothers, particularly when Mamá retreated to her room in a drink-sodden haze. And now on the ship, she is vaguely aware of the library but is more interested in delving into the musical archive.

8. How would they spend their summers (or their holidays)?
The Cap generally books them a hotel suite at his favourite tourist resort in the whole of Sector Two, Costa del Iberia, where there are sandy beaches and warm seas for a couple of weeks. Not that Jezell gets a whole lot of time to laze around on the sand – she’s too busy keeping tabs on her baby brothers. Though the last time, baby Orly was only a couple of months old, so she stayed at home with Mamá, who was still recovering from her confinement and helped with the night feeds, while The Cap took the boys away. It wasn’t a success. They came home early with The Cap tight-lipped and a face darker than a black hole, muttering about having to do something about the boy’s discipline – so Jezell figured it was probably Duardo messing things up. Again.

9. It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. Ex. If they’re eating breakfast, what’s on the menu? Are they hiking, shopping, lazing around?
Now she’s on the ship, it majorly depends on which watch she’s on, given Estrella works a three-section dogged watch system. Being on Shift Segundo, she’s either still on the changeover and very much looking forward to brunch in the mess with her amigas in another hour, or standing by to take over. Or if she’s off-duty, she’ll have spent a morning lazing in her cribicle – if Donice will let her – and then have a big meal before getting ready to go on duty. If on shore leave, it’s all a question of when the chaperones feel inclined to escort the chicas to the approved shopping or trading areas.

10. Is there anything your character wants to be free of?
She is exasperated by the constant chaperoning because she is a fertile señorita. She wishes that she was one of the infertile chicas on board the ship who have a whole lot more freedom to spend time with whom they want. Apart from anything else, there are a bunch of hombres on the ship who have decided that paying court to her would be a zesting career move, so she is always having to flick away unwanted attention. Which gets to be sooo boring…

How Are They Doing?

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You’ve followed the protagonist and her friends and enemies through a whole series of books, finally closing the last volume with a sigh… So, which character would you like to revisit to see how they’re now getting on? Thanks to Anastasia, who first posed this question here, I’ve compiled my own list of top ten characters I’d like to catch up with.
In no particular order…
1. Corporal Carrot from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett – Okay – I lied. There is an order – GuardsGuardsbecause this wonderful body of work has to be one of the major starting points for any speculative fiction fan. And why Corporal Carrot out of the cast of Discworld characters? Because if anyone is liable to suddenly march out of obscurity and into a Hero’s storyline, then it’s got to be Corporal Carrot. And I’m betting even an ordinary day in his life is probably rather more event-filled than most folks – particularly if he and Angua ever get around to producing offspring…
2. Johan Eschback from the Ghosts of Columbia series by L.E. Modesitt Jr – This fascinating series is set in an alternate world where America was settled by the Dutch – and large parts of the world are uninhabitable because whenever anyone suffers a violent death, they return as ghosts able to cause havoc to the living. Johan Eschback is a retired secret agent, now happily remarried to an opera singer, who finds himself unable to turn down an offer to resume his former career in a series of enthralling adventures. I’d love to peep back into his life and ensure that he and the lovely Llysette are still thriving…
3. Jarra from the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards – This YA science fiction trilogy follows the adventures of Jarra, who is part of a minority of humans trapped on Earth due to an allergic reaction she suffers whenever travelling offplanet – leading to discrimination by the majority of humanity who have now relocated to more desirable planets. Is Jarra enjoying her new role? I really hope she retains all her energy and enthusiasm which makes her such an engaging protagonist.
4. Tintaglia from The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb – This series of four books set in Hobb’s world concentrates on the dragons and their keepers struggling to find the fabled dragon city. Tintaglia has to be the most defiantly self-centred and arrogant protagonist I’ve ever cared about – and I’d love to know if the beautiful blue dragon is still engrossed in her own affairs to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.
5. Sookie Stackhouse from the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris – I read all the books and Deaduntildarkeven followed the first couple of series on TV until I decided that it was all a bit too gory. While the TV series followed the storyline of the books reasonably closely, it couldn’t successfully recreate the dry humour that ran throughout Sookie’s first person narrative, which makes her a solid favourite of mine. Is she still well and happy? I’d love to drop in and find out.

6. Nadia Stafford from the Nadia Stafford series by Kelley Armstrong – This entertaining trilogy features an ex-policewoman who embarked on a career as a hit woman after being kicked off the force for taking the law into her own hands. The story arc over this enjoyable thriller/whodunit series with a difference is a cracking read – and I’d love to know that if the choices Nadia finally made are still working for her…
7. Jon from the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name – This science fiction romp is about a duo, so I suppose I should have also added Lobo’s name. Jon is an ex-labrat who has done some fairly awful things in his time – and teamed up with Lobo, a mouthy AI. Together they are a formidable twosome who try to provide might for the right. With mixed results… I love the non-stop action and sharp dialogue that accompanies this entertaining, well written offering. And would like to think that Jon enjoys a measure of peace in his life – though I have my doubts, given he has Lobo alongside…
8. Matthew Swift from the Midnight Mayor series by Kate Griffin – To say that Matthew is a troubled soul is something of an understatement, given that he’d been murdered and spent two years living in the wires cris-crossing London before being reincarnated as the spiritual saviour of the city. I’d like to think he is now putting his feet up – but somehow have my doubts. He does occasionally put in an appearance in Griffin’s spinoff series – and I wait patiently to see if he settles down. Or better still, steps away from the gruelling post of Midnight Mayor.
9. Lila from the Quantum Gravity series by Justina Robson – This genre mash-up is a tour de force and I still find myself sliding back to considering these remarkable books. The premise is that a quantum bomb has allowed creatures from other realities to bleed through into our world without anyone really noticing… And yes – you’re right. It sounds mad, but Robson makes it work. I’d love to know that Lila is still raising hell somewhere. Preferably a safe distance from where I am.
10. Devi from the Paradox series by Rachel Bach – This enjoyable space opera romp featuring adrenaline œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIjunkie Devi, who gets into more scrapes than I’ve had hot dinners, is a blast from start to finish. And I’d like to think that she and Rupert are still dancing around each other and causing sufficient chaos to keep them happy, though probably – knowing Devi – she’s probably up to her eyebrows in trouble.

Those are my choices for protagonists I got to know and would love to be able to just peep into their futures and ensure everything is still going smoothly for them. Who would you like to revisit and check out?

My Top Ten Literary Heroines

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Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s list here, I decided to have a bash at this fun exercise. I was initially all set to include the likes of Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse and Jo March – all solid favourites of mine, but then recalled that every one of them were married off to drearily bossy, opinionated men. I suspect that twenty-something years down the line, after giving birth to a large brood of children, they would have been reduced to slightly more intelligent versions of Mrs Bennet, suffering from a number of debilitating ailments brought on by too many babies in too short a time, and used as a verbal punchbag by their sarcastic husbands.

So in no particular order – here is my list, shorn of my classic choices…

1. Mendoza, the main protagonist in The Company novels by Kage Baker. She is a highly augmented, partinthegardenofiden cyborg immortal slave, rescued by the Company and trained up as a botanist as part of their workforce. Her story starts in the first book In the Garden of Iden where she is imprisoned by the Inquisition as a small child. The series is remarkable – I have never encountered anything else quite like it, a marvellous mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. Kage Baker is a scandalously neglected writer who died tragically early of cancer, while the last two books do slightly lose the plot, the earlier books in this series are wonderful. Mendoza increasingly realises the Company is not the force for good she initially assumed it was – and takes steps to try and fight back…

 

2. Alma Whittaker, protagonist in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Alma is a wealthy signatureofallthingsVictorian heiress, but not particularly blessed with looks or social graces. Disappointed in love, she doesn’t lapse into bitterness, or tuck herself away to rot in spinsterly misery – she throws herself into her scientific investigations into the nature of lichens. Gilbert has written a wonderful heroine, full of courage and energy, but still believably vulnerable.

 

3. Mori, protagonist in Among Others by Jo Walton. At the start of this book,15 yr old Mori has been sent to among othersan English boarding school after magically fighting her mother, who is trying to take control of the fairies. Her twin sister is killed in the battle, and Mori sustains major injuries to her leg, leaving her lame and in constant pain. She turns to science fiction books for consolation as she struggles to cope with her grief and pain. It is a wonderful book and swept me up, as well as winning a hatful of awards.

 

4. Sirantha Jax from the series by Ann Aguirre. I read the first three of these books, starting with Grimspace,grimspace featuring the female jump pilot, who is plunged into a series of adventures and scrapes – some of them of her own making. I love her edgy, reckless nature and first person voice that bounces off the page. In looking up the series, I notice with delight that the series is now complete – so I must track down the last three books…

 

5. Mitzy Hatcher from A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. Another favourite author of mine, this half forgotten songbook struck so many chords with me, I was humming with pleasure and pain most of the way through… Poor little loveless Mitzy should be an absolute victim – and she just isn’t, though sheer guts and determination to pursue the love of her life… It takes her to some very dark places and an unexpected ending.

 

6. Mary Smith from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This children’s book is a gem that has always littlebroomstickentranced classes I’ve read it to throughout my teaching career – and while the likes of Madam Mumblechook of Endor College and the sheer delight of the narrative pulls the story along, it is small, shy Mary Smith that quietly dominates… It’s a very neat trick to pull off and I’m really sorry that more people don’t know this wonderful book, with its echoes of the far more famous Hogwarts.

 

7. Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I loved her from the moment I first equalritesread the books, more years ago than I care to think. And now, as a granny who regularly practises headology to defuse any confrontations with the grandchildren – she is my absolute heroine. All I now need are the boots and rocking chair…

 

 

8. Oree the protagonist from The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Oree Shoth is a blind street artist thebrokenkingdomswho lives in the city of Sky, with the ability to see magic. When she finds a beggar blazing with magical potential left for dead in the alley behind her house, she takes him in. This is the second book in the remarkable Inheritance Trilogy and for my money, is the best. I wept at the end of this book – something that hardly ever happens these days. Oree could have so easily been depicted as a victim, but is far too sharp to fall into that category. I think it’s fair to say that she annoys her guest into recovering from his terrible injuries…

9. Alice Dare from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. This is a children’s book this adult found absolutely mars evacueesenthralling and shared it with an equally enthralled granddaughter this year, who also loved it. Alice is evacuated to Mars along with several hundred other children destined to continue the desperate fight with the aliens trying to take over Earth. It is poignant, funny, frightening, funny and thrilling by turns. The main protagonist is wonderfully amusing, which goes to some way to leaven the desperate situation they are in – but not by as much as you might think. And Alice’s superpower is that she simply refuses to give up… a wonderful role model for girls of all ages who feel a tad overwhelmed by Life.

10. Sharon Li of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin. This series is an offshoot of the very straysoulssuccessful Midnight Mayor series featuring Matthew Swift. Sharon Li is everything Matthew isn’t – for starters, she’s human. And at pains to be as inclusive as possible, as well as celebrating every variation of magical manifestation who turn up to her self-help group. Sharon is marvellous – I love her dogged determination to do the right thing, and the bonus is the laugh-out-loud moments scattered through these books.

 

And that’s my current list. Chances are, you ask me for an update in a couple of years, there will be quite a different selection – though I can’t conceive of a list without Mendoza, Mary Smith or Granny Weatherwax…
What about you? Who are your favourite literary heroines, and why?