Category: Featured Blend

Pirate Week: Space Pirates

I’ll end this series of posts with some of my favorite pirates — space pirates.  Science fiction has a marvelous subgenre known as space opera.  The name comes from both soap operas and also from horse opera, which was a nickname for westerns. But for me, what space opera most resembles are nautical adventure stories.  Most of the time the action takes place in and around spaceships, with the nomenclature and hierarchies of naval life that haven’t particularly changed from the 17th century. And like any good shipbound adventure, sometimes you’re gonna get pirates. In some of the “space navy” series the pirates are a traditional foe that the naval forces are trying to control. Sometimes the pirate forces are more like mercenaries that have crossed a line. As tempting as it was to include mercenaries (especially my favorites, The Dendarii Free Mercenaries from Bujold’s Vorkosigan books) I wanted to stick to those operating truly outside the rules. So as your last homework for Talk Like a Pirate Day, here are some science fiction pirates. (more…)

Pirate Week: Romance Pirates

gentlerogue2There’s something irresistible about a pirate.  They live outside the law, they have ultimate freedom to sail about wherever they please, and they take what they want.  I mean, sure… those can be the characteristics of a fantastic villain as well. Romance novels are full of villains.  Alpha-type anti-heroes with what would be a poisonous level of testosterone in real life are perfectly acceptable in a romance novel, as long as they never hurt animals or children. And romance is the bastion of the misunderstood hero in villainous clothing. When pirates appear in romance novels (and good gravy, do they appear), the seeming villain often turns out to have a secret squooshy soft center, at least where the heroine is concerned.  Romance pirates are often trapped by circumstances in the piratical life, and perhaps all they need is the love of a good woman to retrieve them to the bosom of polite society.  Or maybe that loving woman will sail off happily over the horizon with her pirate.  Either way, there are probably dozens of pirate romances out there.  Let me introduce you to a few:

windflowerThe Windflower by Laura London Top Pick!
Written by husband and wife team Tom and Sharon Curtis, this is the one.  If you’re only going to read one pirate romance (and yes, I know most people will never EVER read romance, much less pirate romance), this is the one to read.  I had heard about this book for ages on romance sites like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and never could find a copy (paperback copies, USED, were selling for almost $100, if you can believe). I finally borrowed one, and got to read the story of Merry Wilding and the crew of The Black Joke. Merry is a terribly sheltered young woman as the novel starts in 1813. She plans a trip to Europe and sets sail from New York only to fall into the clutches of pirate Devon Crandall. Crandall thinks Merry is the mistress of his greatest enemy (cue the misunderstandings!) and yet finds her irresistible.  What seems like the epitome of Old Skool romance with the milksop innocent and the rape-threatening hero (oh yeah, that happens) is elevated by its execution and by the marvelous full cast of characters that the authors assemble on board this unconventional pirate ship. So, so happy this has been re-released and is available for new readers. (more…)

Pirate Week: Fantasy Pirates

Yesterday I pulled together a list of traditional historical fiction pirates.  While they might not have been as plentiful in the real world as they are in the novels of naval adventure, there is no doubt that pirates really did sail the seas of history. But the idea of pirates is too irresistible not to borrow for other genres. So how about some piracy on imaginary seas? Fantasy has a long tradition of stories of high adventure, with swordplay and settings that hint at history while taking all the imaginative liberties the genre is known for. And some of these action-packed, magical tales even include pirates.

wakeofthebloodyWake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe
The series of novels featuring sowrd-for-hire Eddie LaCrosse are always fun, and all feature action and swordplay.  It was inevitable, I suppose that he would cross paths (and swords) with pirates one day.  That day arrives when the woman who runs the bar where he has his office asks him to find the pirate she loved and lost. His ship, The Bloody Angel, disappeared years ago and Eddie enlists the help of a pirate queen to search for the pirate’s fate. This series is funny, fast and a little ridiculous, but in a good way. (more…)

Pirate Week: Historical Fiction Pirates

Yes, this Friday is National Talk Like A Pirate Day!  In honor of the day your coworkers go around saying “argh!” without provocation, I knew I had to pull together a list of pirate books. I was going to do a post on just space pirates, because good golly are there a lot of them.  But I thought it would be fun to round up all my favorite genre pirates. Sometimes the pirates are the heroes of the story — misunderstood rogues with hearts of gold.  Sometimes they are the cutthroat villains of a novel — the thing that our hero is running from. The best thing about adding a pirate to a story is that you almost automatically get a blend. Pirates bring adventure, danger, and excitement to a plot. Since there are so many books of all different genres that feature pirate, I’m breaking it up into a few posts.  Today will be your traditional historical fiction pirates. Then later in the week I’ll round up three of the other genres that pirates most often makes an appearance: fantasy, romance and SF. So avast ya scurvy bilge rats, put down yer grog. I’ve yer tastiest tales o’ the jolly roger afore ye.  (Sorry — I’ll stop.)

Historical Fiction Pirates

captainblood1 (1)The most traditional way to encounter pirates in fiction is in the historical fiction genre.  Even in that broad category, there’s a lot of variety in these stories.  For as long as people have sailed the planet’s oceans, there have probably been pirates, so you can get pirate stories set in many time periods. The stories are often full of colorful locations, bigger-than-life characters, and lots of action.  In other word, these books are often great adventure stories.  That’s probably one reason that pirate stories have been successfully made into successful Hollywood movies, from classic Errol Flynn vehicles like Captain Blood to the more recent blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I’ve collected some of the most popular historical fiction novels featuring pirates, but let me know if I missed one of your favorites. (more…)

Featured Blend: Epic Fantasy and Mystery

If you use the Genre Blender to combine Fantasy and Mystery you get one of the bigger sets of results, over 75 books. It’s a popular blend, because adding a mystery plot to the landscape-heavy fantasy genre is a great way to give a fantasy a structure other than “let’s go save the world!”  But browsing those titles shows that most of the blender results are urban fantasies — books set in out world, with magic layered in. Why should urban fantasy be the only ones to get the awesome dead bodies and murder investigations? Some of these are closer to caper novels than traditional murder mysteries and there is a wide variety in worlds depicted, but they are all NOT our world. Here are some epic fantasy novels that include a mystery plot: (more…)

Featured Blend: Science Fiction Mysteries Noir-o-Meter

Yesterday, I presented a flowchart that would allow a reader to navigate a plethora of SF Mystery blends depending on what kind of plot they were looking for.  But plot is by no means the only way that readers determine what they want to read next.  For a lot of readers (especially mystery readers, I think), they are looking more for a certain tone in their mysteries.  Some like things dark and gritty, other prefer a lighter cozy with a minimum of violence.  These shades of tone are present in blends that include mysteries too.

I think that it’s interesting that so many blends that include a mystery go self-consciously for the trappings of a particular subgenre: noir.  Although non-readers think noir is all about film, but the dark, cynical and fatalistic tone that directors brought to the many, many film noir movies from the 40s and 50s  is equally present in books from the same era. But I think we can thank film for locking in the imagery of a lone investigator in a trench coat, beset by femme fatales and double-crossed by those he trusts most. The reason we continue to see mysteries with these elements is because 1) They WORK. Dark brooding protagonists working slightly outside the law and with the rich and powerful arrayed against them are crazy appealing.  2) You can use small cues like a fedora to conjure up a whole mood. Shortcuts are awesome.

But even if a detective is in a fedora, that doesn’t necessarily make the book noir. And here I mean specifically books that are dark.  Super dark. On my graphic, some of the darkest are novels that start from the SF premise of the end of the world, and add a mystery.  Ben H. Winter’s truly marvelous series that starts with The Last Policemanis an example of one of those.  Just as there are mysteries that look at the darkest impulses and actions of man, so does some SF. Although there are many SF writers that look to the future and see possibility and progress, there are just as many (maybe more) that see the shadowy paths that technology can take us on.  They look to the future and see that humanity will probably take all their bad habits forward with them, including killing each other. The dark side of technology plus murder? These can be some pretty grim books.

But it’s not all gloom and doom! Looking at the right side of the chart, there are mysteries that are low-violence puzzle plots with an SF twist (You’ve Got Murder), whimsical time travel stories with romance and a cozy mystery (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and undercover dinosaur private investigators (Anonymous Rex).  In between there’s a nice variety of social SF, space operas, and near future thrillers.  So pick your place on the spectrum below, from the darkest and bleakest to the funny and lightest. There’s an Science Fiction Mystery for everyone.



Featured Blend: Science Fiction Mysteries Flowchart

This year there have been a couple of great new SF/Mystery blends published. I already blogged about Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which I loved.  This month there’s John Scalzi’s latest Lock In, which is a fascinating look at a crime committed in a society recovering from a pandemic that left a sizeable portion of the population unable to interact with the world without the aid of technology, locked in to their heads.  But there are so many more!  While you could use the blender to get a full list, one thing that I love about genre blends is that are so many ways to mix genres together that no two blends read the same.  I thought it would be fun to put the blends together in a flowchart to show off the variety just in plots.  Click to embiggen! sfmysflow

Fantasy for Literary Fiction Fans

Earlier this week I posted some of the literary fiction authors that I thought fantasy fans might enjoy.  When I was trying to think about the flip side of the coin for this post, I had a much harder time. Not because there aren’t dozens of beautiful writers working in the fantasy genre that I think deserve a wider audience — there are. But while I think I would not have too hard a time convincing most of the fantasy readers I know to take a chance on someone from outside their genre, I’m afraid I can’t say the same about those who self-identify as literary fiction fans.  Those readers willing to take even the trippiest of trips with Murakami or go off with the fairies with Donohue if they are shelved in literature have a built in resistance to stepping over a few aisles to the SF/Fantasy section.  Of course, that’s why displays exist, right?  Pull those suckers out of their genre ghetto and display them with some of your LitFic fabulists and you just might make a sale.  I would love for those who refuse to read anything marketed as fantasy to get a chance to read the gorgeous prose and bravura feats of imagination found in that genre. But I have tried to keep my expectations realistic.  No dragons, no magic wands.  Here are just a few of the fantasy authors that I think could work with the literary crowd. (more…)

Literary Fiction for Fantasy Fans

Every time a new book by Haruki Murakami comes out, like this week’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I am reminded how much I love him.  The language, the characters, the totally bizarre stuff he sneaks in when you’re not looking — I love it. His books are always beautiful and often weird.  But amazingly they are all also very different — weird in their own unique way.  He is one of the most respected writers in the literary fiction field, and it is surely only a matter of time before he wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.  But I also find he is a popular choice for the discerning fantasy fan. His books are highly erudite, and they deal with universal human desires for connection, the question of whether you can ever really know another person, and the search for a sense of self.  But they are also very high concept in their trappings and sometimes downright bizarre.  It made me think about other literary fiction standbys that could be happily read by fantasy fans.  Some of these have wilder flights of fancy than anything with a “fantasy” sticker on the cover, but for one reason or another they never get the sticker. Others are books that tell a mundane story, but with an offbeat sensibility; a heightened sense of destiny at work; a hint of something not “normal”.  I think these kinds of books would appeal to fantasy fans because they share that sense of visiting another quirkier world, even if just a half-step away. Here are some authors that I think live on the literary fiction shelves but deserve a place in a fantasy reader’s heart. Since turnabout is fair play, later in the week I will share some fantasy authors that I think should be read by literary fiction fans. (more…)

Series for ‘Shippers, Part 2: Urban Fantasy

As I said in yesterday’s post on mystery series with slow-building romance, I’m a shipper. I adore relationships that take a while to kindle, where you watch two people dance around their attraction before acting on it. Love at first sight kind of bores me (although attraction at first sight — YES), as it seems far-fetched and leaves no place for your couple to go.  But a romance that has its ups and downs, setbacks and betrayals? That’s just more interesting.  Series books have a great potential to string along a good attraction across multiple volumes. In paranormal romance, a sort of sister to urban fantasy, you are often dealt a different couple in every book, and the happiness of the couple is never really in any doubt.  The worldbuilding might be important, but the thrust of the plot will be getting this couple to their happy ending.  Urban fantasy that includes romance (and they don’t always — I promise to roundup some great ones that are love-free for those who don’t want any k-i-s-s-i-n-g in their fantasy) can have devastatingly swoony love stories, but that is not usually the point of the story.  And because urban fantasy often runs in series, authors often spin out the arc of the couple over many, many books. Let’s face it: the obstacles to love in urban fantasy are high. You might not even be the same species as the object of your attraction.  And then there’s the whole “have to save the world from monsters and evil” thing that can get in the way.  But when it is done well, the slow burn romances of urban fantasy are some of the best around. Perhaps I should say here that there are SPOILERS for those who haven’t caught up on some of these series. While a lot of urban fantasy telegraphs the love interest to come loud and clear, there are at least a couple that caught me by surprise.  In the best way possible. (more…)