April Puppy of the Month: Souldancer

It’s my unalloyed pleasure to report that Jon Mollison, Nathan Housley, and the Frisky Pagan have chosen Dragon Award winner and CLFA Book of the Year Finalist Souldancer as April’s Puppy of the Month book.

Brian Niemeier - Souldancer

Jon kicks off the festivities with a preamble drawn from his experience of reading my work.

We here at the Puppy of the Month Book Club have a knack for picking the first book of a series.  We’ve done it with The Swan Knight’s Son, The Chronicles of Amber, catskinner’s book, and Nethereal.  It’s high time we revisited at least one of those universes, and none of them are as deserving as Brian [Niemeier’s0  It was the very first Puppy of the Month, and it only took ten months to get to the sequel.

That’s really too long.

Not just because it’s too good of a series to languish that long, but because this is a challenging series to read.  Frankly, Nethereal kicked my butt.  Brian’s writing is deceptively dense and is thoroughly riddled with multiple references and layers of meaning that completely escaped my typically shallow reading.  It wasn’t until Frisky and Nate [joined] in the conversation and started pulling on threads that I realized how knotted were the stitches that made up the Nethereal sweater.  They introduced me to whole new dimensions in reading, and pushed me to approach the Book Club – and my other writing – with considerably more intellectual rigor, and to devote more time and thought to my own posts both here, at my blog, and over at Castalia House.

Jon and his colleagues really do deserve a round of applause. I’m honored that they find my writing worthy of their considerable analytical skills. Based on their previous Puppy of the Month book reviews, it’s safe to say we’re in for a treat.

Frankly, I’m always a bit taken aback when readers say that the Soul Cycle is unusually dense in content and complex in terms of plot. It’s all perfectly straightforward to me.

Then again, I’m the author, and I read everything in the exacting, contemplative way that Jon found most effective for reading Nethereal. I suspect that it stems from a mild, undiagnosed learning disorder that explains why I a) have an extremely slow reading speed and b) practically memorize almost everything I read.

Anyway, I think that Jon will find the going easier with Souldancer. The first book got most of the setup out of the way, letting SD’s story hit the ground running. It will certainly be interesting to find out what the Puppy of the Month reviewers think.

Jon continues with a brief review and some speculation on Souldancer’s prologue. I won’t confirm or deny his conjectures, except to say that Almeth’s pilgrimage to Kairos has more pertinent and far-reaching effects for SD and the entire Soul Cycle than he expects.

For those who missed the Puppy of the Month Book Club’s epic, multi-part review of Nethereal, you can catch up here. Note that PotM reviews are intended as read-along exercises, so if you haven’t read Nethereal or Souldancer, it is highly recommended that you remedy the situation before diving in.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

@BrianNiemeier

The Whippersnappers Talk About School Reading Lists

This Sunday, the Whippersnappers will be discussing the relationships between schools and the arts, with the main focus on school reading lists. Do they hinder or help a child’s reading? What kinds of books are children being made to read today? What books should kids be reading?

We’ll have many different perspectives on this subject, including those of Orville and Juss Wright, who are still in high themselves! We have much to talk about, so come listen along and join the discussion!

Sunday, 3pm EST! Be there!

 

Ruining Beauty

I have seen very few movies in the theater, compared to the average America. The number of movies I have seen twice is even smaller. The number of movies I have seen more than twice could be counted on one hand.

There is only one movie that I saw in the theater six times: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Why did I—or I should say, we, for I saw it each time with my husband—love this movie so much? A bit of history…

I grew up out of step with the kids I went to school with, partially because I lived in the world of imagination, and many of them did not. My greatest joy was a trip to the local library, from which I would return with a stack of books as high as I could carry. I could read a book back then in a day or maybe two, and every new book was a journey into wonder.

As a bookish, imaginative person, my childhood was a lonely place. Very few of the other kids understood why one would bother with such foolish things. Books did not make them “burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of all mankind.” * Daydreaming was a thing that was mocked.

Things changed drastically when I reached college. St. John’s offered an entire campus filled with people who wanted nothing more than to lose themselves in a good story. I used to joke that the entire student body was made of from “that one kid from your high school who never did well in gym class.” (This is unfair, as SJC sports some excellent athletes.) After years of feeling ostracized, it was amazing to live and study in a place where I felt like I fit in. I might be friends with a fellow student or only a passing acquaintance, but I felt like we understood each other in a way that had been lacking in my home town. It was as if we breathed the same air.

I met my husband (author John C. Wright) at college, though we did not date until later. He, too, was a bookish sort, both writing and reading in all his spare time. We lived in the world of stories and books.

When it came time for our wedding, John drew the illustration for the invitations himself. He put on it a frog and a cat—figures from a story he had told me in our early courting days. Our wedding cake sported a black cat and a frog with a crown instead of a bride and groom figure.

For the thank you card, John drew a svelte cat in a wedding dress…and a handsome prince—as if the kiss of the cat-princess had transformed the frog into a prince.

This was John’s own feeling of what had happened to him when I came into his life.

I think you can see why the two of us fell in love with the cartoon movie, Beauty and the Beast. That small town girl who felt out of place and sang about her love of books and stories could have been me. The huge beast, alone and outcast, whose life was transformed by love, could have been John.

The moment when, wishing to please her, the Beast shows Belle a library filled with books from floor to its towering ceiling…practically nothing else they might have chosen to put on stage could have been so magical for us.

Fast-forward four children and many years, and word comes out that Disney is making a live action Beauty and the Beast with the charming girl from Harry Potter and that handsome, delightful actor from Downton Abbey. Remakes can be a chancy thing, but the Cinderella remake, staring another Downton Abbey alum had been totally delightful.

They had managed to update the story slightly, to appeal to modern sensibilities, without ruining any of its charm or magic. And Lily James was so sweet and innocent and appealing. Frankly, I liked her version more than the original.

They had done such a beautiful job with Cinderella, they could do Beauty and the Beast well, too, couldn’t they?

I was hopeful.

Very hopeful. And my daughter was so excited about the movie.

I think the moment I began to worry was when I found out that Emma Watson, the actress playing Belle, was some kind of Feminist Ambassador to the U.N.—and she had been allowed to update Belle.

Update Belle? How could you improve on the most wonderful heroine ever.

Then, I read this:

“Emma Watson noted how in the original Beauty and the Beast
didn’t provide much of a reason for why Belle was an outsider
other than she simply liked books…”

I think this may be the most tin-earred statement I have ever come upon. Is it really true that modern youth are so separated from the past that they don’t know how alone, how ostracized, how out of place intellectuals have always felt in small villages? Could she really not know?

I lived that life—the life Belle sings about so eloquently. I was that girl.

Because I read books.

That is why I loved Belle so much, too. Because she was such a perfect portrayal of the bookish girl.

I saw elsewhere that Watson picked inventor for Belle because, otherwise, “What did she do with her time?”

Again, that shows such an egregious lack of understanding of life in the past as to be truly alarming. There was a reason every man used to need a wife. Taking care of daily needs was a full-time job. Either you had servants to do it for you, like the Beast, or you had a wife—or in this case, daughter—who saw to the daily needs while you worked, or you did it yourself, and probably could not make a good living, as these things took so much time.

Even in the movie, we see Belle go shopping—a daily task, as there is no refrigerator, feed the chickens, and perform other daily tasks. Believe me, if Belle found time to read in among the responsibilities of daily life, that was quite amazing.

Also, Watson so misunderstands the bookloving mind that she decided that the only reason Belle is not traveling to go on adventures like that herself is: because her father is too overprotective and won’t let her go.

Never mind them being too poor to travel widely. Everyone knows the only reason Medieval young women were not jetsetting around the Continent was—overprotective parents.

How booklovers see everyone else

But daily life aside, let’s return to Emma Watson and Belle. Since reading books couldn’t possibly make Belle so odd, and she had to fill her oodles of free time, Feminist Ambassador Watson decided to make Belle the inventor.

Before I go on, I feel constrained to say: female inventors are wonderful. Everyone loves Girl Genius. And one could write a wonderful version of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale where the beauty was an inventor.

But that is not the story Disney told. And Disney’s story cannot become Inventor Belle’s story and still work.

Why? You say, Why not just watch the movie and see?

Well…think about it. Think about the structure of the story–a story I know so very well, having watched it so many times.

If Belle is an inventor, then books are not the sole bright spot in her dreary village life. So, why the song? Why does it matter that “she doesn’t know it’s him till Chapter Three?” Why does the bookseller give her a book she loves—if inventing is the center of her life?

If Belle is the strange beast, a female inventor in the Middle Ages, then that should be what stirs her heart. Making things, tinkering, bringing ideas to life should be what she sings about—what lights her inner candle.

Either Inventor Belle has no time for books, and they are just a side hobby and the song should be about inventing.

Or, Inventor Belle loves books, and inventing is a side hobby, in which case, it is a distraction and unneeded for the story.

Worse…what happens later?

To cartoon Belle, seeing the library was the answer to everything she desired.

But to Inventor Belle? She has to like the library not for itself, but for what it can teach her about inventing. In which case, a workshop filled with the right tools could have done just as well.

The library is no longer as important to her.

Worse, in the cartoon, Belle’s father is an inventor, and his problem is eventually solved by one of his inventions.

But if Belle is the inventor, she has to solve her problem with one of her inventions—totally changing the story.

Or the story ends the same way it did before, and her being an inventor is now just frosting, in which case, she really wasn’t an inventor in any important way, was she? She could just as easily have been a painter or a pastry cook.

Or a girl who loves books.

 

*–quote from the Hindu holy book, The Mahabharata. This was one of my father’s favorite quotes.

 

 

 

 

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III: Now Available for Amazon Kindle

I’m pleased to announce the official release of the third thrilling volume in the award-winning Soul Cycle, The Secret Kings.

About The Secret Kings

 
Campbell Award finalist Brian Niemeier’s highly acclaimed Soul Cycle speeds toward its climax in the thrilling sequel to Dragon Award winner Souldancer, The Secret Kings.

The god of the Void is free. Aided by a Night Gen fleet, Shaiel’s fanatical Lawbringers spread his Will throughout the Middle Stratum and beyond.

Teg Cross, whose mercenary career took him to hell and back, finds the old world replaced by a new order on the brink of total war. A fateful meeting with a friend from his past sets him on a crusade to defy Shaiel’s rule.

Meanwhile, Nakvin strives to muster a last-ditch resistance in Avalon. But can worldly kings and queens stand against divine wrath?

The Secret Kings cover - clean

Thanks to my international team of publishing experts, including my lovely and talented editor L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, my astounding cover artist Marcelo Orsi Blanco, and consummate professional formatters Jason and Marina Anderson from Polgarus Studio. This book wouldn’t exist in its current wonderful form without you.

Special thanks to all of my outstanding beta readers for helping me to polish the manuscript and get the book out the door by Christmas. We made it!

On the subject of early readers, initial reviews have been unanimously positive. Just because they’re beta readers, that doesn’t mean they’re sycophants. These guys have been some of my most rigorous and astute critics going back to Nethereal, so I’m inclined to trust their judgment.

To be completely honest with you, I wasn’t expecting quite this kind of response to The Secret Kings. I knew that the book was good, but I’d expected a reception on par with Souldancer, which is still my personal favorite entry in the series. SK is actually shaping up to be the fan favorite, which is fine by me. I work to please my readers, and if you guys are finding yourselves increasingly entertained by each new book I write, it means I’m succeeding at my job.

The Secret Kings - Front and Back Covers

On further reflection, it’s not surprising that this book resonates so well with audiences. There’s a nigh-universal hunger for good space opera, and The Secret Kings definitely fits that genre–even more so than Nethereal did. Compared to both of its predecessors, SK features more space battles, more fight scenes, and more overall action, all tightly wrapped into a little over 400 print pages.

The most common reader observation about The Secret Kings is that the previous two books in the Soul Cycle make more sense in light of the revelations it contains. That’s probably because SK ties together plot threads and character arcs from Nethereal and Souldancer in satisfying ways. In terms of things making more sense, it’s not that I didn’t give readers all the pieces in the prior two books; it’s that I’ve now provided categories that help frame the puzzle. As a result, the answers can be seen more clearly.

I’ve also provided sword fights, space werewolves, another kind of space werewolves, disintegration rays, space jellyfish, multiple flavors of teleportation, true friendship. long-awaited revenge, and even a touch of heartbreak. Because a little bitterness gives contrast and context to sweetness.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is available now from Amazon for Kindle. The trade paperback is currently undergoing review at Createspace and will be available any time now. I’ll update you as soon as the print version goes live.

In the meantime, please enjoy The Secret Kings with my heartfelt thanks.

For those who haven’t read the first two books in the Soul Cycle yet, I haven’t forgotten about you. Nethereal and Dragon Award winner Souldancer are both on sale now for $3.99 each.

Get all three exciting novels today and get ready for the fourth and final Soul Cycle book, which you’ll find a preview of in The Secret Kings.

Happy Anniversary, Nethereal!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

My indie publishing adventure began one year ago today when my first novel, Nethereal, went live on Amazon.

It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. In the past year, I’ve released my first book’s sequel, Souldancer, put together a second edition of Nethereal based on your feedback, got nominated for a Campbell Award, and received a coveted BOOK BOMB from super author Larry Correia that you guys made the fourth most successful he’s ever done!

Book Bomb
Do not underestimate the power of a Book Bomb!

It’s been said that half of self-published authors only earn $500 a year and sell about 250 books.

When I started this little publishing enterprise, I had no idea what sort of outcome to expect. It was entirely possible that everyone would hate my writing–or worse, ignore it.

Thanks to you, my growing ranks of readers and my fellow author friends, my first year sales have crushed the numbers cited above. I can’t thank you enough.

I now know that it’s possible to self-publish for a living. There’s still some altitude to gain before I reach that lofty peak, but it’s now much closer than the ground.

No turning back now.

I hope you’ll join me on the way up. And bring a friend.

What does the coming year hold? What’s really exciting is that I have no more idea what to expect this year than I did last year. Anything could happen!

One thing I do know: Soul Cycle Book III, the penultimate entry in the series, is coming along quite well. I’m aiming for a late 2016 launch, so watch this blog for updates and release dates.

In the meantime, what’s an anniversary without gifts?

Nethereal, the SFF book that started it all, is on sale today for $2.99 in the Kindle Store.

Already own Nethereal? Get the even better sequel Souldancer right now for the same low price!

Have you already read Nethereal and/or Souldancer but have been waiting to leave a review? What better time than on this auspicious day to share your informed opinions with me and Amazon’s customers?
Honest Amazon reviews benefit authors in several ways. For one thing, they figure into the Kindle Store’s ranking algorithm. Plus, Amazon ramps up their promotional efforts for books with 50 or more reviews. Last but not least, feedback is good. I read every review, and as Nethereal 2nd ed. shows, I listen to reviewer feedback.
Writing a review can seem daunting, but don’t worry! It’s perfectly fine to leave something as simple as, “I really liked this,” or “The story wasn’t to my taste.” Every little bit helps.
Thanks to all the folks who have already left reviews. If you’d like to express your opinion, please consider leaving a review for Nethereal, Souldancer, or both today.

Nethereal BOOK BOMB!

I’m proud to announce that today I’m joining forces with best selling author Larry Correia to BOOK BOMB! my breakout SF-fantasy novel Nethereal.

What is a BOOK BOMB? I’ll let Larry explain:

For those of you unfamiliar with Book Bombs, what we do is pick a good book and a deserving author that could use a publicity boost, and then all purchase their novel on the same day on Amazon. Since Amazon updates its sales rankings with this rolling average algorithm, the more books bought on the same day, the higher it gets in the rankings. The higher it gets, the more new eyes see it, and the more new readers the author is exposed to. Success breeds success, and most importantly the author GETS PAID.

In this case, the lucky author is me 🙂

I’ll actually be posting the Book Bomb post the night of the 17th, because it appears that Amazon now has about a ten hour delay before the sales register. Gone are the wild west days where a book would begin climbing an hour after the Book Bomb started, and it isn’t nearly as awesome to hit the peak at 2 AM when most people are asleep and won’t see it.

You might be wondering how Larry selects books to bomb. Here are his stated criteria:

Why did I pick Brian for this month’s Book Bomb? First, I really liked the book. Second, he’s just starting out, and he’s a super nice guy.

Thank you, Larry! I’m honored to be lavished with such high praise from an author as accomplished as yourself. Your manatee will be released on schedule at the agreed-upon site–which is a relief, because he’s halfway through my last drum of Cheetos.
Anyway, welcome, members of the Monster Hunter Nation and all readers who’ve taken an interest in the BOOK BOMB! Here’s a foretaste of what Nethereal has in store.
About Nethereal
A woman like no other who longs for acceptance.
A precision killer inspired by the dream of his captain.
The last member of a murdered race, fighting to avenge his people against the might of the Guild…and the dark powers behind it.
The Sublime Brotherhood of Steersmen holds the Middle Stratum in its iron grip. Jaren Peregrine, last of the Gen, raids across fringe space with Nakvin—her captain’s best pilot and only friend, apprentice steersman Deim, and mercenary Teg Cross.
Hunted by the ruthless Master Malachi, Jaren and his crew join a conspiracy to break the Guild’s monopoly with an experimental ship. But when its maiden voyage goes awry, the Exodus flies farther off course than its crew could have imagined.
OK. You know about the book. Larry has recommended it. Get over to Amazon and buy it! Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book 1)
And for those who already own Nethereal, the even better sequel Souldancer is on sale now for $2.99.
Thanks again to Larry and everyone who’s helped to make this BOOK BOMB! a success.

Fandom Is Dead. Long Live Fandom!

the medium is the message

If you change the medium, you change the message.

Philosopher of communication Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively that advances in media, regardless of content, can incite dramatic, culture-wide effects.

A best selling print book can reach millions of people, but turn that book into a hit movie, and you increase its sphere of influence by orders of magnitude. Consider The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Or, for a meta-example, In the Mouth of Madness.

Now throw in digital technologies–the power to instantly connect with anyone or everyone, everywhere. The effect is compounded exponentially.
A media paradigm shift is playing out in SF fandom.


Dragon Con

Getting back to McLuhan, saying that he was ahead of his time would be an understatement. In fact, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to call his work prophetic. Let’s put it this way: the dude predicted the internet in 1962.

McLuhan noted that print technology caused a massive societal shift away from the more tribal, logic-focused outlook of the Middle Ages to a more individualistic, rhetorical worldview. He expected the web to swing the pendulum back toward tribalism.

Let’s take a look at SF fandom through the lens of McLuhan’s “medium as message” theory.

In the early days, science fiction enthusiasts:

A. Got their fix almost exclusively through the printed word in the form of novels and short stories circulated in magazines.

B. Were a pretty nonconformist, iconoclastic bunch. As Andy Duncan recently said on the passing of the great David Hartwell:

Even in the mid-20th century, David continued, science fiction was a haven for gay and bi and trans people, for people in open marriages or triads or even more complex domestic scenarios, for people with physical and mental disabilities, for shameless exhibitionists and unapologetic recluses, for anarchists and socialists and Birchers and libertarians and Weathermen and CIA operatives, for cosplayers and gamers and creative anachronists and people who crafted wholly spurious biographies for themselves that were accepted and therefore became sort of true, for channelers and Scientologists and orthodox Jews and pre-Vatican II Catholics and Mormons and New Agers and heretics and atheists and freethinkers, for Ph.D.’s and autodidacts, for writers of COBOL and speakers of Esperanto, for Forteans and CSICOPs, for astronomers and astrologers, for psychics and physicists, for basically anyone who was smart and passionate and willing to pitch in somewhere— though talent certainly helped, and curiosity, and a zeal for argument, and a sense of humor.

C. Subsisted as a relatively small subculture within larger Western society.

It’s often been remarked how sci-fi fandom burst out of the basements, niche bookstores, and cramped con suites of its birth to win new legions of adherents with the 1977 release of Star Wars.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

–Brad R. Torgersen

Most commenters usually emphasize this event’s unprecedented effect on C, take A largely for granted, and so gloss over–or misattribute–the causal relationship between the change in the primary medium of SF consumption and B.

Brad is an outlier in his astute recognition that newer media (movies, TV, video games, etc.) contributed to the disruption of old fandom. But he focuses more on what kinds of SF contemporary fans prefer than how they prefer to experience it.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom.

My explanation for the conflicts that have shaken fandom of late differs slightly from Brad’s. I agree that relative innovations like movies and TV, and recent developments like video games (which are all reasons why there is no universal canon of SF touchstones), lie at the root of the turmoil.

But I don’t think that fandom is tearing itself apart. Instead, what we’re seeing is various sub-tribes of SF fans vying against each other to establish the identity of an emerging, consolidated fandom.

Brad gives a good description of this phenomenon: “It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.”

That, my friends, is the shape of the future. But what will be the content of its character? What sort of men will these post-fans be? Or will the Amazon servers and mega-convention halls of tomorrow be populated entirely by omnisexual, non-binary otherkin?
Fandom will become more communal, but what sort of community will it be?

Star Trek: The Apple

Watching a movie requires less personal effort than reading print. Even eBooks engage readers’ senses and though processes differently than print books do.

Audiences watching the same movie share a much more uniform experience than readers of the same book. Everyone who’s seen Star Wars knows what Luke Skywalker looks like, but no two Neuromancer readers have exactly the same mental image of Case.

The film industry dwarfs print publishing. As more people come to SF through movies, their shared experience will restore fandom’s sense of community. What the values and customs of this community will be remains undetermined.

The outcome is being decided right now, by self-appointed makers and high priests of culture. If we would have a say in the destiny of fandom, we must wield the new technological tools at our disposal. And we must establish a presence in film.

Currently, I am at best a lowly squire in the battle royale for fandom’s soul. Who are the warring tribes, and who are the chieftains that champion their visions?

We’ll meet them next time.