Moments I love from (mostly) SFF media

Do y’all ever have imagery or lines that send a chill down your spine? Or those stand-up-and-cheer moments from stories that make your heart soar? I have some. And I feel like all my writing is just me, trying to replicate those feelings. Here are some of mine.

Battlestar Galactica, intro/scene – when Laura Roslin is getting sworn in as President. The desperation and despair as she takes a post she was never meant to take, in the middle of an extinction event.

West Wing, intro – I love the black and white documentary-style photos interspersed with videos of the characters. Does that make sense? It’s like that whole famous figures are still just people thing. There are people who are part of our historical record, but to them, it’s just their life.

Barrayar

“You will not,” she murmured fiercely, for his ear alone, “Murder anyone in front of me.”

“Will I not?” he whispered back. “Will-I-not?”

Aral is so fiercely angry and protective here (and Cordelia is a will of steel herself).

The Way of Kings – “Honor is dead. But I’ll see what I can do.” I mean, come on. The setup to get to that line. Holy shit.

All of Stormlight Archive – Bridge Four

Just… Think about how they started out as a disparate group of people just waiting to die, and then turned into a tight-knit army.

Caliban’s War: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day, and I’m sitting in a ship with Jim fucking Holden.”

There’s something thrilling about spending most of two books inside Holden’s head, therefore thinking the way he thinks, only to get a cold reality check of how he appears to others. Such an awesome subversion of tropes.

The Princess Bride“I want my father back, you son of a bitch.”

-When Inigo kills the six-fingered man. I’m hoping to one day write The Princess Bride …in spaaaaace. And this would be it. The notion of dedicating your life to vengeance, but you can’t ever get back what your heart desires

How I read 100+ books a year…and why

Note: a more comprehensive version of this article was posted on my personal, non-author blog. This also doesn’t discuss the pain of reading during a honest-to-god pandemic, so…

Why read?

Whatever you think of certain leaders or politicians, many of the most successful ones read a ton. I used to work for General McChrystal and Admiral McRaven and both of them had annual book lists of “recommended” (ie: almost mandatory) books for people in their command to read.

Reading is a good in itself, even more than one would think. Because of smartphones, our brains have been trained to scroll down short news articles and posts in a manner that is not conducive to retaining information. We need to get back to books, whether in digital or analog form, to retrain our attention spans.

A few years ago, I asked myself, why read? I actually started with the premise that we overemphasize books, given the fluff (this includes me; I love fluff. No hate.) some people read and the wealth of information at our fingertips. The research indicated I was wrong:

Let’s assume for the moment that most of your article reading is done online, in a format that includes links ….On the flip side, let’s assume even if you are reading on your Kindle, the medium at least attempts to simulate a printed book, with page flipping and no extra distractions.

One difference you’ll see is in how your brain decodes the text. As Rachel Grate points out, our brains actually are not designed for reading long spans of text, and it is a use-it-or-lose-it skill. As we read, our brains construct a “mental map” based on the text, and with a traditional book, the brain will map the text in a linear fashion. With online reading, however, especially with attendant distractions such as links, ads, and the power to scroll down fast, most people begin skimming rather than truly absorbing a text.

A 2006 study showed reading on screens (especially Internet reading) led to people scanning the text in an F pattern—that is, reading the top line then skimming along the left side of the page. As individuals become accustomed to reading in this nonlinear fashion, the brain becomes less and less accustomed to comprehending and focusing on denser text.

With this is mind, I started my own online book club. We have 50+ members who are either friends of mine or friends of friends. We have a Facebook group and we share whenever we finish a book. If we are so inclined, we also furnish a review. In just three weeks, it has grown into a little community with book suggestions and cheering each other on.


Is everyone in my club trying to read 100 books? Heck no. Some have goals of 10 or 20 books. But as I told them, the actual number isn’t as important as giving yourself motivation to read when you are tempted to mindlessly scroll Facebook. And if they or I choose instead to take a walk or craft something, more power to us. Writing and photography, for example, isaregoing to cut into my reading time. But at least I’m doing something. We all want to learn to experience our lives a little more deliberately.

How to read:


1.) Set a realistic goal

As of late January 2019, I had finished 20 books. I was on pace to finish about 240 that year (I ended up with 198).


That is a lot of books. To most people, that is already an insurmountable amount of books, even for a year. This is understandable.


I don’t really like other articles about reading 100-200 books that proclaim, “Anyone can do it!” Most people have the intellectual capacity to do it, for sure. Can anyone, regardless of their life circumstances, do it? Maybe, if they pursue that goal to the exclusion of everything else. I think that rather misses the point.

I am the perfect storm for reading at least 100 books. First, I already am acclimated to reading. It actually does surprise me when I go on book suggestion forums and people go, “I haven’t read a book since high school, and I’m 40. How do I start?” To me, that’s unthinkable. But that’s where some people are. For me, even though I haven’t been reading as much as I’ve wanted to, and I’ve had recently a very limited selection of mindless reads, reading is still a part of my life and I normally read about 40-50 books a year.


In addition, I’m a speed reader. This does not bode well for serious non-fiction books (which is one reason I want to work on my attention span), but it definitely works for novels. I can down an easy novel in one or two sittings.


Finally — and this is the most important — I have a lot of downtime that’s not my own: young children who fall asleep on me, waiting in a car to pick kids up from school, and a nasty case of insomnia. Most of that time, you can find me on Facebook, or Twitter, or Reddit. Replace that with a book and I’m plowing through the books.


I say all this to point out: That is not most people’s lives. Most people have, you know, jobs. Or they don’t even get a chance to sit down (even if all I personally want to do sometimes is stand up). You should make a goal that works for you. It can be 1, 5, 20, 40, 75 — whatever.


2.) Pick something you’ll actually read


A lot of people who don’t like to read have had very bad past experiences being forced to read. Obviously, it’s great that we have required reading in high school, but sometimes I worry we have destroyed the joy in books. And I’m sure people telling these folks, “You just haven’t found the right book yet” is even more frustrating, when they try to follow suggestions and end up hating those books too.


Don’t read a book just because you’re supposed to. Don’t try out a genre you suspect you’ll hate. Actually, yes, do those things, but do it if you’re an acclimated reader already and “trying new things” is part of your personal mission statement for this challenge. Otherwise, just read what you want. If that’s the Confessions of a Shopaholic series (which I love love love), then read that. If it’s a self-help book, read that. If it’s a primer on science, read that.


So, especially for someone who doesn’t read a lot, how do you figure out what would work for you? I have two threads on Reddit that I love as a good starting point:


Three books per genre on Beginner, Veteran, and Expert Level
If you could recommend just one book, what would it be?


3.) Don’t torture yourself

Try not to sweat it too much. Start with something easy. Drop a book if you hate it. Skim over science and math explanations in the Feynman biography or skip John Galt’s entire speech in Atlas Shrugged if you really can’t deal (I may or may not be talking about myself here). Honestly, I’m applying the same thing to writing. In professional writing, I want to link to lots of stuff to back up my statements, and I want to double check my assumptions and every claim I put on the page. That’s all great, but I stopped writing until I decided to let go and just have fun with a blog. It’s the same thing with photography. Currently, I’m taking random photos on my Pixel and not worrying about getting a professional level shot. In the end, you need to enjoy it.


4.) Create your motivation and a goal


The book club is really helping me, because I look forward to posting a picture and a review of a book as soon as I’m done. I’m also kind of tickled by the number of books I’ve read already and like watching it climb. And I’m really excited about having the chance to read classics I haven’t gotten around to, including old school sci-fi classics. Other people are working their way through top 100 book lists.


What’s your motivation? Why do you want to do this? How will you reward yourself? How will you gain accountability?


Maybe your goal is just to retrain yourself from randomly clicking on Facebook. Maybe your accountability is your own book club.

I’ve mentioned dropping a book, but if you don’t hate a book, then it does serve you well to try to stick with the hard ones. I struggled with Genuis: A Biography of Richard Feynman. I had bought that book last summer under recommendation, but as of Christmas had read about 3% of it, according to my Kindle. Meanwhile, I took stock of all the books I had read that year and they were unvaried in genre and personal difficulty level. How many good books and interesting topics have I missed out on because I was unwilling to put in the actual work necessary?


5.) Don’t mind the format


What counts as a book? Anything you think counts for you personally. Audiobooks absolutely count, by anyone’s measure. I personally also count story-like podcasts that might as well have been an audiobook. And heck, my first book of 2019 was a 2000- page fanfic.


6.) Set yourself up for success


For some people, that means getting rid of distractions: taking social media off your phone, surrounding yourself with only books, scheduling time only for reading.


For me, the main issue I have is access to a good book. I want to read and if the book is digital, I likely will find time to read it, but I end up with books that are physical books and I never find that time. So this year I keep a book in the car for when I get to school pickup too early. I keep a book in the kids’ bathroom, where I read during the toddler’s nightly bath. I try to read when I spend time in front of my SAD lamp each day.


In terms of picking books, often I think, “man I want to read something but I don’t know what.” Or I think, “Ooh,that looks interesting but I can’t buy $11 books every two days.”. And then when I look that book up in the library, it has multiple people ahead of me in line waiting to check it out and it’s all just a pain in the butt.

Resources include subscription services like Scribd or Audible, but this year I’ve had the most success with the library. You just have to plan ahead.


I spent the last few days before 2019 doing my groundwork. I perused book suggestion threads, I researched the top books of 2018, and I asked people which book changed their life. In the end, I had a list of over 100 books. I didn’t plan on reading all 100, but I wanted an inclusive list to remind me of suggestions that I found intriguing.

Then, I inputted that list to my personalized page at my library. Now, I’ll browse through that list and check out whatever looks interesting to me, and if there’s another few that I like but aren’t available, I place a hold. And for the most part, these are e-books so I get instant access. Having a lot on hold means from time to time I’ll get surprised by a library email that a book is ready for download.

Let’s Start a Revolution

I’ve noticed a movement over the last year or two advocating a return to not just reading one book here or there, but turning reading into a lifestyle. To many people, quality is more important that quantity, but I posit the interplay between the two challenges us to be better on all fronts.

As I had mentioned in my article, reading a full non-fiction book provides us in-depth and vetted knowledge you cannot get in an article. In addition, two separate studies by a pair of psychologists at The New School have suggested that reading literary fiction, in particular, can improve empathy. Finally, immersive, slowdeep reading not only retrains your brain to read again, but assists in “empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence.” We live in an attention-deficient, hectic, technology-riddled society, but we can fight the tide of clickbait and soundbites by using our technological tools to aid in real learning and in training our minds. Let’s make reading great again.

A few of my favorite things (books, just books)

I always feel weird thinking about my favorite this or that, because favorite doesn’t always mean favorite. I mean, Love Actually is one of my favorite movies but really, when I watch it, I snark on it a ton and reread Lindy West’s seminal post on it as tribute. It’s a Christmas tradition. Or, for books, there are a ton of books I’ve read, sighed, and said, “That was absolutely beautiful, perfect, nothing bad to say about it”, and then: it doesn’t go on my favorite book list. How is that?

Or think of colors. My favorite color for the longest time was red. But was it really? People bought me red things: kitchen appliances, dresses, journals. So much red. And after a while, I realized…my favorite color isn’t red. But my whole identity had been wrapped up into my favorite color being red, so how could I now switch to blue?

(It really is blue now. Like, that slate gray blue color? And some turquoise and teal blues as well? Love them).

So, the concept of favorite is a bit sketchy. And so my favorite book list is part nostalgia/formative, and part just: how did it make me feel when I read this?

And then I start feeling guilty I haven’t added other books. Are they not worthy? Shouldn’t Dune be on the list somewhere? And what about books I know I loved when I read them. Do they still hold up? Great Gatsby didn’t. Great book and all, but rereading it twenty years later elicited nothing more than a shrug. Would Wuthering Heights and A Tale of Two Cities hold up as well? Who the heck knows.

I mean, if you asked me as a teen, I’d put Atlas Shrugged on there, so….let’s just say I’ve avoided most of the “classics” read when young because I may need to reinterrogate them now that I’m older and wiser.

Regardless, here’s my top twenty-or-so (edit: 25, apparently) favorite books that have touched me in some way, in no particular order.

1.) Les Miserables

I mean, it may or may not hold up if I reread it, but considering it spawned a musical I also love, it has to be there at least as a formative book. I read the unabridged version (oh yes, oh yes I did), which I wouldn’t recommend, although I don’t like that the abridged version didn’t explain Gavroche was Eponine’s younger brother. For the longest time, Les Mis was my favorite musical (of course it was. I’m so basic), but after seeing it enough times, I’m over it. Now, like the basic bitch I am, Hamilton is my favorite. Sorry not sorry.

2.) Heir to the Empire (Star Wars)

Timothy Zahn, y’all. This entire trilogy has reread potential up the wazoo, and it introduced Mara Jade to the Star Wars Extended Universe. Hell, it pretty much created the Extended Universe (I think a few books had been published pre-Thrawn Trilogy? Courtship of Princess Leia, perhaps? Truce at Bakura? Splinters in the Mind’s Eye?)

3.) Firebird

Speaking of Kathy Tyers (Truce at Bakura), I love the Firebird Trilogy. Yeah, I know. Fight me. Yes, it’s unapologetically Christian, and I read it while I was a nonbeliever, but…I dunno. I loved it as a teen, and therefore it will always have a place in my heart.

4.) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I’m going all word-association, here, so let’s add some C.S. Lewis. The allegory, the wonder, the magic, a book for kids that doesn’t talk down to them…wonderful. C.S. Lewis is a damn treasure, and again, fight me. Mere Christianity is also a nonfiction gem of a Christian apologist book, and again, read it as a nonbeliever and may not agree with everything in there, but man, Lewis can write.

5.) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’m just tryna’ get the controversial authors out of the way, ok? I know. It’s a damned shame. But POA introduced the Marauders, and…that just made this book perfect in my eyes. I love the Marauders. I love James Potter, even though he’s a git and a bully. Remus can do no wrong, of course.

6.) Gideon the Ninth

Varying this list a bit. Lesbian necromancers in space, duh, who wouldn’t read this? Now, actually, I don’t usually like creepy and goth and dark. But Gideon’s voice was amazing. You give me great voice, and you slay me. Loved it from the first moment. Masterfully plotted, too. And anything that makes me laugh as hard as this book did is special.

7.) The Lies of Locke Lamora

(Speaking of laughing out loud…I mean: “nice bird, asshole.)

I don’t know how Scott Lynch managed to juggle two timelines without confusing or frustrating me, but goals, y’all (my WIP has two timelines and…urgh.) And I love heist stories, so heist+fantasy? Swoon. I did love Sanderson’s Mistborn, too, but Lynch gets it done better (and dirtier, and funnier).

8.) The Emperor’s Soul

Well, since I mentioned Sanderson, let’s put this on here. Yeah, most people would talk about Mistborn or Stormlight Archives, but The Emperor’s Soul was beautiful, lyrical, simple, and it spoke to my heart.

9.) This is How You Lose the Time War

Beautiful, lyrical novellas? Yes, this one. This one. I can’t do much but squee. I can’t word like this, folks. How do Max Gladstone and Amal el-Mohtar write so beautifully? Just …red and blue…and squee…no words. I’m sorry. I’ll think of words at some point.

10.) The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Well, this is one of my comp titles for my completed MS, and well — it’s Firefly. But, like, a happy solarpunk Firefly. Gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling all the way through and isn’t that just the best?

11.) A Civil Campaign (and Shards of Honor, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen)

I had to pick one Vorkosigan book. It would have to be A Civil Campaign, considering how many times I fire it up on my Kindle and read various passages just to crack up. But Shards of Honor and Gentleman Jole are beautiful, and they feature Cordelia, who, of course, is a kickass character. My WIP basically jumped off from my reading Shards/Barrayar and reimagining that world.

12.) Wraith Squadron

Reread power just to laugh again: that would be Wraith Squadron (a Star Wars book), at least when I was a teen. I picked it up a few months ago to reread and couldn’t get into it, but that doesn’t diminish my love for it. Dinner Squadron? Wearing an Ewok as a swimsuit? Scalabrious pirates to you!

13.) Star Trek: New Frontier (House of Cards)

Total. Crackfic. How did this get published? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Also, I consider this the precursor to The Orville. Those less-than-perfect Starfleeters. A freaking megalomaniac captain. Ex-fiances working together! What’s not to love?

14.) Red Rising

The first book is like Hunger Games in space but done even better, and then the entire series just takes off. Some people try to classify this as YA…and…what? I like YA (despite there not being a YA title on here), but this ain’t it, chief. This is one of those series I just blew through. My heart isn’t ready for book 6.

15.) City of Brass

Oh-so-beautiful. You know, as a querying author, sometimes I look at the agents that represent people like SA Charkaborty and I’m like…well, if they have her, they sure ain’t going to pick me.

Fantasy in a non-European setting! Mythology and symbolism from my childhood! The writing! I can not wait to watch this Netflix series. And she’s so wonderfully active on Twitter and with her fanbase, which is like, goals.

16.) The Calculating Stars

Can we talk about this title? This freaking title, man. They’re stars..superstars. They are human computers…they calculate. They are calculating stars! And leaving off the pun, calculating (scheming and determined) is just the coolest word and I love the image of stars that are just…watching.

And the stars disappeared when the meteor hit…this title! I love it!

17.) The Name of the Wind

A silence in three parts. The folklore and poetry. The magic system. Trying to constantly make ends meet to stay in school. I don’t care if the series never gets finished. I don’t even care about the mystery. I just love the atmosphere of this book.

18.) Red, White, and Royal Blue

And a shaaarp left turn into romantic comedy. It’s rare a book makes me cackle but between the turkey and mom’s powerpoint presentation..I died. I also have a thing for both royal romance and stories about the White House, so…

19.) Confessions of a Shopaholic

My first foray into romantic comedies, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

20.) The Princess Bride

Has anyone written Princess Bride in space? Because..I need it in my life, and if no one has, I’m gonna.

21.) A Game of Thrones

Problematic? Yep. Didn’t even watch the HBO series, and couldn’t keep reading hte book series because it just got too depressing. Too much death/violence/sex. But the worldbjuilding is…well..epic, and the first book kept me reading and reading.

22.) The Little Prince

I mean, I’m basic, so I have to love this book, right?

23.) The Martian

From the first line, he hooked me. I love the idea of sciencing the shit out of things.

24.) Nemesis Games (Expanse series)

Entire series is greeeeeat, so is the TV show, but Nemesis Games brought the backstory, Naomi’s past pain, and chickens coming home to roost. Strongest in the series, in my opinion.

25.) Ninth House

Six of Crows isn’t on here, especially because I try to keep one author/book series on the list, but it’s also really really good. But Ninth House is Bardugo’s adult debut, and it just stays with you. Again, I don’t usually like creepy, but it’s like…sooo good I don’t care?

edit: Ok, I’m a Grishaverse stan all over again (thank you, Netflix), so maybe it’s Six of Crows on this list. But I’ve decided I’m in love with King Nikolai, so maybe King of Scars. Look, just, Bardugo, y’all, okay?

Edit – 26.)! All Systems Red

How, oh how could I forget my favorite introverted murder bot?!?

27: ) The Lightning-Struck Heart

I had to update, because I read this book and was gasping with laughter the entire time, and then I went ahead and read the whole series and OMG I will never be the same again.

28.) Red Sparrow

It’s unusual that I have a non-SFF book on the list, but I loved this trilogy. Mostly because I’m obsessed with spy stories, and this series wrecked me.