Sarah Reads: “Don’t Think About That”

This past year, I’ve participated in a lot of readings with other writers, mainly my fellow Ball State students. I discovered that I really love getting up in front of a crowd and reading my work and, even better, that I’m not half bad at it.

So here’s my new feature for the blog: Sarah Reads.

Once or twice a month (I’ll set a better schedule as I get comfortable), I’ll be posting audio of me reading original fiction. Currently I’m not going to post the text along with it, but I’d love to hear from my readers on whether or not you’d like to have that text.

This first edition of Sarah Reads features a flash fiction about space: “Don’t Think About That”.

Tuesday Reads: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

What is this power the dead have over the ones they leave behind? It’s strange and beautiful and frightening, this deathless love that human beings continue to feel for the ones they’ve lost.

If you could have a double of a loved one made, someone that would come to you if your loved one died and take their place, would you? They’d be an exact physical replica. They’d spent their whole lives learning to be the person you lost. But would that be enough?

lost girlThat’s the premise of The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. For a price, people called Weavers make perfect little clones called echoes that can be used to replace a person once they’ve died. As the technology stands now, they have to be taught to be that person, but the hope is that one day they’ll actually be able to transfer the thoughts and soul of someone into a body double that’s just standing by.

Eva is an echo. She spends most of her life in a house with her caretakers, studying her other, Amarra. But Eva isn’t exactly like Amarra. She can’t be. She has her own thoughts, her own wants and needs, people she loves. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much of a choice – when Amarra dies, Eva gets packed off to India to become her. She’s implanted with a tracker so she can’t run away and she can’t tell anyone what she is, both because echoes are illegal in India and because most people see them as abominations. Eva wants to make Amarra’s family happy, but she also badly wants to be herself and live her own life, so what is she supposed to do?

Once I started in on The Lost Girl, I couldn’t stop. I quickly became invested in Eva and wanted her to be happy. I knew that Amarra had to die and Eva had to go live that life – what story would there be if Eva just got to stay home in England? – but in the chapters leading up to it, I still hoped that nothing would happen to Amarra. When we see Amarra die in Eva’s dream, I felt my stomach drop. When Eva leaves for India, I was even more afraid that she wouldn’t do a good job being Amarra. If she wasn’t convincing enough, Amarra’s family might get rid of her, and that would mean her death.

I really loved every character, to be honest, even those who betrayed Eva. I understood all of them and their motivations. It’s pretty awesome writing that does that.

Also, Eva ships Harry/Hermione, and that’s the coolest. Basically all of my friends have some ships (that is, fictional relationships that they support, canon or not) but you never see that acknowledged in books. In The Lost Girl, it’s just a quick, casual moment. It doesn’t make a big deal out of itself, but it was a big deal to me. It grounded the book for me and made me love Eva even more.

My only real problems with the book were that I want to know more about how echoes are made. We know that every echo has only one Weaver working on it, but we don’t know how they do it. I became a little uncertain if it was science or magic or both. There’s also not a defined time period. I’m pretty sure it’s set in an alternate version of our present, but I would have loved some confirmation.

This is not your usual future technology YA (which, let’s be honest, are usually dystopias). This is something different, and it’s easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

Medium: Kindle
Stars: 5/5

Tuesday Reads: Top 10

Before we start looking forward to the new year, I propose that we reflect back on 2012. In this case, I’m going to talk about my top 10 books of 2012 out of the 74 that I read.

Presented in alphabetical order:

BlackHeart_3-678x1024Black Heart by Holly Black

This is the final book in Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy. You should obviously read the whole trilogy, but this is the one that I read this year. They are wonderfully funny and dark urban fantasy novels, and definitely my favorite of her books. Let me put it this way: After I finished Black Heart, I rolled around on my bed squealing and proposed to Holly Black on Twitter. She accepted.

Blindsight by Peter WattsBlindsight

I’ve already written about this, so I won’t say much here. The short of it is that this is an intelligent scifi book that will send your mind reeling and probably make you doubt your own place in reality.

8490112Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Ah, more YA urban fantasy. I kind of have an addiction. This is set largely in Prague, and is about a young girl raised by magical creatures. She travels the globe collecting items, using doors that instantly take her wherever she needs to go. Also, there are angels.

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Do you want to laugh and sob and generally read something beautiful? Read anything by John Green. But mostly read this. No, seriously, read this. It’s about adolescents dealing with cancer. It’s full of humor and wit, and you’ll feel you’ve learned something. Also you’ll cry. Like, a lot.

100K2The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Political intrigue and drama between feuding gods. There’s romance, magic, violence, an adorable trickster god, and a polyamorous god triad. Why aren’t you reading it right now? (Really, it’s beautiful. This is one of my favorite books of all time.)

Kindred by Octavia Butler8310

Kindred is about a young black woman from the 70s who finds herself drawn back into the 19th century deep South. You can see how that would be not so ideal. She faces her trials head on, and discovers both how easy and difficult it can be to change people.

TheNightCircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but why wouldn’t you when the cover is this gorgeous? I really love both magic and circuses, so a book about a mysterious traveling circus and magicians training apprentices to win a bet was definitely going to be my thing. It should be your thing, too.

Shade’s Children by Garth NixShade's_Children

I’m definitely late to the party on this one. Almost all of my friends had already read this book. When I started asking for post-apocalyptic novels, this got suggested a million times. If you want to read a book about a team of kids with mysterious powers fighting to live in a world where all adults have mysteriously disappeared, this is one for you.

towelhead-novel-alicia-erian-paperback-cover-artTowelhead by Alicia Erian

This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read. It’s about a young girl in 1990 who deals with racism, neglectful and abusive parents, and sexual abuse, all while attempting to find herself. You will want to throw this book against the wall and you will cry, but it is so worth reading.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelmwhere late the sweet birds sang

Sometimes scifi doesn’t age so well. The technology can be horribly dated. This book, though? I didn’t realize that it was written in the 70s until I checked. It doesn’t feel dated at all. Instead, it’s just wonderful. It’s a book written in three parts about how most of humanity is wiped out and then replaced by clones until it all comes back around to the return of humanity. This will make you think about what it means to be human.

What books did you love in 2012?

Tuesday Reads: Blindsight by Peter Watts

I’m participating in Goodreads‘ reading challenge for the second year in a row. In 2011, I surpassed my 50-book goal, so I decided to shoot for 100 books this year. It’s December 18th, and I’m at 67.

Which means I have 14 days (including to day) to read 33 books.

That’s 2.35 books a day.

We’ll see how this goes. If you’d like to check out my progress on the 2012 challenge as well as the 2013 when it begins in January, check out the sidebar.

BlindsightIn the meantime, this is Tuesday Reads, and we’re going to talk about one of the two books I read yesterday and that is Blindsight by Peter Watts which, let me tell you, is amazing. It also broke my brain, which might be why the second book I read yesterday was a collection of silly and odd short stories.

I took a class on science fiction and sustainability this semester, and it made me realize just how little scifi I’ve really read. Until recently, when someone asked me my favorite scifi book all I could think to say was, “Well, I finally read Ender’s Game.” (I’m probably not giving myself enough credit, but that’s totally what it felt like.) So, my boyfriend came to my rescue and gave me a huge stack of scifi books to read, putting a barely noticeable dent in his massive scifi collection. One of them was Blindsight.

Blindsight is a first-contact novel that packs in about a million scifi elements that, quite frankly, I didn’t think could all be put together successfully. If you have too much going on, eventually the reader (and you) get tired. But, no, Blindsight pulled off the combination of interstellar travel, interstellar combat, body modification, mind altering via surgery and pills, virtual reality, the introduction of a new alien species, and scifi vampires kind of awesomely.

For some of you, the term “scifi vampires” probably had you running for the hills or had you really interested. Trust me when I say that it’s better than it sounds – yes, even for the people who were already interested, it’s better than it sounds. Basically, they’re a species that branched off from humanity at some point and can only survive on human blood. But the human/vampire population was pretty steady at the peak of vampire power, and it would have been easy for them to kill their entire source of food off. So, the vampires were able to hibernate/essentially die for decades at a time and then come back. This allowed 1) their food source to replenish itself and 2) their food source to forget that they existed and think of them only as myths. That worked for them for awhile, but they had this really tricky genetic glitch that caused them to go into grand mal seizures whenever they saw intersecting right angles. Like, you know, a cross? It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t appear much in nature, and then it started being all over the place, and soon the vampires were wiped out entirely.  Until, you know, some scientists in the distant future decided to clone them back into existence and use them for their greatly superior intellect. The smartest humans don’t get within 100 IQ points of a vampire. The vampire character in Blindsight is the one leading the interstellar journey to find aliens.

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t read a lot of science fiction or because science is just hard, but sometimes the really hard scifi definitely starts to hurt my brain and while I can mostly understand the scientific terms from context or Googling, I admit that when the jargon and scientific philosophy gets heavy, I’m prone to skimming. That was probably the only problem I had with Blindsight, and I’m pretty sure that’s a fault with me, not the book.

I’m also pretty sure Blindsight would hurt the brain of even science junkies because it has a lot of heavy ideas in it about humanity and reality that kind of left me doubting my own existence and the validity of everything I touched for awhile. It makes you think about how everything you do and see and touch and feel and taste is only the way it is because your brain is telling you that’s the way it is, and the brain is a powerful thing. It can convince you of just about anything and you’ll have no reason to doubt it. It can tell you that you’re dead when you aren’t, that you can see when you’re blind, or that you don’t exist even though you’re talking to people.

Kind of creepy, huh?

Favorite Quote: “If you do not exist, Amanda, what is talking to us now?”

Medium: Paperback

Stars: 4.5/5

Dell Award

He wins all the branch-crossing contests.

He wins all the branch-crossing contests.

Apologies for my couple weeks of absence. The end of the semester and finals sort of took over my life. Now that I’ve returned, why not talk about the next thing taking over my life? That’s the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Most of us just call it the Dells to make our lives a little easier.

It’s an annual award for – you guessed it – undergraduate students who write particularly excellent sic-fi and fantasy short stories of 1000-10,000 words. I’ve entered the past two years, and not even cracked the honorable mentions. I know a lot of the writers that have, though, so I’m not surprised. I have really stiff competition.

See, most of them are Alphans. I’ll tell you more about Alpha in another post, but all you need to know right now is that it’s a workshop for young writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of writers between 14 and 19 apply every year but only 20 are accepted. Then they get to spend a couple weeks learning about the craft from amazing writers like, uh, Tamora Pierce.

What I’m getting at is that Alphans are a talented group, and every year for longer than I’ve been eligible, Alphans have tried to sweep the Dells. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s hard to find a year where there isn’t an Alphan present in the winners circle. Even before Alpha existed, current staffers were submitting and winning or getting honorable mentions.

The Dell Award is something I’d be interested in even if I wasn’t an Alphan. The winner gets $500, an all-expenses paid trip to the IAFA annual Conference on the Fantastic, and generally gets to be in some really awesome company. But since I’m also an Alphan, it almost feels like it’s my duty to get in there and try to make our dream come true.

I have until midnight on January 8th. I can enter as many stories as I want, but each entry costs $5. They give a brief idea of what they do and don’t like in a story – “Those stories typically are “character oriented”; i.e., the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will have the best chance of success.” – and it’s speculated that they seem to especially like stories with long titles, but ultimately it all just comes down to writing a really good story. I have three in the works, and it will be the first time I’ve submitted a science fiction story to them.

Alphans set up a group where we can all talk about writing, critique each others’ work, etc., etc. Come Dell time, it’s all critiquing of Dell stories, worrying that maybe we got our submission in a minute too late or oh god did we forget to take out that one shitty sentence? There’s a lull after the submission deadline, but soon enough, it’s all abuzz again with, “When will the results come out?” Entrants all obsessively refresh the Dell Award Facebook page, where they post announcements. Usually they’ll give an estimate on when the results will be in. Usually their estimate is off by about two weeks, and Alphans are left writhing and wailing on the floor.

And this is how I’m going to spend the next few months. First, the writing – which, wow, I’m running out of time, aren’t I? – and then the waiting. Maybe it will be just like the other years, and I won’t win anything at all. Maybe I’ll somehow get first prize. But whatever happens, I’m just thrilled to be participating in this and I’ll keep trying for as long as I’m eligible.