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REVIEW:  Carniepunk

REVIEW: Carniepunk

Dear readers,

Ah, carnivals! Cotton candy, funnel cakes, ferris wheels and rigged games. Definitely a mainstay of summer. Of course, many a novel has been written about the carnival and it was only a matter of time until a new anthology made them its theme.

carniepunkCarniepunk is one of those anthologies that features stories written by various novelists. In this case, they’re urban fantasy and paranormal authors. Some authors you’ve read, some of them you’ve heard of, and others are new to you entirely. Many of the stories are geared towards enticing readers to check out the author’s existing books; most of them are tied into their signature series. The good thing about this is that if you like a story, there are other books you can check out right away. The bad thing about it, however, is that more often than not, the short story depends too much on the reader being familiar with the series it draws upon and fails to stand on its own. Dangerous for readers who’ve never been exposed to a particular writer’s work before.

Carniepunk opens with “Painted Love,” a quirky and unusual story by Rob Thurman. The story itself is fairly average — a violent carnie with homicidal tendencies — but the reveal at the end, while rather WTF-inducing, really sticks with you. I’m still not sure whether I liked this story or not but it’s very memorable. Let’s leave it at that.

The majority of “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson was rather ho-hum for me. Set in the world of Dawson’s Blud series, it tells the story of a girl with a sad past who has found herself in another world. Not the biggest fan of portal stories, this was a major hurdle for me. But I loved the ending, which was twisted and grim. Probably more of a horror story than a straight up urban fantasy or paranormal.

“The Demon Barket of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne was very much a standard UF story. Part of the Iron Druid series, I think this would appeal to fans of Jim Butcher. It’s a good enough story, but as jaded as I am about the UF genre these days, I need more to impress me than the same old “investigation, danger, fight the bad guy, win!” pattern.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry actually featured a trans woman as the protagonist. That’s still rare enough these days that it deserves mention. It asks the question of what happens to pre-op trans patients after the zombie apocalypse, in a world when most doctors have been killed. I’ve never been a fan of Henry’s gross out tendencies so I’m a hard sell on this story.

In Jaye Wells’s “The Werewife,” a couple finds their marriage strained after a visit to a carnival. It was an interesting examination of how the supernatural can show the cracks in a relationship, but I found the wife rather unsympathetic. That likely was the intent but I think a more nuanced portrayal would have given the husband’s choice at the end more impact.

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine is my favorite story of the anthology. It’s about a teenaged girl who discovers her boyfriend has been up to no good (and not the usual “he’s cheating” no good either), what happens when he finds out she knows his secret, and how she retaliates. It’s a very well put together story, and I loved the Cold Girl and the way she shows mercy at the end.

In Allison Pang’s “A Duet with Darkness,” we return to the world of Pang’s Abby Sinclair series. I admit I wasn’t a fan of the first book, so I didn’t expect much. Because the story is a very straightforward presentation of what happens to the prideful, I found it mediocre overall. Might be worth a look for people who love music and bands, though.

“Recession of the Divine” by Hillary Jacques makes excellent use of Greek mythology without falling back on the usual suspects. A nicely self-contained short story that’s actually a short story and not a novel masquerading as a short story. Another one I liked.

“Parlor Tricks” by Jennifer Estep features characters from her Elemental Assassin series. Another story that follows the usual UF plotline. I’m normally a fan of lady assassins, but I unfortunately haven’t been able to get into this series. I think I would have been more into this story if it hadn’t fallen back on a tired cliche: the female antagonist is evil because she wants to be young and beautiful forever and will do whatever it takes to remain that way. Boring.

In “Freak House” by Kelly Meding, a half-djinn tries to find and rescue her missing father. I liked this one because it revolved around family relationships and the fact that the heroine’s father was not one of those jerkface dads you see so often in fantasy. I also thought her special ability of causing conflict was interesting.

“The Inside Man” by Nicole Peeler is set in the universe of her Jane True novels but features a different set of characters. While it relies on that now-cliche “clowns are scary” trope, I do have a weakness for female detectives. And in this case, it’s three detectives who work together and who are friends. The three women go to investigate some strange happenings but two of them fall prey to it, leaving the last one to rescue her friends and save everyone else affected. Not sure we really needed the rape backstory for one of the women, but I like the fact that all of the women were nonwhite.

Jackie Kessler’s “A Chance in Hell” picks up where her series about Jezebel the succubus left off. Jez is trying to learn about humanity in order to fight the King of Hell for his throne. Or something. I definitely felt like I was missing something. One of the weakest stories in the entire anthology, in my opinion.

“Hell’s Menagerie” by Kelly Gay is set in the world of the Charlie Madigan series and features the daughter of that series’s heroine and her quest to rescue some hellhounds who’ve been stolen for an underground fighting ring. This is one of those stories where I felt like I should have liked more than I did. Nothing is wrong with it. I just couldn’t care less what happened.

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire is a haunting story about, you guessed it, mermaids. It’s about growing up, family secrets, and relationships between mothers and daughters. It has an ending that, while not what I’d exactly call happy, hits you hard and lingers for a very long time.

Carniepunk is a mixed bag of stories. That said, I don’t think there were any stories that were standout terrible — not the case in other anthologies I’ve read — and a couple that were excellent. Overall, I think the anthology warrants a B-. Definitely worth checking out if a few of these authors interest you.

My regards,

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Monday News: SFF old guard

Monday News: SFF old guard


Apparently last week, the Science Fiction and Fantasy authors awoke to a disturbing news that women are writing Science Fiction Fantasy books and what is worse, there may be a huge influx of Science Fiction Romance.  This  agony over women writers in the SFF space likely arises over a sense of fear of marginalization. Women readers buy more than male readers and therefore, if there are more female writers writing stuff for female readers, then the male writers and male oriented books will be pushed aside on the shelf.

Stuart Sharp writes on the topic of Sci Fi romance that many of the existing romance writers don’t get things right and they sacrifice the “getting it right” for the sake of the romance.  Stuart, I can tell you that romance readers like authors who get things right too and that it isn’t just romance writers who are trampling over the “most beloved elements of the genre.  C.E. Kilgore tells Sharp to unwind a bit because we romance readers have our own shelves called “Romance” and we aren’t looking to invade the SFF shelves.  The problem may be that online writers get to “shelve” their books willy nilly and if you go to Nook Books – > SFF, you’ll see a lot of the girl-y SFR instead of the hardcore space aliens wanting to sleep with other space aliens ala Captain Kirk of Star Trek who was the intergalactic slut of the century.

Heather Massey responds as well:

So here’s my thought: Mr. Sharp’s post is a marvelous thing because it means change is happening! Those who fear hybrid genres–especially ones that mix SF and Romance–are aware of them like never before. They recognize SFR is a force to be reckoned with.

Heather has been advocating for more SFR for years so I hope Sharp’s fears are coming true and the women writers are coming out in full force with SFR books.

But there must be something in the SFF water because the official bulletin of the Science Fiction Writer’s Association for the last three months has kind of been an embarrassment to SFWA, at least to those of us looking from the outside in.  You see, old timers like Mike Resnick (Laura Resnick’s husband father!!) and Barry Malzberg spent a whole issue discussing women writers and their attractiveness – like were they “beauty pageant beautiful” or a “knock outs”.  (Source: E. Catherine Tobler)  Ouch.

The issue that followed had an article by another man that exhorted women to be Barbie like and “maintain our quiet dignity as a woman should.” (Source: E. Catherine Tobler)  Again, ouch.

The most recent issue had Resnick and Malzberg crying that they were being censored. I can already see Robin’s eyebrows raising into her hairline.  I think we’re going to have to do a little post on censorship and free speech.

The real strange thing is that these bulletins have been published under the watch of John Scalzi, current SFWA president.  He accepts responsibility for this but has been on tour for three weeks and hasn’t really explained how these bulletins were published under his watch.  I.e., were they put together without his knowledge by the staff and not reviewed by him?  I was a president of an association with a monthly newsletter and I had an opportunity to review the newsletter before it was published but it was put together by an entirely different committee.  Scalzi has set up a task force to look into this matter.

My five cents?  Male authors are feeling increasingly marginalized in publishing by female authors and this is the result.


The recorded music deal calls for Apple to pay a per-stream rate of around 0.16 cents, similar to the rate Universal Music Group received. Like Universal, Warner also gets a percentage of ad revenue that would be generated by the Apple service, but payments would only begin after the service exceeds a certain audience threshold. For the publishing deal, Warner/Chappell also negotiated an additional percentage of ad revenue that is more than twice the 4 percent rate paid by Pandora.”

As more music is available for streaming, books will need to follow in response to customer demand. It would behoove people to start thinking about the best way to monetize that before Amazon sets the price. Right? Like, if I was Random House + Penguin, I’d be thinking about my own streaming library access model right now.

Speaking of Apple, the lawsuit over Agency Pricing begins today!

One other publisher has accepted these new terms, but it did not identify the publisher as a Big 6 or one with more negotiating power.  This is not unlike when Amazon pulled the buy buttons from Macmillan.  This fight has been going on since last September but it wasn’t until 2013 that Barnes & Noble started putting pressure on S&S through decreasing print orders and reduced in store publicity. Simon & Schuster made two big print only deals with Hugh Howey and Colleen Hoover.  If they intend to do more of that, S&S will  have to have B&N on its side.

Who wins? B&N likely because they are the only major retail game and S&S needs B&N more than the retailer needs the publisher.