Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

Beautiful. Simple, tight prose, telling a deeply moving story.

Can’t wait to read the next one.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • What a society condemns is just as important to making it feel lived-in as what it praises.
  • Characters don’t always have to be imposing their will on the world. They can show their inner character by the opportunities they take advantage of, as well.
  • In a world of bad choices and flawed people, heroes can be cruel and cowardly, and villains can show mercy.

On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly

A strong collection of stories. Connolly moves from near-future sci-fi to alternate world fantasy to present-day witches, populating each story with strong, unique characters.

Will definitely be picking up her novel, Seriously Wicked, which takes place in the same world as one my favorite stories from this collection.

Three things it taught me about writing:

  • The thinner the story, the shorter the work should be. Don’t make the reader wade through lots of background or context just to get to the heart of events.
  • Writing in the present-day relieves you of a lot of world-building duties, lets you focus on creating great characters.
  • Even stories told via journal entries (or texts, or emails) can have a proper buildup to a climax.

Headstrong by Rachel Swaby

A cornucopia of female scientists and engineers that got left out of the history I learned in school.

It’s amazing how much these women accomplished considering how much was stacked against them. Time after time, in these biographies, I read how a brilliant scientist would be forced to work for free, because the university didn’t hire women. Often, they’d find employment in a German university, only to be kicked out once the Nazis took power and started firing Jewish scientists.

That kind of treatment would make me rebellious, want to stop my work completely and find something less important to do.

But these women persisted.

Three of the many things I learned:

  • Grace Hopper was the first woman to graduate with a PhD in math from Yale. She invented the compiler, set the foundations for COBOL, and was considered so valuable to the Navy that she was called back from retirement to work another 19 years (!)
  • When Einstein needed tutoring in the higher math he needed to pursue his theory of General Relativity, he turned to Emmy Noether, the inventor of abstract algebra. Through the course of teaching Einstein, she invented the equations needed to set General Relativity¬†on a solid mathematical footing.
  • Marie Tharp mapped 70% of the ocean floor, and discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. She insisted that it was confirmation of continental drift for years (and was fired for it!) before theory became accepted.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Prescient, gripping, and intimidatingly good. Definitely going to read more of Butler’s¬†books.

I’m rather sad that she wasn’t able to complete a new Earthseed series, like she planned, before her death.

Three more things she taught me about writing:

  • Perfectly acceptable to have the sequel start out as more “and then this happened”.
  • First act turn is a great place to upend what the characters have built previously, have the outside world come in with the force of a storm.
  • Editors and compilers of biographies can have agendas just like other characters, and become more interesting when they reveal them