Bookish Squees

I’m having a lovely day today. It didn’t start out lovely: I was feeling sick and tired, and didn’t really want to go into town even though I was meeting writerly friends.

Of course, when I got there, I had a wonderful time. After that I got very tired running around between op-shops and vintage shops with the Mum, which was a mix of nice and exhausting until the ear-ache started, and then it was just exhausting.

Then I got home to find my post-box simply stuffed with catalogues. I decided to empty it and found a parcel wedged in between all the glossy pictures. It was a nice surprise, since I could tell from the feel of it that it was a book, and the only book I was semi-expecting (and not very hopefully, since I’d been told there was a post office snafu and that I probably wouldn’t ever receive said book) was Lloyd Alexander’s THE BEGGAR QUEEN, the final book in the Westmark Series.

I ordered the books ages ago, all marked as library binding, and all in the hardcover because I thought they looked nice and I liked the way they felt. The first two arrived very quickly, but the third book was more expensive and very hard to source, and about a week or two after I ordered it I was sent an email saying it would probably never arrive, and asking me what I wanted to do.

So I was very excited as I opened my parcel. Sure enough, it was THE BEGGAR QUEEN, completing my trilogy.

all three

It was in the most gorgeous condition, the cover flawless, the spine not even cracked, and I wondered who on earth could have owned this book and never even opened it? Why would you not read it?

beggar queen

And then I opened it.

And then I squealed very, very loudly, and danced around the kitchen with the book clutched to my chest, before opening it again because I couldn’t believe my eyes.

signed!!

It’s a signed copy. A SIGNED COPY, GUYS!!

I never got to meet Lloyd Alexander and the chances of me getting a signature were so remote that I’d never even hoped for it.  And the icing on the cake is that the book is 1st edition, which probably doesn’t mean much with a book from 1984, but it means a lot to me.

And today is a wonderful, frabjous day after all.

Favourite Authors: NICHOLAS FISK

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I actually started writing this blog post quite a while ago, but it never got finished because I didn’t find myself as eloquent as I would have liked to be. I’m resurrecting it now because I learned just a few days ago that Nicholas Fisk has died. The news made me sad for a couple of reasons (and no disrespect intended to his family, who have many more–and far more important–reasons to grieve).

The first of those reasons is purely selfish: a reader’s reaction. That hollow, sad feeling that there will be no more books. I’m very well aware that there are, and will be, many more books; but they won’t be books like that. The Nicholas Fisk books are now a finite, fixed number. And that’s a real shame, because there are very few people who can write with the kind of clarity, simplicity, and at the same time incredible depth that Nicholas Fisk managed.

My second reason is even more regretful: it’s a writer’s reaction. There are only about ten authors who have really influenced me in terms of style, content, or characterisation; and Nicholas Fisk is one of those. Quite a few of those influencers have also died in the last few years, without me ever having the chance to meet them, shake them by the hand, and tell them how much I learnt from their writing, and how much I enjoyed their art. I didn’t even get the chance to write to them and tell them that. My fault, of course, but you don’t expect your heroes to die. I regret that I never took the opportunity to write and tell them each how much they’ve meant to me.

Nicholas Fisk’s books are, ostensibly, children’s books. Sci-fi, too, which I very rarely read unless I’m immediately caught by the idea or the characters. The main characters are children, and although the subjects can range from simple to quite complex, the writing is never such as to either condescend or confuse. The adult characters are drawn with the kind of nuance that you don’t notice as a child but very much appreciate as an adult. One and all, the characters are complete, real people. The bad guys are complex, detailed, and sometimes not so much bad as on the other side. The protagonists see them as bad because they’re on the opposite side of the fence. Sometimes that realisation is made by the characters, other times, not.

I can’t now remember which Nicholas Fisk book I first read: it was either A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR; BACKLASH; or MINDBENDERS. Each of them was a revelation for me, and I hold special memories from each. A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR appalled and horrified me, and at the same time fascinated me. I was thinking about it for months after I first read it, and I knew it was a book that I would love forever. I don’t want to say too much more, because Spoilers, Sweetie. BACKLASH was amazing in a totally different way: the character I remember most was a mechanical princess who had no idea of pain, or growing up, or humanity. She wanted a little mechanical baby, and I remember one of the characters worrying about that at the end, because the princess was beginning to learn, and he wondered how it would affect her when she realised her ‘baby’ would never grow, or learn, or develop. MINDBENDERS was just weird, and cool, and fascinating. Because, you know, when you’re ten, ants could take over the world.

Like Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, Nicholas Fisk is one of those people who shaped my writing and my reading at a very important time in my life. He’s one of the reasons I’m an author today: his imagination made mine want to grow wings and fly.

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things #2: THE LOST CONSPIRACY by Frances Hardinge

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Who’s up for round 2 of These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things?

What? You’re gonna have to speak up. I can’t hear you over the sound of all that deafening silence.

I honestly don’t read a huge amount of middle grade fiction. Even as a kid I was more inclined to read teen and adult fiction–or classics–than I was to read middle grade. There were exceptions, but by and large I didn’t read a huge amount of it (Nicholas Fisk, Diana Wynne Jones, and Joan Aiken being three HUGE exceptions, because they’re amazing).

Frances Hardinge is a new, huge exception. THE LOST CONSPIRACY (also known as GULLSTRUCK ISLAND, depending upon which country you live in) was the first book of Frances Hardinge’s that I ever read (I think. Maybe it was TWILIGHT ROBBERY, which I also love).

lost conspiracyHathin belongs to a tribe called The Lace, whose perennially smiling faces and Sweeny-Todd-like legacy of human sacrifice behind those smiling faces have left them to be widely regarded in suspicion and horrified fear by the peoples around them. Hathin’s chief difficulty and chief responsibility are one and the same: her older sister, Arilou. They are described thusly:

“Her name was Hathin. While Arilou’s name was meant to sound like the call of an owl, the fluting of a bird of prophecy, Hathin’s name imitated the whisper of settling dust. Dust-like she was indeed, unremarkable, quiet, all but invisible.”

Arilou is The Lady Lost, considered special; a lady of prophecy, possessed of great gullstruckand awesome powers. Her powers are the reason that Hathin’s village has enough food for the winter and a place to live, not to mention a small income from selling relics and suchlike. Unfortunately, those powers are entirely faked. Hathin and the Lace have been keeping Arilou’s lacking mental capacities a secret, ‘translating’ her drooling and moaning to seem as though they’re prophecies. But now an inspector is arriving to test Arilou’s ‘powers’, and it may not be long before they’re all exposed.

Things happen very quickly after the opening is set up. The inspector is murdered. Then almost the entirety of Hathin’s village is also murdered, leaving her on the run and dragging the mentally lacking Arilou along behind her.

What I love about Frances Hardinge is the fact that she’s not afraid to have ugly characters. I don’t mean physically ugly, though she’s not afraid of that as well. I mean the whole setup of a young girl from a people with human sacrifice in their (not too distant) past. There are a lot of stories about the Nazis, and fighting the Nazis, but what would it be like to grow up in the next generation, knowing your people were responsible for such atrocities? There are a lot of countries in real life that have done similar things: my own country of Australia, and the hunting and murder of Aboriginals; the ‘settlement’ of America, where Native Indians were murdered and pushed out of their own land; the Nazis, as previously mentioned; and so on. THE LOST CONSPIRACY was the first time I’d seen anything like this in fiction.

Added to the interest of the subject matter (and the fact that Frances Hardinge is one of the few authors who can still surprise me with the direction a book takes), is the fact that the writing is so absolutely beautiful. For style as well as substance, Frances Hardinge’s books are some of the best out there.

There’s so much more I could say about this book, but the most important thing I have to say is: BUY IT. READ IT. This is one of my favourite books. It’s also eminently re-readable, which is one of the biggest tests of the worth of a book.

Confessions: I’m A Hoarder

I’m a hoarder.

But before you go thinking Hoarders and Hoarders: Buried Alive (or even chocolates and other sweet things–okay, okay, maybe I do hoard those) I’m not talking the type of hoarding that piles magazines, newspapers, dvds and other miscellany on any hoarders2surface available. I mean, it is possible that I could be said to hoard books. And probably DVDs, too. And I’m starting to lose where I was going with this ‘cos it looks like I am that kind of hoarder after all.

That’s normal, right?

Right.

No, I’m the kind of hoarder who clutches delightful feels and gorgeous imaginary friends to myself with a compulsion bordering upon obsession. This means that when I get toward the end of a favourite tv show or book series, I slow waaaaaaay down. I take my time reading/watching them, savouring each episode or book. And quite often I tend to stop reading/watching altogether.

There are still five or six episodes of one of my favourite tv shows, Leverage, that I haven’t yet seen. This, despite the fact that the final season aired a year or two ago. I’ve just gotten to that stage with The A-Team too (it’s all Murdock’s fault, he’s just so wonderfully, hilariously, delightfully mad) and I’ve had the second book in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series for about three weeks now before reading it. It’s taken me this long to start reading it, not because I didn’t like the first, but because I really enjoyed it.

I’m also hoarding about six of Steven Brust’s books that I’ve owned for a couple years but haven’t read; and there are about four Terry Pratchett books that I still haven’t read. I love these guys. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read these books yet because I can only read them once. It helps immensely that all of these shows and books that I’ve just mentioned can be read/watched again and again without diminishing enjoyment. It’s just that the first read-through/watch is different, yanno?

I’m a hopeless case. I know it. But when that perfect rainy day comes ’round, when I’ve got the perfect meal and the perfect drink set up, I’ll be ready to go. I’ve got saved up episodes of Leverage, The A-Team, and Psych; and I’ve got hoarded books by my favourite authors to read. The only problem will be knowing which one to pick first.

What do you guys hoard? Anything cool? (And if anyone hoards lizards, can you send me a moniter lizard? I’ve always wanted one of those).

Comfort Reads

There’s something about reading a favourite book. It makes you feel warm and comfortable and peaceful. It’s the intellectual equivalent to a cup of tea, or sliding between newly washed sheets, or cuddling up in front of the fire on a rainy night.

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It’s that feeling of contentment. Whether it’s the story, characters, writing style, or a combination of all three, there are just some books that are long time favourite comfort reads. They touch us on an emotional level; and that, like favourite memories linked to smells and tastes, brings back the delight we first felt when reading them again. Out of all the fiction I own (and I own a couple thousand – pysical – books) I have one that I re-read more than any other. That’s my all time favourite comfort read. I do have nine runners-up, though. Maybe you’ll see some of your own comfort reads on the list.

10.Steven Brust’s Dragon. Odd to equate a comfort read to something that contains so much death and killing and slaughtering and mayhem and death and- well, you get the picture. But I love the structure, story, and characters. I can read this one again and again.

9. Diana Wynne Jones’ Hexwood, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Year of the Gryphon. I adore Diana Wynne Jones’ books. I have so many favourites of her books. Hexwood is a glorious confusion that doesn’t quite make sense until the end, but keeps you hooked anyway, Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful fairytale of a shy girl who makes magic hats and is turned into an old woman by a nasty witch (and is a lot less shy as an old woman), and Year of the Gryphon is one of the best ‘school stories’ I have ever read. Think tiny assassins, gryphon crushes, and schoolmates who are as likely to use orange peel as bat’s teeth in a spell.

8.C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Series. These were one of the first fantasy series I read. I read them over and over again, particularly The Horse and His Boy. So much adventure! Such a new world! And delightful, old-fashioned characters who spoke in old-fashioned ways. These are still a huge favourite with me, along with Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy, which I can also read over and over.

7. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Series. This is a series following the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper, and his friends Fflewdder Fflam and Princess Eilonwy. They are simply wonderful. The Chronicles of Prydain were the first fantasy books that taught me there could be depth to character, that not all bad guys are completely bad, and that not all the good guys stay good. Taran, with his striving to be a hero and his journey to wisdom, is one of my favourite book characters.

6. Antonia Forest’s Entire Marlow Series. In fact, everything by Antonia Forest. I can’t say enough good things about Antonia Forest. Ostensibly, most of her books are school stories. Don’t let that deceive you, and don’t think Enid Blyton. The range and scope of Antonia Forest’s books is far beyond that. Her characters are real, believeable, and entirely loveable. There are the twins, Nicola and Laurie, the older sisters Kay, Rowan, and Ginty, and brothers Peter and Giles. Then there is the next door neighbour Patrick . . . At school or at home, these are some of the best books you’ll read.

5. Kate Stradling’s Kingdom of Ruses. A deceptively simple fantasy. Viola’s family have been serving the Eternal Prince of Lenore for generations. A buffer between the Prince and the people, they basically run the country. There’s only one problem- the Prince doesn’t exist. So what happens when a Prince turns up? Fun and danger and romance, of course, with a good dash of hilarious dialogue. This is a quiet, delightful story with entirely loveable characters that I can read again and again.

4. Frances Hardinge’s Twilight Robbery. Every time I read a book by Frances Hardinge, I’m convinced that it’s my favourite. Twilight Robbery and Mosca Mye, however, I keep going back to read. Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent almost defy description, but I’m so glad they exist. I will gobble up any and every book about them as they come out, but I believe Twilight Robbery will always be my favourite. I’ve already read it a few times since buying it, and I’m certain I’ll read it many more times.

3. JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (and LOTR, but especially The Hobbit). The moral of the story is, of course, never set out on an adventure without your pocket handkerchief. I’m very much distressed with the rather dreadful job Peter Jackson made with the movies of The Hobbit, but I’ll always be glad to sit down and re-read it with a cuppa tea and a plate of good things. I made sure I bought the lovely big version with beautiful colour illustrations for that very reason.

2. Patricia Wrede’s The Raven Ring. I love Patricia Wrede’s writing. Her books were the first fantasy I read in which it was perfectly obvious that princesses and other females actually could save the day. All her books are favourites. However, The Raven Ring is the one I read again and again for its simplicity, amazing world-building, and wonderful characters. It’s a setting in which I feel immediately comfortable.

My all-time favourite at #1? That would be (fanfare, please!):

1. Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice All of the others are interchangeable as regards their place on the list. P&P is not. It’s the one book I go to again and again. I’ve read it more than ten times since I first read it at the age of nine or ten. That’s about once every two years. I love the feel of the book. I love the dialogue. I love how fallible and prickly and teachable Lizzy is. I love that she can hold her own against the clever Mr. Darcy. I love that she can see the foibles and failings not just of her family, but of herself. She’s a beautifully well-rounded character for any age. I love all of Austen’s books, and I adore her Juvenalia, but P&P is the book I consistently read over and over again.

What about you guys? What are some of your favourite fiction comfort reads? It’s okay if you have some of the same as mine. I’ll share. Just don’t try to read my copy.

The Joy of Last Edits

I started re-editing one of my books this week. It’s a fairytale rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a murder mystery, regency/steampunk style. I’m working on it with the view to having it published in February next year, and so far the edits have been reasonably simple to do, which means my timeline is thus far intact.

That, of course, has made me think about my editing process. The first thing I notice when editing is generally clumsy words or phrases, and the occasional cough spelling mistake, which can range from a two second fix to a half hour session of mulling over the best way to rearrange a sentence. Lately I’ve even become able to delete whole sentences and paragraphs without so much as a pang (well, sometimes just a small pang), which makes the whole process significantly easier.

Next I start noticing the characters. This usually manifests as a general feeling of unease every time I read a piece of dialogue spoken by the character, or a section of action that just doesn’t sit right for some reason. That sense of unease is almost invariably because the character isn’t behaving in character. The dialogue is too much like another, stronger character, and needs to be made over to match this character.

The first MS that I finished had to be completely rewritten because of character problems. The problem being, my character had no character. She was a cardboard piece, angry because I said she was angry, happy because I decreed it, and was entirely lacking in any quirks or memorable features. The side characters were no better. Once I figured out what the problem was (thanks in great part to Frances Hardinge, whose characters stand up and determinedly claw their way out of the book and into my life), I could start fixing it.

It wasn’t easy, that first book. There was trial and error, a lot of research (me reading a lot of my favourite authors), and many, many discoveries along the way. First, I decided exactly what I wanted my character to be. I decided what quirks she had, what things she did with her hands and feet when she talked/walked/sat/spoke, and the ways in which she reacted to stimuli in general. Then I went over every single bit of dialogue with a fine-tooth comb, cut most of it, rewrote the rest, and thought I could finally see her emerging from the bones of it. I rewrote her actions. I rewrote her thoughts. In fact, there isn’t much in that book that remains of the original bar the basic storyline and the character names.

My second book, (the one I’m re-editing now) was by comparison, much easier. The characters were fully formed as I wrote, and I had all the tricks and methods I’d learned with the first. This time I knew just how to create an idea of a character in a few lines of dialogue, or a short paragraph of action. This has made the editing process a much smoother affair. There are still things I have to change, of course: I still occasionally come across a line of dialogue that sounds more like another character than the one it should, and I still occasionally come across a speech tag or reaction that doesn’t fit with the idea I’m trying to portray of a character. In fact, I rearranged a whole page of dialogue/action just yesterday. It’s a work in progress, this writing business.

The last read-through is generally the one where I catch all the plot/continuity issues that I’ve missed in the preceding read-throughs. Other than that, I try to leave it as it is. There’s always some little niggle that I catch every time I read one of my books again, and it’s hard to know when to let it go if I keep re-reading. So I stop. I let it go (let it gooooooooo- wait, no) and hand it over to my sister or my writing group.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

Favourite Authors: Patricia C. Wrede

I have a Top Three favourite authors.  By necessity it is a fluid top three: how else could I fit in Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia C. Wrede, Steven Brust, Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, Kate Stradling, Alexadre Dumas, Lloyd Alexander, Lillian Beckwith, Gail Carson Levine, Robert Louis Stevenson and so on?  It crosses most genres (though you might have noticed a decided tendency toward fantasy) and quite a few centuries as well.

Patricia C. Wrede has been part of the Top Three since before I even knew I had a Top Three.  As far as I recall, the first book of hers that I read was the last of the Enchanted Forest Quartet: Talking To Dragons.  I picked it up at my local library one day, enchanted by the gorgeous watercolour cover that was all muted greens and greys until it got to Shiara’s flaming hair, and added it to my already high stack of books.  That was in Queensland, when you could still check out fifteen books at a time, and I always had a full card.

I loved the way Patricia Wrede bent her fractured fairy-tales, imbuing Daystar with a kind of practical wisdom learned by rote from his mother Cimorene; and I loved watching Shiara’s bursts of temper that derailed the good his manners had achieved.  I loved the stupid yet clever princess, who was determined to ensnare a man.  I didn’t yet know about the thing called Worldbuilding, but I was already beginning to appreciate it.

I found Dealing with Dragons a year or so later, a cheap paperback with a really bad cover, sitting on the shelf at an opshop.  It wasn’t until after I read it that I began to remember names and situations, and to wonder where I had heard them before.  After that, it was back to the library to scroll through the microfiche in search of more books by Patricia Wrede.

There are so many good things to say about Patrica C. Wrede.  So much I could go on and on about.  Her characters.  Her world-building.  Her wonderfully wacky situations.  From her Enchanted Forest quartet to her Mairlon the Magician, and from Sorcery and Cecelia to the Lyra Chronicles, I’ve loved almost everything she’s written.  At the moment, my favourite among her books wavers between Mairelon the Magician and The Raven Ring.

Mairelon is a favourite almost purely because of well, Mairelon.  And Kim.  And Hunch.  And the fact that it’s set in a kind of regency England that emulates the best of Georgette Heyer’s regency England.  It’s pure, madcap amusement.

The Raven Ring is a favourite because of much better reasons.  I still love the characters: in fact, I love them more than almost any other of Patricia Wrede’s characters.  But added to that love is the appreciation I have for her worldbuilding in this particular book.  In her Frontier Magic chronicles, I felt that Patricia Wrede focused on worldbuilding to the detriment of her characters.  They’re a wonderful study in worldbuilding, and I do sincerely like them, but I feel that the characters and plot have suffered as a consequence of the extensive focus on world and system. There’s no such division in The Raven Ring.  The characters are drawn finely (Eleret and Karvonen have stayed with me for far longer than most other characters), and the world is a richly layered one with all its own colloquialisms, customs, ways of life, and hierarchies.  It has just the right amount of everything.

Added to my admiration for her work is my appreciation for Patricia Wrede’s writing advice, which came at a time when I was wondering if anyone else thought about writing in just the same way that I did.  I stumbled upon her blog one day and found that she was saying things I had just begun to learn by myself.  It was a huge encouragement. Since then, I’ve begun to regard her as something of a writer’s writer: she, more than any other writer I know, has influenced my writing by both word and example.  In short, she’s everything a favourite author should be.

If you want to check her out for yourself, her blog is called Six Impossible Things, and her books are available well, everywhere.

Favourite Authors: Steven Brust

I discovered the novels of Steven Brust about four or five years ago.  The first I found was Dragon, and I found it in an op-shop.  It looked interesting, had a great opening few pages (which I skimmed, of course; knowing, as every good reader knows, Not To Judge A Book By It’s Cover), and was about 10 cents.  I don’t recall how many other books I bought that day, but judging from my usual book-buying habits, I would guess between two and three piles.  I got them home, and Dragon sank into the pile of to-be-read books.

A year later, I was pottering around in the book section of Shiploads, certain (as always) that somewhere in there was a positive treasure trove of good books.  I spotted a familiar author name.  Thought: ‘Oh yes, I meant to read that book Dragon.  Same bloke.  Wonder if it’s good?  Should I buy another when I don’t know if it’s good or not?’  And then, of course, I did buy it.  This one was Dzur, which I took home; and, surprise of all surprises, read immediately.

I’ve read a lot of books.  When I was kid, I read two to three books a day; and although that has slipped now that I’m older (and, *ahem*, more responsible), I still read a great many very good books.  I’m always delighted to read a Diana Wynne-Jones book, for example.  Or Patricia Wrede.  Or Terry Pratchett.  To name just a few.  But when I read Steven Brust’s Dzur, I found myself for the first time delighted with the structure of a book.  I hadn’t come across anything like it.  I hadn’t thought about structure before: I know, I know, I’m a writer.  But until I ready Dzur, the full potential and fascination of a cleverly put together structure just never occurred to me.

The structure is as follows: each chapter begins with a meal, lovingly and knowledgeably written.  Moreover, each chapter preface, despite being almost exclusively based on a meal eaten by Vlad (the main character), also serves to advance the main story.  Not to mention the huge boost it gives to character expansion, getting to know Vlad by his fine dining habits (when he can indulge them.)

The next day I pulled out Dragon.  Again, I was amazed and delighted to follow a story structure that I hadn’t ever seen used with this level of accomplishment and panache.  The chapters begin with an excerpt from the present: and smack-bang!we’re right in the middle of the action.  Then each chapter segues into the past, delving into how and why Vlad ended up where he is.  Ultimately, as you might expect, the two parts meet.  It’s fascinating.  And again, it’s something that I’ve never seen before.

Now, with all this talk about wonderful story structure, you might think that structure is all this author has going for him.  Not at all.  He’s also written two of the most enjoyable and compelling characters that I’ve read in quite some time: Vlad Taltos (an ex-assassin, though sometimes not quite so ex-) and his loyal but wisecracking familiar, Loiosh.  I can’t say how much I enjoy the humour and personality that these two exude.  Nor can I over-emphasise how well Steven Brust draws a plotline through his wonderful structures.  I do love a good story.

 

I had to scour the internets for more of Steven Brust’s books.  Those two lucky finds were my last luck as far as he was concerned.  Still, Amazon’s second-hand books proved fruitful, and I discovered to my delight that this newly favourite author of mine was not dead (as too many of my favourite authors are); and was, in fact, still writing!  It was nice to find that I could order quite a few of his titles on my Kindle.  I love my older covers of Teckla and Phoenix and all the rest of them, but it’s kinda nice to have Tiassa on my kindle, too.  And now there’s a new one coming out, so excuse me while I go and wait expectantly with my Kindle . . .

Seriously, guys.  If you’re in the mood for something new, try Steven Brust.  You won’t be sorry.

 

(Addendum: I have to modify my raptures slightly to mention that although I loved the idea of Steven Brust’s Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, I had to stop reading it on account of the insanely high amount of bad language.  So if, like me, you don’t care to read the f-word five or six times per page, every page, stick to his Vlad Taltos novels.  There’s plenty there to enjoy.)