Tag Archives: Mary Robinette Kowal

Fantasy Romances Inspired by Classic Literature: Without a Summer and Defy or Defend

4 Nov

Although mashups of classic literature with monsters such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Emma and the Vampires had a moment, some authors rather than simply splicing in elements of fantasy, instead take the source material as a place for inspiration, weaving in their own unique characters. In her afterword for Without a Summer, Mary Robinette Kowal thanks Jane Austen from who she says, she “stole three sentences and the essential character arc of Emma.”  In her Author Afterthoughts, Gail Carriger notes, “Before you ask, Defy or Defend is indeed an ode to the fantastic Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.”  Both stories may have been inspired by classic works, but they have their own unique twists and I highly recommend them.

Without A Summer
I was intrigued by Without a Summer first because of its setting during an unusually cold year in 1815 during which crops failed worldwide and snow even fell in New York in June.  This was notable for keeping Mary Shelly inside during a house party when she wrote her novel Frankenstein.  The cause is suspected to have been from the eruption of Mount Tambora in April in what is now Indonesia and another smaller eruption that had happened the year before in the Philippines. 

In Without A Summer though Cold Mongers who can use ether to provide cooling breezes and sometimes even make ice are suspected of a nefarious plot which is causing the climate change.  A match making sister, Jane, who along with her husband have been hired to create a Glamural in a ballroom for a wealthy family becomes caught up in this political intrigue.  Unlike regular murals a glamural is not simple painted, but magically comes to life.  I thought the fantasy elements were well integrated into the historic setting.  The book is third in The Glamourist Histories.  You can check it and the first novel in the series Shades of Milk and Honey out from eBCCLS.

Defy or Defend  
Gail Carriger is one of my favorite authors and I’d say this rates amongst the whimsical best of hers that I have read.  Defy or Defend is the second novella in her Delightfully Deadly Series set in the 1860s, which are a spinoff of her Finishing School Series, all of which takes place in the Parasolverse an whimsical gaslight fantasy look at the past that merges humor, romance, and often a bit of mystery. The Finishing School Series unlike the rest of her work was written for Young Adults and was set at school for spies.  Although Defy or Defend follows up with an adult version of Dimity, it is not necessary to have read The Finishing School Series beforehand (though you should read them since they are enjoyable for adults as well as teens). 

In Defy or Defend Dimity’s mission is to find out why a vampire hive has gone “Goth” and to see if she can turn things around before it is necessary to exterminate the problem.  The romance between Dimity and Crispin is sweet. Dmity’s efforts to bring some color in to the lives of the dark and gloomy vampires is a fun romp and if you enjoyed the book or terrific film version of Cold Comfort Farm as I did, you will want to check this out. 

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

A Year of Speculative Fiction: The Novels and Movies Our Science Fiction and Fantasy Group Enjoyed in 2019

16 Oct

Once a month the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group meets to discuss speculative fiction that has been suggested by participants.  We also feature beforehand a movie/TV adaptation or a film with a similar setting or theme, which is a way for people who don’t have time to read the book to still participate.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan
Altered Carbon
We started the year with Cyber Punk Noir Mystery, Altered Carbon.  In the future the rich can live hundreds of years through the use of cortical stacks and clones; others who cannot afford clones may be transferred into other people’s bodies.  Fans of the Netflix adaptation will still find new things to enjoy in the novel which had changes made in the adaptation such as an AI hotel being based on the personality of Jimmie Hendrix in the book being changed into Edgar Allen Poe in the show. We paired the movie with the live action adaptation of the Anime classic Ghost in the Shell.

A Darker Shade of Magic
by VE Schwab
A Darker Shade of Magic
In February we read A Darker Shade of Magic which takes place in a reality where there are not one, but multiple Londons, one of which is similar to our own in the middle ages, but others contain powerful magic.  Few can cross between these alternate dimensions, but when something dangerous is brought between them it may spell disaster to all of the worlds.  We watched the first of the Fantastic Beasts movies.

The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Hadmaid's Tale
Before the sequel came out in honor of Women’s History Month we read Margaret Atwood’s cautionary dystopian novel about the dire consequences when women’s rights are stripped away.  We watched the movie adaptation beforehand.

The Calculating Stars
by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Calculating Stars
In April the group read Mary Robinette Kowal’s first novel in her Lady Astronaut’s series which gives an alternate history where a meteor strike pushes the space exploration forward and women get to take part.  We paired the book with a screening of the thrilling modern space exploration movie Gravity, which features a strong performance by Sandra Bullock.

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines
For the month of May, the group read the Young Adult Steampunk novel Mortal Engines and also watched the movie adaptation.  The group felt the novel was stronger than the movie adaptation.

King of the Wyld
by Nicholas Eames
kings of the wyld
June’s pick was Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames which uses the analogy of old mercenaries being similar to aging rock stars doing one last tour. They must rescue one of their band’s daughters.  Before the book discussion we enjoyed the campy fun of the Hercules TV show.

A Memory Called Empire
by Arkady Martine
Memory Called Empire
This year’s Summer Reading theme was Space, so for July and August the group read two space operas.  July’s novel was A Memory Called Empire which revolved around a planet sized city where an emissary from a remote post must solve the mystery of what happened to her predecessor.  We paired the novel with the Joss Whedon, space western classic, Serenity, the sequel to the Firefly TV Show.

Luna: New Moon 
by Ian McDonald
Luna New Moon
Ian McDonald took the concept of a multigenerational soap opera like Dallas and placed it on a moon colony with all sorts of political scheming and romantic drama in August’s book, Luna: New Moon.  The group wanted to read the second in the series after the first book ended on a cliff hanger for our November discussion (Nov 18).  We watched Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a colorful space opera based on a French graphic novel.

Strange Practice
by Vivian Shaw
Strange Practice
I was intrigued when I learned Arkady Martine’s wife was also an author and wanted to see how their writing compared.  Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice features a doctor who treats supernatural creatures like vampires and mummies.  The group felt that this was a very light, funny novel and was an interesting contrast to the more serious tone of A Memory Called Empire.  We also watched the very funny Hotel Transylvania.

Want to join us for some great discussions?  On Monday, October 21 we will be celebrating Halloween with Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches.  The discussion starts at 6 PM.  Beforehand you can also join us for an enjoyable viewing of a family friendly animated movie treat at 4 PM.  Email hplwriters @ gmail.com to be added to our mailing list.   

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

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