30 May 2016

Interview with Intisar Khanani (Memories of Ash Release and Giveaway)

I admit, I first read Intisar Khanani's Sunbolt because her name reminded me of Inisar (the Nuran Setari).  I'm shallow that way. :)

I enjoyed Sunbolt thoroughly - it's a fast-paced novella about Hitomi, a street girl with a secret and a lot of trouble heading her way, and when I saw Intisar was releasing a sequel, Memories of Ash, I grabbed the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the world of Sunbolt, and her plans for the story's future.

So for fans of Intisar, and those hearing of her for the first time, here's a little background to a grand new world (and scroll all the way to the end of the post to enter a giveaway that includes a couple of my books!).

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Q: In Sunbolt you use elements that readers currently associate with paranormal/urban fantasy (vampires, weres) in a secondary world – but, of course, they have a long tradition in high fantasy as well.  Do you think there's more scope these days to do interesting things with well-known creatures in secondary worlds?

A: Absolutely. I think the advent of indie publishing has meant a freedom for authors try new things in a way that traditional publishing wouldn't have approved of--if for no other reason than that it would make it difficult to decide which shelf to put the book on. I think there's scope both for trying new things with well-known creatures in secondary worlds, and for bringing in cultures and their mythos and legends that have been traditionally ignored.

For example, in Sunbolt, both Hitomi and Kenta are from a culture that is built around historic Japanese culture. Further, Kenta is a tanuki--a raccoon dog known as both a trickster and a drunk in Japanese folk lore. As Hitomi continues to travel through the Eleven Kingdoms, she will meet with other cultures reminiscent of real-world historical cultures, as well as their attendant fantastical creatures.

The danger with this kind of approach, of course, is cherry-picking cultures for exotic elements. We see that happening in more than a few mainstream fantasy novels that claim the "diversity" label. It's unfortunate, because a culture is more than just a pair of chopsticks, or some unusual architecture, or a few key dishes--or that really cool fantasy creature. For example, jinn seem to be quite the thing nowadays, especially among authors who haven't researched them past the obvious. I find it incredibly frustrating as someone who grew up with stories of jinn and have lived in cultures that maintain a strong tradition of believing in--and even interacting with--jinn. So while there is definitely more scope for incorporating fantastical creatures in all different walks of fantasy, I do believe there's a responsibility on the part of the author to not only do their research, but to incorporate the diverse cultures they are drawing on as fully as possible in their works.


Q: Hitomi starts off her adventure as the classic streetwise orphan – but with established connections to the city's underworld.  Do you prefer your protagonists to have a strong social network, or face new beginnings with new people?


It really depends on the story and the character. In my novel, Thorn, the heroine is not only leaving everything she knows for a new land, but her identity is forcibly stolen from her along the way. She ends up without connections or support beyond a single, magical creature who witnessed the switch. Being on her own, and responsible for choosing her own fate, are critical in Thorn's development over the course of the story. So I guess I've already written both ends of the spectrum! I do really enjoy pulling characters out of their comfort zones and throwing them at a completely new situation. Even in Sunbolt, Hitomi is quickly pulled out of her social network to face some unpleasant situations on her own.


Q: Hitomi obviously has quite an adventure still ahead of her.  Do you have plans for other stories within Hitomi's world, or do you like to create a new world for new stories?

I really don't know... I love Hitomi's world, and have put a good deal of time and research into building it. I suspect I'll want to place other stories there, though I sincerely doubt there would be any overlap in timelines. But I haven't decided yet--I'm still just trying to get Hitomi's story down!

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Thank you, Intisar, for the interview, and best of luck with the new release!  See below for details of Intisar's books, and to enter in a giveaway for a selection of SFF books - and a Kindle Fire.


15 May 2016

Uncharted 4 (no spoilers)

Uncharted 4 is the conclusion to a long-running action/adventure series that's been around almost as long as Tomb Raider.  I passed over the series when it was originally released because it had a greater focus on gun fights than I'm generally interested in, but when the first three games were released as a remastered collection I played through them (on "I don't care about combat" mode) and enjoyed the spectacular scenery, the strong characterisation, and the cool lost cities.




Story-wise, I'd say Uncharted is stronger than Tomb Raider (both old and new) because it sets up a small cast of 'good' guys and plays off the interaction between them over multiple games.  Uncharted 4 thoroughly delivers on a strong adventure story (and, happily, gets away from the supernatural element that made the conclusions to the the first three games feel...kinda repetitive).  There are two things pulling the story along - Nate's (previously unmentioned) brother, and the conflict between marriage/going straight and an in-born love of adventure.



It was the second point that worried me going into this story, and early on it seemed that my concerns would be realised, with Elena functioning as almost an 'anchor' keeping Nate from the stuff he loves.  Overall, though, I think the game managed to find a good resolution to the problem, and as a series I think it treats female characters reasonably well.


For gameplay (ignoring the gun fights, which still don't much interest me), this was a really well-balanced puzzler, mainly involving trying to figure out how to climb things, or survive buildings (inevitably) collapsing around Nate.  One thing that really stands out as a huge step forward was the companion interaction.  Nate has a companion with him at least half the time, and instead of passively waiting about, the companion will wander around, inspect things, kill the occasional thug, try out different climbing routes - sometimes even taking the lead - and make helpful suggestions if you spend too long faffing about.


Most of all, there was scenery.  Just, freaking awesome scenery.  And wondrous and completely unlikely ruins, soon to be recklessly destroyed by Nate, his friends and opponents - none of whom seem to understand that an object doesn't need to be made of gold to be valuable.


The one thing the game lacked was Chloe (a kick-ass lady from earlier games), but I guess you can't have everything.