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Tag Archive: Sharon Shinn


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

A contender for this year’s best fantasy novel is Curtis Craddock’s debut fantasy An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors.  Don’t let the cumbersome title fool you—this is a smoothly written, elegantly crafted, and highly entertaining read!  Poised as the first in a series, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a political fantasy–and historical fantasy–reminiscent of classic Guy Gavriel Kay novels like A Song for Arbonne or Tigana.  Set in the fantasy world of The Risen Kingdoms, with superficial similarities to Europe’s 17th century Baroque era, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors presents a world constantly on the brink of war, twisted with layer upon layer of intrigue, with only one firm villain and two clear heroes—and a whole cast of in-betweens, whose shifting loyalties form the uncertain foundation of the tale.

Onto this stage steps Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs of l’Empire Celeste.  Born with a physical disfigurement, Isabelle has grown up in her father’s court, suffering his abuse and brutal magic, almost entirely friendless and alone, and nearly ignored.  In this atmosphere, she’s able to pursue her true passions of science and mathematics, becoming (secretly) one of the foremost mathematicians of her day.  Her only loyal companions are the man charged with guarding her since birth, King’s Own Musketeer Jean-Claude; and a curious handmaiden, Marie.

Thanks to her disfigurement and low esteem at her father’s court, Isabelle believes life will hold no more than this—until foreign machinations thrust her into international politics.  Talked into accepting Principe Julio de Aragoth’s marriage proposal, and believing this is her chance for peace and love, Isabelle and Jean-Claude set sail into a more treacherous journey than they bargained for.

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Meeting Lee Majors

Hey, looks like we made it!

Five years ago today, Elizabeth C. Bunce, Art Schmidt, Jason McClain, and I had already spent a few months talking through the technical details for the launch of borg.com.  What should it look like?  What should we write about?  How do we get to there from here?  Then it all came together on June 10, 2011, and I sat down and just started writing.  Should this be a weekly thing?  Once I started I just couldn’t stop and we cemented borg.com as a daily webzine.  And readers started showing up every day.  Soon we had hundreds of followers, and hundreds of thousands of visits per year.

The best part?  Working with friends and meeting new ones each year.

We’ve had plenty of high points.  Cosplay took off in a big way in the past five years.   Elizabeth and I hit the ground running at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2011 with our Alien Nation/Chuck mash-up and you can find us all over the Web in photos taken by others at the show.  Our years were dotted with the random brush with coolness.  A retweet by actress Alana de la Garza, coverage of Joss Whedon visiting the Hall H line at 3 a.m. outside SDCC in 2012, Zachary Levi calling out Elizabeth for her cosplay at Nerd HQ, interviewing the stars of History Channel’s Vikings series, our praise for the Miss Fury series appearing on the back of every Dynamite Comics issue one month, tweets from Hollywood make-up artist family the Westmores commenting on our discussion of Syfy’s Face Off series, our Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (negative!) review featured on the movie’s website, that crazy promotion for the Coma remake mini-series, planning the first Planet Comicon at Bartle Hall and the Star Trek cast reunion, attending the first Kansas City Comic Con and the first Wizard World Des Moines Con, hanging with comic book legend Howard Chaykin, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniels, cast members from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Star Trek, bionic duo Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner.  And borg.com gained some well-known followers (you know who you are) along the way.

sdcc-whedon-c shot

We’re grateful for some great Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and other feedback over the years from Felipe Melo, Mickey Lam, Michael Prestage, The Mithril Guardian, Francesco Francavilla, Adam Hughes, Judy Bunce, Mike Norton, Jack Herbert, Mike Mayhew, Rain Beredo, David Petersen, Rob Williams, and Matt Miner, and for creators we interviewed including Mikel Janin, Penny Juday, Tim Lebbon, Kim Newman, James P. Blaylock, Freddie Williams II, Jai Nitz, and Sharon Shinn.

Bunce Alien Nation cosplay x

What did readers like the most?

We amassed an extensive archive of hundreds of book reviews, movie reviews, reviews of TV shows, and convention coverage, thanks in part to the good folks at Titan Books, Abrams Books, Lucasfilm Press, Weta New Zealand, Entertainment Earth, Dynamite Comics, IDW Publishing, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, BOOM! Studios, and several TV and movie studios and distributors.

McClain and EC Bunce

My own favorites?  Sitting down to come up with my own five all-time favorite characters with the borg.com writing staff.

Schmidt and Bunce at PC 2015

Thanks to my family, my friends, especially my partner in crime Elizabeth C. Bunce, Art Schmidt and Jason McClain, my support team, and William Binderup and the Elite Flight Crew.

Onward and upward!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Jeweled Fire Shinn

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

As one of our annual New Year’s traditions, last week CJ and I had Chinese food for dinner.  It’s mostly an excuse to take a break from holiday cooking, but it’s also fun to see what our meal predicts for the coming year (about six pounds it will take until March to work off…).  Pictured below are the fates bestowed upon us for 2016.  You’re probably gearing up for the new year, too, maybe hoping a little clarity, prosperity, or luck will come your way (or omnipotent determination?).  For everyone who enjoys the touch of good fortune from a random blessing, we have the books for you.

FORTUNE COOKIES

Last month Sharon Shinn released a third volume in her Elemental Blessings series. Jeweled Fire joins 2011’s Troubled Waters and 2013’s Royal Airs about the nation of Welce, where every citizen feels a kinship to one of the five elements, thanks in part to random blessings drawn by strangers at their birth.  The sweela are drawn to the element of fire, and Jeweled Fire follows the (mostly mis)adventures of wayward Welchin princess Corene, who has run off to foreign parts in search of… well, she’s not sure what, exactly, except that it has to be better than life at home, where she’s surrounded by scheming nobles and political machinations and constant power play.

…And finds herself in another royal court, full of scheming nobles, political machinations, and constant power play.  And, in fine Shinn tradition, a little romance.

Shinn writes the kinds of series I like best.  From her acclaimed Samaria novels (Archangel, etc.), to her Twelve Houses high fantasies (Mystic and Rider, etc.), to the recent urban fantasy Shifting Circle novels (The Turning Season, etc.), Shinn’s series consist of separate standalone stories linked by characters and worldbuilding—not one-long-novel-in-five-parts, although there may be an overarching series plot, as well.  But it’s her worldbuilding that makes Shinn such a standout fantasy series writer.  The worlds are rich, deep, unique, and immediately accessible.  Shinn has said that Elemental Blessings was originally planned as a single book, but it was so obviously destined from its conception to be a classic Shinn five-volume series (we hope and assume!).  Like many of Shinn’s worlds, Welce has a special sort of magic tied to the land within its borders.  Not only do Welchins identify with the elements (the elay relate to air; the coru to water; the hunti to wood; and the torz to earth), but some possess an even stronger connection, sensing and even manipulating the elements around (and sometimes even within) them.

ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS

Corene, endowed with the blessings of courage, intelligence, and imagination, identifies with sweela, or fire—she’s passionate and impulsive, but also compassionate and clever, a combustible combination that frequently lands her in trouble, sometimes just to be noticed.  But when she hops a ship carrying the newly-discovered prince of Malinqua back to his native land (and you’ll have to read Royal Airs to learn how that happened) she’ll need all her blessings and more to navigate the ever more dangerous political waters.  Empress Filomara has not yet named an heir to Malinqua’s throne, and the scrabble for favor is worse than anything Corene knew back in Welce (and that’s saying something!).  Filomara has collected a number of foreign princesses as potential brides for her nephews and grandsons, but she may have ulterior motives here, as well.  And someone is systematically—and violently—eliminating all his or her fellow rivals for the throne.  There are too many suspects, and too many potential victims.  It will take all Corene’s resources to sort out the truth in time to save herself and her new friends.

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borg dot com benchmark logo tape

We kicked off borg.com as a way to catch up on entertainment news, books and movies back on June 10, 2011.  We’ve posted what’s new each day to provide “your daily science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment fix” for two years now and continue to forge ahead as we tick past our 800,000th view by readers today.

We want to say thanks to you for reading.  It’s a lot of fun (and hard work) keeping up on all the great genre entertainment out there, be it on TV, in theaters, in books, or comics.  We also want to thank all the comic book publishers out there that provide us with preview review copies, as well as book publishers and TV and movie studios and collectible companies that allow us to give you first available previews and reviews.  We cover only what we’re interested in and excited about–we figure that if we like it, so might you.

bionic borg meter

Some of the most fun we’ve had is meeting new people as we keep up on the coolest happenings in the genre realm, some at conventions, some are friends we are grateful to chat with each week of the year.  And lucky for us, borg.com has allowed us to meet some of our own favorite celebrities over the past two years, sci-fi stars like Mark Hamill, Joss Whedon, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Anthony Stewart Head, Scott Bakula, Adam Baldwin, Lindsay Wagner, Saul Rubinek, Zachary Levi, Eddie McClintock, Wil Wheaton, and Mark Sheppard.  Sci-fi and fantasy writers like Peter S. Beagle, Connie Willis, James Blaylock, and Sharon Shinn.  And comic book creators like Frank Cho, Jim Lee, Sergio Aragones, Neal Adams, and Howard Chaykin, and scores of other great comics creators like Mike Mayhew, Mike Norton, Michael Golden and Mikel Janin (and several not named Mike).

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Interview by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Award-winning fantasist Sharon Shinn is the author of two dozen novels and a handful of short stories and novellas.  Number twenty four, The Shape of Desire, is just out, and we’ve got Shinn right here on borg.com, sharing some of the secrets to her impressive career.

Shinn, a St. Louis native, is probably best known for her Samaria novels, a loosely-related collection set on a world ruled by genetically-engineered angels; and her Twelve Houses books, a vibrant take on classic sword and sorcery fantasy.  Some of her newest books, however, have ventured into urban fantasy, and the new Shifting Circle series, beginning with The Shape of Desire, is set in Shinn’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.  The story tracks the ups and downs of a love affair between a human and her reluctant shape-shifter lover, just as a series of unsettling animal attacks in local parks casts their already-rocky relationship into an even darker light.  Like much of Shinn’s work, the book is deeply romantic, but The Shape of Desire branches into more somber territory, meditating upon the risks of obsessive love in many forms.

I’m excited to bring you my conversation with Sharon Shinn!

ECB:  You’ve had an amazingly productive career–averaging about one (and sometimes two!) books a year–while also maintaining a fulltime career as a journalist.  What’s your secret?  (Personally, I suspect a warp in the space-time continuum in your basement, but will understand if you can’t tell us.)

SS:  I think the secret is obsessive compulsive disorder.  When I have a task with a deadline—any task, any deadline—I feel like I have spiders on my skin.  I can’t rest until it’s done (or all the spiders have been brushed off).  So when I’m in the middle of a book, I am constantly trying to find an hour here, two hours there, when I can sit down and write.  It’s not a comfortable way to live, actually, but it does make me productive.

ECB:  What’s your writing process like?  How long does it typically take you to write a novel?  A novella?  How many projects do you have going at once?

SS:  I think about a book for a long time—six months to five years—before I sit down to write it. So I usually have a really good idea of the plot and the characters.  I think it’s Graham Greene who said that he ruminates on a book so long before he starts writing that “it is not so much written as remembered.”  I feel that way sometimes.  I generally start a novel early in January and write till it’s done.  I start on page one and go straight through to the end, without going back to rewrite or fix things that I’ve decided to change in later chapters.  So, you know, my heroine might be named Betsey in Chapter One and Annabel in Chapter 10.  The rough draft usually takes me four to six months.  Then I go back and do a very detailed rewrite, fixing all the inconsistencies and cutting out the really clunky stuff.  Then I go back and do a finer rewrite.  Combined, those usually take eight to twelve weeks.  Then I have my writer’s group read and critique the manuscript, then I do a final pass, making edits based on their comments.  The book is usually ready to be turned in by sometime in September. So…nine months for a book, more or less.  A novella I can do in eight to twelve weeks.  Same process, just fewer pages.  I rarely work on more than one thing at a time.  Every once in a while, if I’ve committed to a short story, I’ll stop working on the novel long enough to write the shorter piece, but I really hate stopping my forward momentum on the book.  Unless I’ve already finished the rough draft!  Then I’m a little more relaxed about taking a break from the novel.

ECB:  What would you say the highlight of your career has been so far?  Any way-out-there dreams or ambitions, or projects you fantasize about tackling? 

SS:  Highlights… Meeting Anne McCaffrey.  Writing a check at a small boutique and having the salesgirl gasp, “Oh my God, are you the author?  I LOVE your books!”  Getting a letter from a fan who had just finished reading Dark Moon Defender.  She was in poor health, but said that when she read the scene where Ellynor heals Justin, she could feel herself getting stronger.  Fantasies… Signing that million-dollar contract.  Hearing that Joss Whedon is a fan.  Learning that Nathan Fillion has been cast as the lead in the movie version of one of my books.

ECB:  The Shape of Desire‘s Dante is by no means your first shape shifter character [they also figure prominently in The Shape-Changer’s Wife and the Twelve Houses series].  The appeal for the reader is obvious, but what is it about shape shifters that draws you as an author?  What keeps you coming back to this particular theme? 

SS:  It took me a while to realize this, but a huge percentage of my books feature characters who are in disguise in one way or another…the heroine might be using an assumed name or the hero doesn’t know that he’s really the king’s son.  Shape-shifters are constantly in disguise!  They epitomize the character who is living a lie!  So I think, for me as an author, that’s their subconscious appeal.  On a more obvious level, there’s just so much an author can do with shape-shifters, whether for dramatic or comedic effect.  They’re fun and versatile.

ECB:  You’ve created a host of rich fantasy worlds, from the Biblical-inspired setting of the Samaria novels, to the fascinating segregated metropolis in Heart of Gold, to the classically fantastical Gillengaria of the Twelve Houses series… but your recent books have drawn inspiration from a more familiar setting.  Talk to us about working with your hometown of St. Louis in novels like Gateway and The Shape of Desire… and about the differences in depicting the real world. 

SS:  I think it’s a lot harder to write in the real world.  There are so many more places to go wrong!  One throwaway line can wholly trip you up.  Maybe a character says, “Oh, I used to go to that park when I was a little girl,” but it turns out the park wasn’t built until five years after the story is set.  And some reader is going to know that.  One good thing about writing in the real world is that my language choices become so much broader.  I set a lot of books in semi-medieval and low-tech worlds, so there are hundreds of words that I don’t want to use because they sound too modern or technological.  I also try to avoid words that seem too foreign (even though, of course, English is cobbled together from many languages!)  But in a present-day real-world setting, nothing is off limits.  In the book that comes out this fall, the main character talks about feeling “the oppressive G-force of disappointment.”  Never could have used that phrase in Archangel or Mystic and Rider!  As for setting the books in St. Louis—for the Shifting Circle series, it was mainly a convenience, because I’m familiar with the city and I could easily figure out where events should be taking place.  But I had a lot of fun using St. Louis as the jumping-off point for Gateway, because it was such a kick to re-imagine some of the local landmarks for an alternate view of the city.

ECB:  You’re very active in the fantasy community, making several convention appearances every year.  Can you tell us why maintaining connections with fans and other writers is so important to you?  And where might fans catch up with you next on the con scene?  

SS:  Science fiction writers belong to such an odd little subset of the human race that it can be a pretty lonely to be one.  I didn’t discover the con scene until after my first book came out, and I had written quite a few manuscripts before then.  All my friends and family members were very supportive, and they dutifully read my stories and told me they liked them, but they couldn’t help me get better.  They didn’t understand when I’d borrowed an existing trope (they thought I invented shape-shifters!!!)  And they didn’t entirely understand why I would WANT to spend my time hunched over a typewriter or a keyboard, trying to transfer these weird ideas from my brain to the page.

I love talking to other published authors because they understand the joys and frustrations of the writing life.  They know what I mean when I say I hate my current book (though I loved it when I first started writing it and I eventually hope to fall in love with it again).  They know why I dread reading copyedits.  They nod in agreement when I say some friend wants me to go to a movie but I’d rather stay home and write because the characters are screaming in my head.  And science fiction/fantasy writers have a whole different level of understanding!  Conventions are where this scattered tribe comes together, so that’s one reason I like conventions.

Sharon Shinn and Elizabeth C. Bunce in St. Louis in 2010.

I also love a chance to meet fans.  Writing is a pretty solitary life, and living inside the pages of a book while you’re writing it is like being exiled to another country.  When I meet people who’ve read and enjoyed one of my books, it’s like meeting other expatriates.  And it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, all those hours sitting alone at the desk actually resulted in something worthwhile after all.

This year I’m planning to be at Chicon in August.  Not sure if I have any other convention appearances planned. Hoping to go to Brighton for World Fantasy Convention in 2013… but that’s a long way off…

Sharon, thanks for talking with us today!

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