Linky is behind in everything

Lavie Tidhar on the World SF Blog and the Kitschies:

To begin with, I don’t even know why I was feeling uneasy about accepting the award. I was looking forward to coming along and not having any responsibilities, like having to go on stage (my World Fantasy Award acceptance speech was two lines), and just being able to relax and enjoy myself. But I think I know what was bothering me, which crystallised when I stood up on that stage at the Free Word Centre.

I was looking out on a sea of white people.

Sofia Samatar, Reading feminist theory on the bus:

Him: What are you reading?

Me: Feminist theory.

Him: What?

Me (showing him the cover of Undutiful Daughters): Feminist theory. Ideas about feminism.

Him: Are you into women?

Me: Umm, why are you asking?

Him: I mean–what’s feminism?

Me: What?

Him: Feminism. What is that?

SF Signal on Epic Fantasy and the Dreams It Offers:

And yet, if you start looking for attempts to define the term “epic fantasy” you discover that they exist in abundance. The entry for it in Clute and Grant’s Encyclopedia of Fantasy links it to the classical poetic form but says that its use “by publishers to describe HEROIC FANTASIES that extend over several volumes” mean that the term has “lost its usefulness.” In The A-Z of Fantasy Literature Brian Stableford characterizes it as a label for multi-volume immersive fantasies that “gradually build up detailed historical and geographic images of secondary worlds, within which elaborate hero myths are constructed.” “[M]ost epic fantasies are strictly commodified,” he continues, but “the format readily lends itself to greater ambition.” Most definitions highlight structural aspects: length, scale, massive detail, but these are just means to an end. As Chloe Smith noted in a piece at Fantasy Faction, “The word ‘epic’ suggests a certain weight, a significance to the work that raises the stakes of the drama, that gives the tale it tells distinctive power and gravitas.” Jeremy L. C. Jones summarizes it thusly: “‘Epic Fantasy’” is gloriously broad, vague, and… resonant.”

(via Stefan Raets.)

I find Stevens’ conclusion later in the post somewhat vacuous and over-broad – What dreams? How do such “dreams” work? And particularly important in many cases, whose dreams are in question? These questions are implied but not answered, and I may have further thoughts on’t, but I lack time at present to complete them.

Linky needs to catch up with logging her reading (and write faster)

Marie Brennan on How to write a long fantasy series:

It took three years and two months rather than the two years I initially planned, but I have, at very long last, finished the Wheel of Time re-read and analysis. And as I promised quite some time ago, we’ll end with what I’ve learned.

This post, unlike the others, is not WoT-specific. I’ll be referencing the series, because it’s the primary source of my thoughts on this topic, but the point here is to talk about the specific challenges of writing a long epic fantasy series — here defining “long” as “more than a trilogy, and telling one ongoing story.” (So something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books wouldn’t count, since they’re a conglomeration of multiple trilogies.) My points probably also apply to non-fantasy series, but other genres are much less likely to attempt multi-volume epics on this scale, so I’m mostly speaking to my fellow fantasists.

I do not pretend this is in any way, shape, or form a recipe for commercial success with an epic fantasy series. After all, most of this is a checklist of errors I feel Jordan made, and you could paper the walls of Tor’s offices in fifty-dollar bills with the cash he made for them. Nor am I claiming artistic failure awaits if you fail to heed this advice; you might squeak through on luck, or just really good storytelling instinct. But I do feel that bearing these points in mind can help the would-be writer of an epic series avoid falling off some of the more common and perilous cliffs.

Michelle Sagara with Where Is My Outrage? Here It Is:

The title refers to this post, by author Nora Jemisin. It is worth reading. It is not going to make your night any happier.

But then again, I’m not going to make your night any happier. I don’t know if people will find this post triggery–but it will descend, in all probability, into rant and a genuine, visceral anger. So this might be the time to scroll past.

Leah Bobet on Freedom To Read:

And we need to learn that: so people of all ages can see some of the world and decide who they want to be. So we can not just think critically, but realize that you can disagree with certain things.

I learned that what you want and what you’re talented at aren’t necessarily the same thing, and why that’s okay, long before I washed out of my first professional choir and had to face that I would never be a career musician. I learned that gay people are just people, with loves and ideas and problems, before the first friend ever came out to me. I understood something of how wonderful my city could be years before I started to explore it.

I read those things in books. That was a good thing in my life.

I am glad nobody took those books away.

Joe Abercrombie on The Value of Grit:

Grit is an inclusion. Not grit is an absence. Nothing to prevent gritty books including the ennobling, the clean, the beautiful. Indeed, I’d argue that the extremes of darkness only allow the glimpses of light to twinkle all the more brightly, if that’s the effect you’re after. Clean books deny themselves a chunk of the physical and emotional spectrum.

(As an aside: finding Abercrombie talking about grit as an inclusion makes me think about archaeology’s pottery analysis and what inclusions of different sorts of materials in ceramic fabrics tells you about their origins. Yes, I am that kind of geek. Although not as much as some people I know…)

Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink has some Hugo nominations and is gracious enough to consider me in the Fan Writer category. Really, me, I don’t think work done for money ought to count, but apparently it does – so thanks, man. I think you should be nominating Martin Lewis or Maureen Kincaid Speller instead, but it’s nice to be noticed.

Books in brief: Csordas for research; Greenwood, Unnatural Habits; Anderson, Bitter Angels, Pegau, Rulebreaker, Caught in Amber, and Deep Deception

I am immensely behind in logging my reading.

Thomas J. Csordas, The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. University of California Press, 1997.

Charismatic healing among Catholic Charismatics in the USA in the 1980s. Cultural phenomenology. Interesting theoretical frameworks. If this is your thing, you will like this book. If it is not, you will bang your head against the nearest table and moan.

I enjoyed it after I got used to it. And left it full of sticky notes.

Thomas J. Csordas, ed., Embodiment and Experience: the existential ground of culture and self. Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

A collection of interesting papers, some of them baffling, some of them working from referents with which I’m not familiar. But some of them really fascinating. Likewise full of sticky notes.

Kerry Greenwood, Unnatural Habits. Poisoned Pen Press, 2012.

The latest entry in the Phryne Fisher series. Hilarious and bitingly upfront about horrendous bits of 1920s society by turns: a much tighter entry in the series in terms of the logic of its scattered mystery-plot than the previous entry.

C.L. Anderson, Bitter Angels. Spectra, 2009.

Anderson is an open pseud for Sarah Zettel, and this is an interesting, complex work of science fiction. Brilliant characterisation and fascinating set-up, but it loses track of its loose ends a little too much to come off as a wholly good book: would’ve been, perhaps, better as a somewhat longer work with more room to breathe and develop (a trilogy, perhaps).

An interesting failure, though, and well worth reading.

Cathy Pegau, Rulebreaker, Caught in Amber, and Deep Deception. Ebooks, courtesy of the author.

Will probably end up talking about Rulebreaker and Deep Deception as lesbian skiffy romance elsewhere, I think. Pegau writes decent (if short) romance. Unfortunately, lacking in each of these stories is the eyeball-kick feel of science fiction: change a handful of references, and the basics of the background plot could carry on in any time during the second half of the 20th century. There’s not nearly enough what-if: it doesn’t feel nearly as science-fictional as the shit that pops up as news in my daily life. (“Natural nuclear reactor on Mars,” for example.) If one is going to take some science-fictional setting in which to set one’s romance plot, it helps an awful lot with the SF part if the skiffy is both integral and frontloaded, not just set dressing. SF is metal and flash and bang and futureshock.

More lesbians, please, but more flash and BOOM and (sod it though I hate the term) “sensawunda,” too.

Some thoughts on Dishonored

I spent much of the past four days sleeping and playing Dishonored.


It’s an interesting failure, by me: I like stealth games, have ever since I played Metal Gear Solid for the old Playstation, but I like RPGs much better. And at least half my problem with Dishonored is that it would’ve made a very good RPG. A mixed RPG, like ME2. Some of the decisions made by the greater narrative were obvious from very early on. One Big Twist, that your allies are using you for their own ends and will end up betraying you, was pretty obvious from the get-go. But there’s no way to get the drop on them, even if you see it coming, or change the straightforward progression of the narrative.

Choices in-game are limited largely to performing the missions with minimum chaos or maximum bloodshed. This apparently affects endgame outcomes. (Save the child-empress and the city/cause everything to go to hell, it seems: these are the opposing poles of the outcomes.) For me, it would’ve been a far more satisfying experience as an RPG: interesting story-hook, but I’m not interested in playing through a film, y’know?

The other half of my problem is… I found its choices with regard to gender utterly alienating. You never see your own character’s face, and there is no real reason to gender that character. You could write all the incidental dialogue without gendered pronouns.

All of the other characters in the game, with the exception of servants, a dead empress, a child heir, an evil witch, random participants in a masked ball you have to sneak through and a woman who’s mainly important to eliminate because she’s Top Bad Guy’s lover – they’re all men. And all white.

Is it really so much to ask, in a game set explicitly in a port city, that they not be ALL SO WHITE? That some of the chief schemers and powerful movers-and-shakers be not ALL SO MALE?

I was pointed at this article from The Mary Sue when I complained about it on Twitter. Said article points out that there is subtle pointing-out of the unfairness/misery/unpleasantness of discriminatory gender roles.

Which is cool, but. I already know all this shit. (And it doesn’t explain why Dunwall, the port city of the setting, is so bloody white.) I don’t need the social disabilities of my gender (is “social disabilities” too strong? But there do remain bars to success for women that men don’t have to surmount in the same ways) in my face in a gaslamp fantasy stealth-assassination game. And if they are in my face, then I bloody well want more range: noblewomen scheming to control their dead husbands’ fortunes, courtesans getting in and out of the trade, struggling merchants’ widows on the edge of collapse: more women-as-active-participants, less women-as-passive-sufferers.

And the more I think about it, the more it annoys me. It’s a massive failure in a game that’s smart about all kinds of things – but only as long as white men are the whole of the foreground. Only that long.

Sleeps With Monsters: Epic Fantasy is Crushingly Conservative?

I’ve a new column up over at today: Sleeps With Monsters: Epic Fantasy is Crushingly Conservative?

I’ve been thinking about a question asked by @Gollancz on Twitter. “Epic Fantasy is, by and large, crushingly conservative in its delivery, its politics and its morality. Discuss. And why? (Oh why?)” [7:20 pm DST, Feb 20, 2013.]

Following, and participating in, some of the conversation that followed—which either took the statement for granted or argued that it was an incomplete characterisation of the subgenre—several things occurred to me. The first is that we keep having this conversation, over and over again, without defining our terms. How do we define “epic”? What counts as “conservative”? (It’s a word with multiple axes of interpretation.)


Jim Hines on Nebula Voters HATE WHITE DUDES!!!:

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the diversity of the nominees this year. Rose Fox did a breakdown over at Genreville.

So of course it didn’t take long for someone to pop up in the SF Signal comments to say:

Sure is a huge slant towards women and the non white male. If we don’t start counteracting all the relentless one sided articles soon. Then SF is going to look a lot like the Romance Genre. And the funny thing is there wasn’t even a fight.

Thats my Counterpoint Mirror to todays Half Truths(its the other half that will complete you)

Another commenter jumped in to say how girly the list was, and to talk about how he reads a very broad and diverse range of male authors.

I wish I was making that up.

Medieval Fragments on Paws, Pee and Mice: Cats Among Medieval Manuscripts.

Alyssa Rosenberg on Malinda Lo on Why White Creators Default To Colorblindness.

Everything is Nice on Perdition and the Deep Blue Sea:

It is for this reason that Spanton picks genre awards as an example of the problem when they actually undermine his original argument. The UK has two awards – one established (the Clarke) and one newcomer (the Kitschies) – that do more than most other things within the genre to spread the good news. They do exactly what he later says in the comments that he is seeking: “What would be fantastic would be if we could find ways to increase that exposure, to broaden the appeal of an Award’s brand beyond that of the already interested parties.” That doesn’t really matter though, all that matters is sales and winning an award “makes not a jot of difference to sales of the winning books”. This is a publishing truism that is frequently trotted out along with others such as people will only buy genre books with ugly covers. In the comments, Lauren Beukes gives a pretty clear example of how this fact isn’t always true.

Brit Mandelo writes a letter of appreciation to the late, great Joanna Russ.

Rush-That-Speaks on Delany’s Dhalgren.

Two reviews elseweb: When We Wake by Karen Healey and Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Janet Brennan Croft

My review of Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy is up at Strange Horizons:

Before I consider just quite how badly this collection has failed its stated aims (I’m not a product of literature studies, but I am doing postgraduate research myself, and if you can’t make yourself intelligible and compelling to someone in a related discipline within the humanities . . . well, perhaps you should be thinking about your audience), however, let me note that this collection does contain a handful of essays that don’t read like rushed undergraduate term papers.

Yes, I’m a nasty snarky bastard at times.

But I liked Karen Healey’s When We Wake a lot. (Review over at

More linky

Yes, yes, too much linkspam, not enough content. You try writing an academic thesis. on Anti-Drone Camouflage Apparel:

“I’m creating the future I want to see: people wearing stylish clothes that block surveillance and enhance privacy. Functionally, the hoodie is designed to thwart thermal surveillance from above and is wide enough to block a vertical over shot. The hood is exaggerated to provide additional face concealment.”

Hadley Freeman at The Guardian CIF on Hilary Mantel and the Duchess of Cambridge:

None of these observations is new, although rarely have they been better couched. They also took up a total of four paragraphs in a 30-paragraph speech – less than one-seventh, in other words – that otherwise focused on Mantel’s very perceptive observations of Henry VIII, the Queen and the nature of monarchy as a whole. But none of these can be illustrated with a photo of the eternally photogenic duchess and, more importantly, none can be souped up into some kind of non-existent squabble between two high-profile women (Boleyn being, famously if rather inconveniently, dead.) So it was Mantel’s “vicious, venomous” and “withering” “rants” and “attacks” on the Duchess that made the front pages of today’s Mail and Metro papers, as well as getting a prominent mention in the Independent and a somewhat smaller one in the Guardian. This kind of extrapolation is reminiscent of when a critic describes a film as “astonishingly bad” and the film poster then claims the critic described it as “astonishing!”

A gorgeous video of a cat and an owl playing together.

Review copies I’m feeling guilty about not reading swiftly…

Books to review…

In order: out of Tor, R.S. Belcher’s The Six-Gun Tarot. Out of Victor Gollancz for review for Strange Horizons, C. Robert Cargill’s Dreams and Shadows. Out of Jo Fletcher Books, Ian McDonald’s Planesrunner (which I hope to review for summer Out of Titan Books, Melanie Rawn’s Elsewhens (hope to treat of it in a column), John Birmingham’s Without Warning, and James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus and Lord Kelvin’s Machine.

See, the problem for me with the last few named is the nice publicist at Titan emails and says, do you think you might be interested in reviewing these books?, and the problem is, I’m always interested. So I say Yes, I am! without really thinking about the fact that a)I review books for a limited number of venues (even if our reviews editor at seems to be pretty cool with whatever I send in – if I write two reviews a quarter, that’s still only eight books a year – and my only controlling principle for the column is that I’m prioritising women’s and queer/queer-friendly writing/media) and b)I have a limited amount of time in which to read books.

(No, really, self. You may have read 200+ books last year, but that was fairly extraordinary. You can’t count on reading more than 100 new books per year.)

(Although, I have to say, I find what Titan’s doing interesting. They seem to have a very limited original SFF line, but are taking books that’ve been successful in the US market and bringing them out in the UK. MilSF seems to be the most notable focus – that’s presumably my perception because they’ve brought out Jack Campbell’s whole backlist – but they’ve got rights to Lackey’s latest Valdemar books, Rawn’s new series, and are bringing Blaylock’s steampunk and Newman’s Jago back into print. But they published Samit Basu’s Turbulence, so I hope they bring more original SFF.)

I don’t consider that I have an obligation, as such, to publicists for publishers, to read and talk about the books they might send. (They takes their chances.) But it’s not, I think, good, to be saying yes too often. I already have too many books on my TBR list, and craptonnes of (mostly reading and writing) work to do.

Although, y’know, I’m not complaining about review copies. They’re pretty great. And I will read them. Just not necessarily swiftly.

Linky wants to tell you about mummified kings’ heads

Buzzfeed on King Henri IV’s Mummified Skull?

In 2008, two Frenchmen tracked a mummified head believed to belong to King Henri IV to Jacques Bellanger, a local tax collector. Bellanger reportedly purchased the skull in the 1950s for 5,000 francs from a woman who bought it at a Paris auction house in the early 1900s.

Hilary Mantel on Royal Bodies:

The royal body exists to be looked at. The world’s focus on body parts was most acute and searching in the case of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. No one understood what Henry saw in Jane, who was not pretty and not young. The imperial ambassador sneered that ‘no doubt she has a very fine enigme’: which is to say, secret part. We have arrived at the crux of the matter: a royal lady is a royal vagina. Along with the reverence and awe accorded to royal persons goes the conviction that the body of the monarch is public property

Equal Writes on Conan the Barbarian: Jason Momoa Performs Masculinity in a Skirt:

Half an hour into the movie and we finally get to see Jason Momoa in his manly skirt and very little else, because barbarians don’t wear clothes. Conan by this point has acquired a Black Best Friend, Artus (Nonso Anozie) who I think is supposed to be a pirate or something. Anozie was born in Lincoln and in real life has a rather posh British accent, but for this movie he does a Nigerian accent. I’m assuming this is to emphasise how ~Foreign~ and ~Exotic~ Artus is. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Radish Reviews on Fan Fic Sensibility and the Id Vortex:

It is the idea that there is a locus of shame in pro fic that I find so intriguing and why I have different reasons for reading fan fic versus pro fic (I like both!). But every so often, there’s a piece of pro fic that has qualities that strike me as particularly fannish–they’re usually the books where, as I’m reading them, I’m thinking to myself, “This is a terrible premise for a book and I can’t stop reading it because I am completely sucked into it.”

How to Justify a Private Library.

Sleeps With Monsters: The James Bond of Cosy Mysteries

In which I talk about Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the Australian TV series based on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels:

I have to break free from the confines of skiffy to talk about television that’s both ongoing, that I like (and thus can recommend without ten thousand caveats), and that centres on women, a woman, or non-male-identified people in general. So today, let’s break out as far as 1920s Melbourne….

I’ve a boast to make

See the shelves in that picture? I built them. From scratch. I cut the planks to length – for only the third time in my life using a saw – measured the heights, nailed them in place, put some more nails in when the first nails looked like they weren’t quite doing the job, bashed my thumb with the hammer, and stuck wood glue down the worst of the gaps.

It’s not perfect. It wobbles a little, a couple of the shelves are slightly slanted, and I need to put one more plank in place tomorrow (I’m too tired tonight to finish) and finish the edges with sandpaper. (Maybe, in the summer, I will varnish it. Probably not, though). But it does the job, or will – probably – and it cost, including tools like the saw, which I had to purchase last weekend, less than an equivalent set of shelves from Ikea, and at least a third less than pre-built cabinetry. (Okay, so the cabinetry has somewhat better structural integrity and shiny pretty finish. But still.)

No one ever taught me how to do this. I decided I want to try. And that meant learning by doing. With all the terror and flaws and potential horrible failure modes that implies. (My mother helped when I needed a second pair of hands, but she didn’t believe I could do it. In fact, her first reaction on learning of my planned attempt: “You can’t do it! You’ll never be able to do it! No!”)

(One would think I was seven, and not coming up on twenty-seven.) (Also, hell, am I really coming up twenty-seven? When I was seven I thought I’d be queen of the universe by twenty.)

The success of this project hasn’t been proved out yet – the proof will come tomorrow, when I hammer in the last shelf-plank and test the others with the weight of books – but it doesn’t seem fragile. There is tensile strength in inch-thick pine and two-inch nails…

Anyway. I don’t want to say that it’s gendered, learning how to build things. But I think my mother’s mental resistance to the idea of my building-competence is at least partly gendered, and I think my lack of experience with banging shit together is also partly gendered: female persons are subtly culturally discouraged from learning to do stuff like Hang Shelves or Build Shelves – not only in formal lessons, but informally. That could just be my impression, though.

In conclusion: I built shelves!

I collect more links

Because other people have interesting things to say, and I’m trying to finish reading a couple of tomes on anthropology and faith healing, so my brain is not with the making of clever things to say.

But first, I want to mark a new departure. For the first time since I’ve been keeping track, the Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks at features a majority of books by women: 6.5 to 4.5, with one anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. (If we count names on spines, we have 6.5 to 5.5, which gives us rough parity.) Thanks for that, guys – and I hope that parity’s the new normal for the Bookseller’s Picks.

The Mary Sue reports on an academic study of harassment in Halo 3:

Findings indicate that, on average, the female voice received three times as many negative comments as the male voice or no voice. In addition, the female voice received more queries and more messages from other gamers than the male voice or no voice.

Aliette de Bodard talks about racial passing and her reaction to Seraphina:

It’s a bit like… imagine an SFF book with a made-up universe which has a species with two genders, one of which is deemed inferior to the other, prone to hysterics, and only suited for bearing and raising babies at home. Would you really be praising the forward-thinking and awesome depiction of gender issues of such a book?

(LJ discussion.)

Jenny’s Library on Invisible Hoverboards and Zombies on Mute:

I would love more young adult science fiction and more conversation about young adult science fiction. The problem is that I get the impression from reading their pitch that Strom-Martin and Underwood’s issue isn’t even so much with the quantity or even the quality, but rather the flavor young adult science fiction that is currently popular. In doing so they ultimately limit and stifle conversation rather than encourage it.

And for the archaeology/history geeks:

New Graeco-Roman tombs uncovered in Alexandria.

The Carian Trail: a new long-distance walking trail opens in Turkey.

Collecting all the links!

Or at least a few of them.

I’ve been holding on to Gemma Files’ write-up of “The Bletchley Circle” until I could watch my own DVDs. But I’ve been forced to concede that won’t happen for quite a while yet – and this is too good a write-up (and, it sounds like, too good a series) to sit on.

[T]he thing that sets The Bletchley Circle apart is its investment in the spectacle of unapologetic female intelligence. Susan has doubt about a lot of things, but not in her own capacities as a patternist; her confidence is intoxicating, especially to the other women, waking them from a sort of mutual torpor. There’s a lot of examination of the way “women’s work” is undervalued generally, even with the context of war–their sacrifices laughed off, their urge to service and impulse to put themselves in danger in order to save others pain seen as not as valuable as the same impulse when displayed on the front-lines. All of the Circle, one assumes, have taken a certain amount of crap for not being helpmeet-compliant, for not being content to simply play wife, mother, girlfriend, support-system, etc. None of them want to be Angel of the House, and all of them feel at least a bit bad for it–unnatural, asexual, “left out.” When they’re together again things become organic, and there’s a sense of beauty, of fulfillment, almost vocational/spiritual: The Fibonacci spiral laid overtop the murder-map, at one point literally.

N.K. Jemisin talks about The Unbearable Baggage of Orcing:

Orcs are human beings who can be slaughtered without conscience or apology.

Think about that. Creatures that look like people, but aren’t really. Kinda-sorta-people, who aren’t worthy of even the most basic moral considerations, like the right to exist. Only way to deal with them is to control them utterly a la slavery, or wipe them all out.

Huh. Sounds familiar.

I have my own thoughts about the problem of orcs and the problem of evil in general in fantasy. The problem of evil in epic fantasy – the traditional kind – is that, usually, it is reified evil. Evil made concrete, taken out of the grey context and compromises of human existence. Good and evil are obviously, easily defined, visible. Marked. The orc – aside from it being Fear of the Other made flesh – is just another example of this demarcation of boundaries and refusal of ethical arguments. Why does evil exist? Because it does. Why is it evil? Because it is. (Because it’s not like us.)

The reaction to traditional epic fantasy in the grimdark forms of deconstruction – well, that tends also to refuse ethical arguments. Evil exists, human beings are shit, let’s roll around in blood and nastiness. I think a lot of the problems I find with “grimdark” as a deconstruction of the epic fantasy have to do with the fact that these deconstructions imbibe (narrowly) a philosophical view of human potential that owes entirely to much to Nietzche: the will-to-power, the dialectic of the master-slave morality (but one that valorises “master” morality), and a marriage of perspectivism to nihilism. Power is, if not the only virtue and only truth, the greatest one. (And individual power, at that: there are no functional communities within the grimdark subgenre, or where they are, they’re deluded, or corrupt, or doomed to betrayal and destruction.)

…But I ramble. I was collecting links.

Nerds of a Feather has an interesting review of Leviathan Wakes:

So what’s the libertarianism doing in Leviathan Wakes and why is it problematic? To answer the first question, I’d guess it’s a product of the attempt to write “old school solar Space Opera,” and the fact that the classics of the genre are positively swimming in the stuff. And–to be fair–since Leviathan Wakes is the first installment in a multi-volume series, this could be a setup for subversion or deconstruction later on. That’s pretty much what Scalzi did to Heinlein in the Old Man’s War books, so I won’t discount the possibility here.

Nevertheless, its deployment in Leviathan Wakes leaves much to be desired. Earth and Mars are highly centralized and bureaucratized states where large corporations dependent on public funds shape policy to their sociopathic will. The Belt, by contrast, is a loose conglomeration of scrappy, independent-minded pioneers sick of being overtaxed and overregulated. Though there are some early attempts at moral grayscaling (the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), for example, first appears to us as an ideologically-blinded radical group), these are abandoned midway for a more Bova/Niven-esque dynamic where Belters appear as archetypal “rugged individualist of the American West” to be contrasted with the nefarious “East Coast Warshington insiders” of the inner planets. These ideal types are deeply problematic in their real world historical-cultural context, but in Leviathan Wakes there’s never much doubt as to who we should root for, especially when every single sympathetic Earther or Martian is just a freedom-lovin’ Belter at heart.

Any more interesting news lately?

Deborah Coates, Deep Down; Karen Healey, When We Wake; Galactic Surburbia

Two books have I finished lately, and two only.

(Although I’m closing on the final pages of W.H.R. Rivers’ Medicine, Magic and Religion, from the Routledge Classics series: early anthropologists are strangely entertaining, with their “lowly peoples,” “savage man,” and “rude culture.” And by entertaining, I mean, he’s interesting, but I still cringe.)

Deep Down, by Deborah Coates

Deborah Coates, Deep Down. Tor, 2013. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Coates marries the chill of a proper ghost story to vivid characterisation and deeply-felt landscape. Contemporary fantasy, sequel to Wide Open. Great voice. Although Wide Open was very good, this is better. I strongly recommend both of them.

(Longer review on submission elseweb.)

When We Wake, by Karen Healey

Karen Healey, When We Wake. Little, Brown & Co., 2013. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Excellent YA meets brilliant science fiction. I am inarticulate in its regard: I am trying, still, to disentangle the things that I admire about it now, as a work of literature that appeals to me as an adult, from the things that should make it work for its target audience, and I think it comes down to voice. Healey really nails voice: her own authorial voice, and the voice of When We Wake‘s protagonist, Tegan.

It appears that the good folks at Galactic Suburbia like the work I’ve been doing in the column. Since I appear on the shortlist for their Galactic Suburbia award. (Around minute 30.)

This is baffling, and weird, and altogether marvelously validating.

Priest, The Inexplicables; Higgins, Wolfhound Century; Croft, Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Let’s talk about books!

Cherie Priest’s The Inexplicables

First up: Cherie Priest, The Inexplicables. Tor, 2012. Copy courtesy of

I enjoyed this one. I think I’ve figured out why I didn’t love Dreadnought and Ganymede half so much as Boneshaker. Priest’s poisoned Seattle, with its yellow gas and its rotters, its decay and peril and strangeness, is a compelling character in its own right.

Here our viewpoint character is Rector Sherman, petty crook, small-time addict, who enters the city because he’s no other place to go. Soon he finds himself in the middle of a struggle for control, and has to pick sides.

There’s also a sasquatch. It’s really pretty good.

Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century

Next, briefly: Peter Higgins, Wolfhound Century. Orbit, 2013. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

This? This is fluently-written, numinous, complex, promising debut. But ultimately somewhat disappointing: I expected more climactic resolution, even from the first book in a new series.

Still recommend it, though. Higgins makes very pretty sentences.

Longer, more detailed review hopefully forthcoming elseweb.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy, ed. Janet Brennan Croft.

Last for today: Janet Brennan Croft, ed., Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy. McFarland Press, 2013. e-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Review forthcoming from Strange Horizons. Short version: there are one or two good papers in here, but my overall feeling is that this is a bloody awful mess of a collection. And most of the papers wouldn’t pass muster for critical engagement with anyone whose opinions I respect.

Yes, I’m cranky.

That’s it at the moment. Now to decide how to prioritise my present reading list, sigh.

Why Don’t You Bastards Cut That Out?

Or why the Big Idea pitch for Betsy Dornbusch’s Exile did the opposite of convince me to want to read the book.

I started with the Twitter pitch. A half-breed, ex-slave bastard falsely accused of murdering his wife is exiled to the arse-end of the world. And I came up with lots of ideas, but I kept getting distracted by the fun parts of the book. There’s prejudice. (Epic fantasy!) A crisis of faith. (Swords!) Slavery. Crushing grief. (A quest!) Guilt. Suicidal tendencies. (Magic!) Revenge

Look, people. Words mean things. Having either half-breed or bastard in your elevator pitch? That’s a great way to alienate people who a) fall between cultures or b) don’t actually know their paternal gene-donor.

Aliette de Bodard’s already taken on mixed-race people in SFF. (In short: it’s a piece of short-hand characterisation frequently really badly, lazily, used.)

I’m here to add a minor little caveat to the use of the word “bastard.”

I’m the child of an unwed mother, born when that was much, much less socially acceptable than it is today. Ireland took much longer than our imperial neighbour to repeal the medieval Merton Statutes (13th century): not until 1965, with the Succession Act, was special bastardy formally repealed, along with dower and tenancy by the curtesy, escheat to the State and escheat to a mesne lord for want of heirs. For me, born in the eighties, bastard was a word without legal meaning, but its moral force remained as a shadow over my early years: it wasn’t until after I reached college that I could own the word – admit to not having a father – without feelings of shame.

Yeah, I’m a bastard. Screw you.

Bastard is a very specific word. In ancient Athens, children of citizens with non-citizen women were known as νόθοι, a word that means variously baseborn, crossbred (of animals), or counterfeit. The Latin equivalent is, I believe, spurius or nothus, as opposed to legitimus, lawful, according to the law. Bastard denotes a specific legal standing: to be precise, one who has no standing in the eyes of the state. Before the 1960s, in Britain and Ireland, a bastard possessed no automatic rights of inheritance; in the 17th and 18th centuries, bastard children had little recourse to what little assistance for indigency existed, in the form of the Poor Laws and parish assistance. To speak of bastardy is to speak of an ingrained set of social assumptions, all nested within each other: it speaks to the role of marriage (the primacy of such a role), the place of property and inheritance, the legitimacy and social legibility of certain relationships, roles, bodies. (It also points up that the society wherein “bastardy” is a thing is not kind to the sexual freedom of its women.)

So, yes, bastardy is a historical concept and can be usefully explored, in terms of social power dynamics, in SFF. But your “half-breed bastard”? That’s an insult used against real people. And using it as a fun hook makes me doubt in your ability to treat issues of power and oppression with seriousness or sensitivity.

The fact that there’s no legal disability attached to that anymore doesn’t mean that it’s a word that can’t be used to shame. Because let’s not make any mistake here: certain kinds of relationships, certain configurations of families, are still more socially legible, more legitimate, than others.

Half-breed. Half-caste. Bastard. Whoreson. Whore. Faggot. Dyke. Lazy feckless jobless. Single mother. I reserve the right to be bloody fucking sensitive about how these words are deployed. A half-breed, ex-slave bastard falsely accused of murdering his wife is exiled to the arse-end of the world. That elevator pitch doesn’t hook me, it repels me.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fridging implied by falsely accused of murdering his wife.

Perhaps I wrong the book. And I mean no offence to Dornbusch, who is most likely less insensitive than her elevator pitch makes her sound. I’m using her pitch as an example of a trend, because it’s the latest to cross my path.

But words mean things. And half-breed (aside from its racist overtones) is not shorthand for alienated with angst about place in the world, anymore than bastard is shorthand for unloved and rejected – but so very often they seem to be used that way.

And that has an effect in the real world. It affects real people.

So why don’t you bastards cut that out, huh? Think more deeply about what your words imply.

What Fresh Hell Lies Here?

Perhaps you’ll remember Rod Rees’ The Shadow Wars (The Demi-Monde: Spring in the UK) as one of the unexpected ARCs mentioned in my second-last post. Well, I started reading it for review, and tweeted a few egregiously awful quotes, and the (in)famous Requires Hate got in on the act…

The Storify of the Untethered Breasts:

“Odette gave a wiggle and was pleased to see that her untethered breast jiggled in a quite charming fashion.”

Someone passed on a link to the cover of the latest Kindle magazine: Rape In Wonderland.


Ronan Wills discusses Hounded by Kevin Hearne, and his view on the banality of urban fantasy.

Nerds of A Feather discusses grim/dark iterations in fantasy:

[W]hat’s the purpose of all the violence and cruelty in the art we consume, and specifically in fantasy fiction? When is it acceptable and when is it not?

A certain author turns up in the comments to defend his precious, as is becoming tediously de rigueur in his case, and diametrically opposed to the response of Joe Abercrombie to criticism as quoted in the post. (I have Important Thoughts, natch, on violence and fantasy, but they’ll keep.)

(No, really, they’ll have to keep. I’ve reached my procrastination limit for today.)

And! If you’ve made it this far, you deserve some reward. Stylist Turns Ancient Hair Debate On Its Head:

By day, Janet Stephens is a hairdresser at a Baltimore salon, trimming bobs and wispy bangs. By night she dwells in a different world. At home in her basement, with a mannequin head, she meticulously re-creates the hairstyles of ancient Rome and Greece.

Ms. Stephens is a hairdo archaeologist.

Her amateur scholarship is sticking a pin in the long-held assumptions among historians about the complicated, gravity-defying styles of ancient times. Basically, she has set out to prove that the ancients probably weren’t wearing wigs after all.

And a Dutch television show enlists two men to undergo simulated labour contractions:

And if that’s not all the news that’s fit to print, that’s as much as I have time for today…

Sleeps With Monsters: Historical Representations of Women, Now With Visual Aids

My latest column is up at

St. Wilgefortis, the bearded lady, hanging out all crucified and smiling…

In the course of my perambulations, I came across several visually arresting pieces that have a bearing on the discussions we’ve had here on, about historically authentic sexism and cop-out arguments.

So this week, I thought I’d present some visual arguments for the historical validity of many ways of representing many different sorts of women, from Hellenistic Greece to seventeenth-century France.

Not my most brilliant work! But it has pictures. Including of a sculpture of naked female wrestlers from seventeenth-century France – a lovely bronze piece, realistically posed (relatively) with visible musculature.

While I’m linking to things, last night I listened to the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast and enjoyed it buckets – although I confess I dozed off in the middle, and woke up in time to hear about Ursula LeGuin’s The Telling at the end. This is what I get for listening to things at 0200 hrs.

Meanwhile, Kate Elliott is hosting a discussion about reviews at her livejournal and her wordpress blog.

And Tim Pratt is running a Kickstarter for his latest Marla Mason novel.

That’s not exactly all the news that’s fit to print, but it’s all I’ve time to share today…