Review copies: Abercrombie, Brust, Erikson

And lo, there were three.

And lo, there were three.

Joe Abercrombie’s HALF A KING, which I’m supposed to review for Strange Horizons; Steven Brust’s HAWK (Vlad Taltos, how much do I like this series?); and Steven Erikson’s WILLFUL CHILD, which is hopefully a much better Star Trek parody than Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS was.


Thomas F. Bonnell, The Most Disreputable Trade: Publishing the Classics of English Poetry, 1765-1810. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.

It’s my habit to keep a book in the bathroom to read while cleaning my teeth… and doing other things… a book I don’t mind reading three and four pages at a time. By this means, I’ve learned a little about a large number of historical things. I seized on this particular book because of the interesting – dare I say alluring? – title, and because I’d read a history of the illegal book trade in prerevolutionary France that was quite frankly fascinating.

Well. Don’t judge a book by its title. Quite frankly, I expected something more… lascivious? Disreputable? Something more scandalous? But nope. No scandal! No disrepute! Not even any really juicy bookselling feuds, for crying out loud. It’s a fairly bland history of the creation of a publishing canon of English poetry by printers and booksellers in Britain. Apparently, the “most disreputable trade” part refers to what one London publisher thought would become of the publishing trade after a copyright decision went against them.

I was seduced by a misleading title, and now I know more than anyone really needs to about collections of English poetry in the late 18th century. Doubtless I will forget it all with great promptness, and remember only that there is a book in which information about it may be found.

Books in brief: Milan, McCarry, Johansen

Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal. 2014. Kobo ebook.

Another excellent historical romance, this time set in the 1870s, from Courtney Milan. One of her best to date, I suspect.

Sarah McCarry, All Our Pretty Songs. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.

Read for inclusion in the column. Debut, lyrically written, very decent book.

Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling. Bantam Press, 2014.

Read for inclusion in the column. I have conflicted feelings about this novel. On the one hand, I enjoyed the story, and the characters, and on the whole it cheered me up on a day where I was feeling rather gloomy about reading anything. But once I’d finished it, I realised the story took place in a very white, straight, cisgender world – and that made me sad all over again.


Cover of THE SEVENTH MISS HATFIELD (Gollancz, 2014).

Review copy courtesy of Gollancz.

Every so often, I come across a book that, through no fault of its own, I find unreadable. I have hit two such books in recent days, Carol Berg’s Dust and Light – which I find unfinishable, though there’s nothing really wrong with it – and now, today, Anna Caltabiano’s The Seventh Miss Hatfield. Caltabiano is apparently an adolescent prodigy, selling this novel at the age of seventeen, and people whose judgement I respect enjoyed it…

…but I can’t read it. The voice and the style puts me off entirely.

Oh, well. Not every book is for every reader. It is useful to be reminded of that, sometimes.

Dietz and Titan Books and space opera and rambling

A little while back I mentioned that I wanted to talk more about William C. Dietz’s Andromeda’s Fall and Andromeda’s Choice: what they did well, and what they did poorly.*

But I’ve been thinking about American military space operas that get republished in the UK – Titan Books seems to be the headliner in this, having republished the works of Jack Campbell AKA John Hemry and moved on to Tanya Huff’s Valo(u)r books and Dietz – so this blog post is more of a set of disconnected questions than a coherent essay.

Neither Campbell nor Dietz are particularly innovative writers, or technically accomplished. (Huff is more interesting, but her military space opera never captured my imagination the way say David Drake’s RCN series did.) Both essentially repeat a similar narrative over and over again with little character change or growth, the former with a space navy, and the latter with a space legion étranger. What’s the appeal, and why do there seem to be no homegrown UK military space operas in a similar mode? Because as far as I can tell, SF by UK authors has a rather different focus, tonally and thematically.

Andromeda’s Choice and Andromeda’s Fall are not particularly interesting books, themselves. Their worst failing is that the narrative requires the main character to act stupidly or aimlessly. The narrative fails to commit in terms of consistency of character emotion and action – and prose itself never rises above the pedestrian. The main character, Andromeda McKee, views herself through the lens of the male gaze a little too often – but at least Dietz isn’t entirely preoccupied with breasts.

And yet, for all that, these two books possess some quality that kept me reading: despite their flaws, they’re weirdly fun. And I’m not at all sure why.

*Let’s note that in comparison to Dietz’s Legion of the Damned, they do many things well.

Me at Nine Worlds Geekfest

When a certain person learned I was going to attend the Sunday with a press pass, he said: “I HAVE A PANEL FOR YOU.” (Or words to that effect.)

Spock vs the Sorcerers: F or SF? The Genre Deathmatch Smackdown!
11.45am – 1.00pm
County C&D

The vicious genrepocalypse that we’ve all been waiting for. There can be only one.

Debate: Anne Perry (Moderator), Daniel Polansky (Fantasy), Liz Bourke (Fantasy), Zen Cho (SF) , Geoffrey Ryman (SF)

I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing (and dammit, I wanted to report on “Writing Historical Fiction and Fanfic: is RPF okay when the person is dead?”) but somehow I let myself be persuaded.

My Loncon 3 schedule is here. (Note to self: remember, Hugo rehearsal Saturday 1800, pre-Hugo and Hugo ceremony, Sunday 1800 on.)

ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD, edited by Chris Duffy

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

This is an anthology of WWI poetry – Brooke, Hardy, Graves, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, others – adapted into graphic format by a whole swathe of modern cartoonists. The illustrations are in a variety of styles, some impressionistical and moving, like George Pratt’s, or Danica Novgorodoff’s, and some plain and lacking in feeling. There are notes. The notes are rather on the didactic side. Perhaps this is an anthology intended for younger readers?

It’s an interesting experiment. Perhaps I would feel differently if I actually enjoyed graphic-format works in general. But for me, it did not work: only rarely did the art support the feeling of the poetry, the sense and weight and music of it, rather than distracting from it or working at cross-purposes.

But the poetry of the war works its own images, impressed into the mind: for me no others can compare.

Juliet McKenna on “Waterstones and Gender Equality: the good, the bad, and the business case for doing better.”

Juliet E. McKenna has a hell of point to make regarding the amount of business sense it makes for book retailers to increase the diversity of their promotion tables:

So setting aside issues of natural justice between the genders, the significant thing here from a business point of view is surely the disconnect between what people actually choose to read and what they’re being offered. So where is the possible downside in offering readers a more balanced choice – and with women writers being more visible at the top of these emails rather than being relegated to the bottom?

…Yes, gender equality is a feminist issue. When it comes to bookselling it is also a commercial issue. If Waterstones wants to offer customers the discoverability which they’re not going find elsewhere, surely extending the range and rotation of books promoted in their genre sections, by male and female authors alike, to equal the choices they already offer in general fiction, is simply good business?

It is well worth reading the whole thing.

Review copy: THE RELIC GUILD

Resting on some lovely research books from Henri Lefebvre.

Resting on some lovely research books from Henri Lefebvre.

Edward Cox’s THE RELIC GUILD, out of Gollancz.

One of the odd things about writing Sleeps With Monsters over at, and beating the drumbeat of REPRESENTATION FOR FEMALE AUTHORS… I’ve starting feeling almost guilty to talk about books by blokes that I’m looking forward to reading. Or would be looking forward to reading, if only I had more time.

Like Steven Brust’s Hawk or Steven Erikson’s Willful Child or Richard Morgan’s The Dark Defiles… ah, well.

Final LonCon3/Worldcon Schedule

And I am now on five panels.

The Changing Face of the Urban Fantastic

Thursday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)

Urban fantasy is a broad church. To some, it’s the genre of “Wizard of the Pigeons” and “War of the Oaks”; to others, it means Sam Vimes patrolling the streets of Ankh Morpork, or Locke Lamora conning his way through Camorr. Most recently, it has become synonymous with werewolves, vampires and hot detectives. What holds together the urban fantastic? Are different strands of the genre in conversation with each other? And how important is the influence of the structures and tone of other genres like crime fiction?

Liz Bourke (M), Paul Cornell, Robin Hobb, Freda Warrington.

Chivalrous Critics of Fannish Dimensions

Saturday 20:00 – 21:00, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)

What makes a good epic fantasy? Does quality of prose matter, or is insisting on literary rigor killjoy and elitist? Is it possible to ‘overthink’ your experience of reading epic fantasy – or is it patronising to the sub-genre to suggest it should be given an easier ride than other types of writing? What are some of the primary critiques of epic fantasy and how can they be used to improve the genre moving forward?

Myke Cole (M), Liz Bourke, Nic Clarke, Justin Landon, Mari Ness

What does Ireland have to offer?

Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)

Ireland is disticntly different as a nation and its people posses a unique identity. How does this work through the creative fiction of modern times? Has the mighty weight of Irish Mythology that have permeated fantasy had an impact on modern writers in Ireland? Where is the new fiction coming from, and what issues of interest are explored?

Liz Bourke (M), Susan Connolly, Kathryn (Kate) Laity(, Ruth Frances Long, Bob Neilson.

I see I’m moderating this one, so I won’t be allowed to go to town on the snark. But seriously. Irish Mythology has a “mighty weight”? OH CELTIC TWILIGHT ROMANTICISTS I STAB YOU.

Seeing the Future, Knowing the Past

Sunday 12:00 – 13:30, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)

Fantasy’s use of prophecy – knowable futures – often parallels the way it treats the past, as something both knowable and stable: details of history known from a thousand years back, kingly bloodlines in direct descent for several hundreds of years, etc. In reality, George I of England was 58th in line for the throne and there is a Jacobean claimant still out there somewhere. No one really knows where France originated. History is messy and mutable. Why is fantasy so keen on the known?

William B. Hafford (M), Sarah Ash, Liz Bourke, Karen Miller, Kari Sperring.

Critical Diversity: Beyond Russ and Delany

Monday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 10 (ExCeL)

The popular history of SF criticism might just be, if possible, even more straight, white and male than the popular history of SF — but things are changing. Online and in journals, diverse voices are starting to reach a critical (if you’ll excuse the pun) mass. Which publishers and venues are most welcoming to critics from marginalised groups? What are the strengths and weaknesses of academic and popular discourse, in this area? And most importantly, whose reviews and essays are essential reading?

Andrew M. Butler (M), Liz Bourke, Fabio Fernandes, Erin Horakova, Aishwarya Subramanian.

I don’t read a lot of criticism. I’m usually too busy trying to meet deadlines. But I can talk about what I do read, I guess.

Sometimes, bailing the river with spoons…

…helps gardens to grow.

One of the things I do, when I browse the SFF section in a bookshop, is count the number of female-identified names on the display tables, and figure a rough estimate of the F:M ratio.

Sometimes I tweet about it. I’ve tweeted about it at Hodges Figgis, which is my favourite Dublin bookshop, maybe three times in the last six weeks, as browsing pulled me in their doors.

Today the oddest of interesting things happened. I was in the middle of browsing display tables, looking for something new, when one of the staff stopped me. I won’t share their name, because they might not wish to be so publically identified, but the conversation opened something like this –

“Hi… Liz, right? I’m [Name]. You’ve been tweeting about our displays, right?”*

This isn’t an unhappy story, though. Because instead of starting to berate me for being an annoying feminist, they – and another staff member – asked for my opinion on what else they might include.

Put on the spot, sticky with afternoon humidity and my head still half in the library, I’m afraid I rather blanked. I got it together enough to mention Kameron Hurley and Jaine Fenn, V.E. Schwab, The Goblin Emperor and Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, and to garble something about how The Mirror Empire and Smiler’s Fair were books I was really looking forward to for August. And I think I mentioned that Angry Robot Books were one of the UK publishers that I’d noticed having an interestingly varied list with a lot of female names.

They made positive noises, and also invited me to leave – feedback’s not quite the word… recommendations? – with them in future. I feel greatly heartened by this, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing – hopefully! – slightly more varied displays in the future.

(For the interested parties, there were about eight-to-ten books on the display tables with socially-female names on the jackets, or names I recognise as belonging to female people. Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns, a book by J.R. Ward, Shannon’s The Bone Season, Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic, a couple I should’ve written down because they’re gone from my memory now, and two books I’ve never seen in Hodges Figgis before: one by Susan Ee, of whom I’ve never before heard, and Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling, out of Bantam UK, of which I’ve heard good things but which I can’t quite bring myself to pay adult hardcover prices for when my TBR pile is this high. ETA: Ann Leckie still has a small table to herself.)

*I have no idea how they recognised me. Presumably they’re one of those amazing sorts who are really good at putting names and faces together in different contexts – maybe they saw me at Octocon? Or remembered my name from the till? Or in some other context? This is amazing to me, because I cannot do that – and if they hadn’t been so patently nice, it might have been a little weird/creepy.

Books in brief: Scott, Dietz, Saintcrow, Maas, Christopher

Melissa Scott, Fairs’ Point. Lethe Press, 2014.

The long-awaited new novel of Astreiant. An absolutely excellent book, with brilliant worldbuilding, characterisation, great writing, a solid mystery plot, and terrier-racing. Everyone should read this series. It is really good.

William C. Dietz, Legion of the Damned. Titan Books, 2014. Originally published 1993. Copy courtesy of Titan Books.

I believe this was Dietz’s first novel. Heaven help him, it’s terrible. Not just full of shitty male gaze shit, but boring too. Fortunately, he’s improved at least some since then, as witness his Andromeda novels, which have been fun so far – but this one? Seriously not worth it.

Lilith Saintcrow, The Ripper Affair. Orbit, 2014. ARC courtesy of Orbit US.

Read for review for The third in Saintcrow’s “Bannon and Clare” series, it marks a fun entry in her quasi-Victorian magical steampunk not-England series of mysteries.

Sarah J. Maas, Heir of Fire. Bloomsbury Young Adult, 2014. ARC via

Read for review for The kind of book I love to hate.


Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Lost Story of Britain’s Convict Disaster in Africa. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011.
First published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2010.

Christopher writes a solid and engaging history of the British experiment with sending convicts to act as soldiers in Africa between the American Revolutionary War and the founding of the penal colony at Botany Bay in Australia. It is not entirely comprehensive: it could use more background about the Company of Merchants Trading To Africa and their relations with the Dutch and the indigenous peoples, and Christopher is too willing not to tie off threads in her narrative once they pass away from the African coast – what did become of Ensign John Montagu Clarke, accused of mutiny? – but on the whole, it’s an interesting and readable examination of an overlooked piece of British penal history.