Books in very brief: Gorey, Carr, Turner

Edward Gorey, The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes A Novel.

Because I’d never read it before. It is a delightful thing.

Viola Carr, The Diabolical Miss Hyde. Harper Voyager, 2015. Electronic review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Read for review. It’s pulp, and not particularly good pulp. But it will entertain for an hour.

Marc Turner, When The Heavens Fall. Tor, 2015. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.


Books in very brief: Zahn, Milan, Kelly, Abbott

Timothy Zahn, Cobra Outlaw. Baen, 2015. eARC courtesy of the publisher.

Reviewed at Fun, but shallow.

Courtney Milan, Trade Me. Ebook, 2015.

Contemporary romance. Normally not my sort of thing but it’s MILAN, so I went for it anyway and WOW IS IT GOOD.

I mean, I should have hated it. If you described it to me, logically. It has the thing I hate. (Billionaire.) AND YET IT IS BRILLIANT.

Lee Kelly, City of Savages. Saga Press, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Interesting debut. Read for review at


Karen Abbott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. Harper, 2014.

Narrative history. Title refers to the American civil war. Interesting and engrossing piece of writing, but needs to be contextualised better for people not familiar with that particular piece of history. Its focus on four different women and how they responded to the war makes for fascinating reading.

So That Was Fun Until You Punched Me In The Face: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

I first wrote this at the beginning of August 2014. For various reasons, I’ve sat on it until now.

So let me just drop it into the Friday night news hole…




Imagine that you dearly love, absolutely crave, a particular kind of food. There are some places in town that do this particular cuisine just amazingly. Lots of people who are into this kind of food hold these restaurants in high regard. But let’s say, at every single one of these places, every now and then throughout the meal, at random moments, the waiter comes over and punches any women at the table right in the face. And people of color and/or LGBT folks as well!Ann Leckie, 21 October 2013

It is good to once again be among friends. You, Quill, are my friend. This dumb tree is also my friend. And this green whore is also —

– Drax the Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

So what I learned from Guardians of the Galaxy is that space is full of white people and blue people and green people and red people and red-blue people, but apart from cyborg Djimon Hounsou and one or two minor extras, space has no black people.*

*This is not okay. Seriously. Not okay.

I also learned that women will be called “whore” regardless of their behaviour. There’s nothing wrong with sex work, or with sleeping around. But when Drax, a character who (we’re told) doesn’t understand metaphor, refers to Gamora (a character who’s refused the only sexual advances she’s been offered, and whose characterisation is heavy on the badass killing-people skills and light on sex) as a whore, it performs a neat subliminal perceptual trick: it renders invisible any distinction between woman and whore as categories. This is, mind you, a perceptual trick that the sexist cultures we’re all swimming in have been trying to pull on you your whole life: women are, as a default position, assumed to be both sexually available to straight men and using sex for personal gain. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax (and thus Guardians’ director and writers) just makes it explicit. Gamora’s a woman (albeit a green one); therefore she’s a whore.*

This was the point in the film at which I stopped enjoying it. Don’t get me wrong: up to this point, I was perfectly prepared to trade a background nagging dissatisfaction with the film’s narrative (and costume, and casting) choices in exchange for a fun piece of nonsense spectacle filled with explosions, good CGI, and decent comedy.

And then whore punched me in the face.

It’s rather hard to get back into the swing of enjoying fun spectacle after that. The film’s just hit you over the head with the fact that you don’t matter, except as part of the sex class: that no matter what you do, you exist to be sexually available. Whore.

And all my nagging dissatisfactions marched up to the forefront, banners trailing and bayonets fixed, and I sat through Guardians’ conclusion in tooth-gritted silence, so as not to spoil the cinema experience for my mother.

Because I’ve seen two films in the cinema this summer, Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both of them expensive pieces of fun explosive entertainment, but both of them place a bland, boring, pallid Everyman in the central narrative role, and focus on him over female characters who are, quite frankly, more interesting – and whose stories would make for less blandly predictable movie-going experiences. (Although Edge of Tomorrow, at least, avoided the face-punch of whore, and had a stronger narrative edge than Guardians.) Because let’s be honest: Gamora, the racoon, and Groot, are the most interesting characters in Guardians, and Gamora is shamefully underemployed.

Quill is blandface Everyboy with a tragic childhood, decent fashion sense, and complete sexual incontinence, who stumbles accidentally into Matters Of Galaxy-Destroying Import, while Drax’s character basically boils down to WOMEN IN REFRIDGERATORS MUST BE AVENGED – but in Gamora and her sister Nebula and their relationship with each other, with Ronan, and with their father-creator Thanos, there’s the essence of a really juicy story, one that arises from character and situation and could maybe make something of a thematic argument about abusive families.

Instead we’re supposed to believe in some sort of romance between Quill and Gamora The Badass Assassin, and substitute a couple of brief fight-scene encounters between Gamora and Nebula for any development or resolution of that character arc. I wasn’t all too keen on this as a narrative decision before WHORE.

After… Well, I’m pissed. I’m really, inexpressibly pissed. Because okay, half a loaf is better than no bread, and I’ll take a film with an underutilised Only Girl over no female characters at all – but I am so goddamned tired of going to Films With Explosions in them knowing in advance they will always be about the same type of person, and having to go braced for the reminder that hey, the people who made this film don’t give a shit for anyone who’s not the White Male Audience.

That reminder – the moment of WHORE – is always the moment where it’s brought home that not only will this never be your story, that not only will you never get to see yourself in the hero/wish-fulfillment role, but also that the most important thing about you is how guys see your body: something available, something to be used. Something – though Guardians of the Galaxy only goes here in mentions of Drax’s family and by implication with Carina, the Collector’s barely-named servant – to be destroyed or to be rendered abject to serve the purposes of the men around them.

Fuck that, guys. It’s boring.

Recently arrived review copies: Sumner-Smith and Martinez

Karina Sumner-Smith's DEFIANT and Michael J. Martinez's THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.

Karina Sumner-Smith’s DEFIANT and Michael J. Martinez’s THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.

Courtesy of Skyhorse, Karina Sumner-Smith’s second novel, DEFIANT, and Michael J. Martinez’s third, THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.

Pity I haven’t read either of Martinez’s first two, because I’m out of the habit of being able to pick up book three and not mind how little I can follow along.

Hugo nominating time is here

And since I can nominate, I thought I should share the list of things I mean to nominate. And ask for recommendations, because I’m pretty thin with regard to some categories.

Best Novel

Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword
Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky
Max Gladstone, Full Fathom Five
Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon.

Best Novella

I don’t think I read a novella last year. Recs?

Best Novelette

“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys at
“The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson at

…I realise that’s heavy on Also, I didn’t read a lot of short fiction, and longer short fiction I read even less. Other recs?

Best Short Story

“She Commands Me and I Obey” by Ann Leckie at Strange Horizons
“This Chance Planet” by Elizabeth Bear at
“Covenant” by Elizabeth Bear in Hieroglyph
“The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard at Beneath Ceaseless Skies
“The Truth about Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar in Kaleidoscope

Best Related Work

Rocket Talk.
Foz Meadows, “Gender, Orphan Black, and the Meta of Meta.”

Recommend me things?

Best Graphic Story

G. Willow Wilson, Ms Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal.
Gail Simone, Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues.

Recommend me more things?

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

…didn’t really see a bunch of things. Going to try to see Snowpiercer, though.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

“Séance” (Penny Dreadful S1)
“Governed As It Were By Chance” (Orphan Black S2)
“To Hound Nature In Her Wanderings” (Orphan Black S2)

Best Editor Long Form

Category is opaque to me. Will not be nominating.

Best Editor Short Form

Who should I nominate? Jonathan Strahan, maybe?

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon
Galen Dara
Cynthia Sheppard
Chris McGrath

Best Semiprozine

Strange Horizons
The Book Smugglers

Best Fanzine

I haven’t really been reading widely this year. Rec me some people?

Best Fancast

Galactic Suburbia.

I’m not really a podcast listener, except in certain specific cases.

Best Fan Writer

Amal El-Mohtar
Abigail Nussbaum
Hello Tailor

Best Fan Artist

Rec me someone?


I don’t know who is eligible. Karina Sumner-Smith?

Books in very brief: Lerner, McCullough, Bagnall

Rose Lerner, A Lily Among Thorns and True Pretenses. Ebooks, various dates.

Very excellent historical romance novels. Recommended.

Kelly McCullough, Drawn Blades. Ace, 2014.

Fun adventure with assassins. Latest in series. Recommended.


Roger S. Bagnall, ed., Egypt in the Byzantine World 300-700. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007.

Collection of academic essays that provide an effective and wide-ranging introduction to the world of Byzantine Egypt and a good summary of the work done and the kinds of evidence available. Some fascinating stuff in here. Recommended, though not as a fun relaxing read.

Review copies arrived

Six books, one cat.

Six books, one cat.


It’s a little unusual to get a parcel from Gollancz. Especially when I haven’t been asking them for a specific title.

Books in very brief: Morgan, Sumner-Smith, Huang, Cogman, Shepherd, Simone

Richard Morgan, The Dark Defiles. Gollancz, 2014.

Read for review for Strange Horizons. Interesting and effective conclusion to trilogy.

Karina Sumner-Smith, Radiant. Talos, 2014.

Debut. Read for Sleeps With Monsters. Fun, interesting, solid beginning.

S.L. Huang, Half Life. Ebook, 2015. Copy courtesy of author.

Sequel to Zero Sum Game. Read for Sleeps With Monsters. Fun, hectic, fast.

Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library. Tor UK, 2015. Copy courtesy of publisher.

Debut. Read for Sleeps With Monsters. Fun, demented hilarious fun.

Mike Shepherd, Kris Longknife: Tenacious. Ace, 2014.

Yes, I am still reading this series. Things blow up. It is not at all like Target (THAT BOOK WHY), and it is fun.

Gail Simone, Red Sonja: The Art of Blood and Fire. Dynamite, 2014.

It is like having Xena back, except with less moralising and more PUNCHING PEOPLE INNA FACE. YAY. More please.

Gail Simone, Tomb Raider: Season of the Witch. Dark Horse, 2014.

Bit like an acid trip. Doesn’t make a great deal of narrative sense. On the other hand, lots of fun, and Lara PUNCHING PEOPLE INNA FACE and female friendship and taking care of people whom you care for, and also bits of it are set in Dublin and I quite like that, right.