A new column over at Tor.com.
Reviewed over at Tor.com. Spoiler: I liked it.
From “The Journal”: “Britain to return 1916 banner seized as war trophy.”
[T]he Na Fianna Eireann banner which was seized from Countess Markievicz’s home by the British army as a war trophy will be returned to the Irish State for the 1916 centenary.
After sending out 1,600 resumes to apply for more than 800 jobs, the study found that women with an “LGBT indicator” on their resume (represented in the study as work experience at an LGBT advocacy group) were about 30% less likely to receive a call-back than women who didn’t have those indicators.
From Al Jazeera English: “Hip Hop Hijabis.”
By inhabiting the intersection between cultures whose values on the surface seem so conflicting, Poetic Pilgrimage challenge a plethora of dearly held convictions from all sides of the cultural spectrum. Many Western feminists believe that promoting women’s rights from within an Islamic framework is a futile exercise, while in the eyes of some Muslims, female musicians are hell-bound.
From Foz Meadows: “PSA to people who menstruate.”
If anyone tries to make a dumbass sexist joke about your being more [insert stereotypically negative feminine quality here] while on your period, you can tell them that actually, menstruation raises testosterone levels, not oestrogen. (Telling them to go fuck themselves with an angry cactus can also be therapeutic.)
From Max Gladstone at Tor.com: “On Alan Rickman, Loss, and Mourning Our Heroes.”
No one among us exists as a thing in herself, alone and complete as she appears from the outside. We’re all collages of art and memory and friendship and family, struggling and striving together. Places and people we’ve encountered endure within us. And when those places or people pass away in the outside world, within us something changes too. When we mourn, we trace the shape and magnitude of that change. We find, sometimes—often—to our surprise, the depths at which we were formed by others. There’s little logic to the architecture of our souls; we like to think blood matters, and time, but sometimes a glance or a touch, a half smile on a movie screen, a cover song, a piece of lightning bolt makeup, a Christmas card, an afternoon’s conversation, a book read once in childhood, can be a pillar on which the roof of us depends.
This article at Buzzfeed will make PERFECT sense to a lot of people I know:
From the Economist: “Referendum madness.”
ONE dodgy referendum lost Ukraine Crimea. Another threatens to lose it the European Union. On April 6th the Dutch public will vote on the “association agreement” the EU signed with Ukraine in 2014. The deal cements trade and political links with one of the EU’s most important neighbours; the prospect of losing it under Russian pressure triggered Ukraine’s Maidan revolution. But last summer a group of Dutch mischief-makers, hunting for a Eurosceptic cause they could place on the ballot under a new “citizens’ initiative” law, noticed that parliament had just approved the deal. Worse luck for the Ukrainians.
And finally, Foz Meadows again, this time on: “UPROOTED: Abuse & Ragequitting.”
Tonight, I started reading Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED. It was a novel about which I’d heard only good things from people I trust; a novel I was hoping would break me out of my current reading slump, wherein I’ve started a great many books, but am struggling to finish any of them. To borrow the parlance of memes, cannot tell if too depressed to read or just fed up with exclusionary, derivative bullshit – or, alternatively, if reading so much fanfiction has utterly wrecked my internal yardstick for length, structure and content.
And that’s all the news that’s fit to print…
Well, no, it isn’t, but I have to keep some links for next week. *g*
Here are some things that have been hanging out in my tabs:
Max Gladstone, “A Year of Reading Differently.”
“Why the hell,” sez I on the train, gasping, exhilarated, overcome with awe, “did it take me this long to read To the Lighthouse?” “The Fire Next Time is every bit as brilliant as people have been telling me for a decade, and it’s only like eighty pages long. Why did I not—” Midnight’s Children! Fucking Midnight’s Children, which is a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed literary novel about the X-Men, what was I waiting for. I knew I loved Woolf. I loved Satanic Verses. So why did I read [stack of mediocre novels] before these?
One exists, of course, within a karmically determined universe. One’s choices, even at the most minute level, are shaped by overlapping fields of power arising from the movements and injustices of history. If we’re not conscious in the way we engage with those fields and manipulate them, we perpetuate them. But it’s scary to see that face to face, to recognize its presence in one’s migration of one’s library. (I owned all the books I mentioned in that paragraph already, and had for at least five years. I just hadn’t read them.)
Max again, with a magnificently geeky piece on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: “The Force Awakens RPG Madness.”
I think part of my excitement stems from how open the universe feels. A lot of the setting power of the Original Trilogy rises from its focus on the Imperial Periphery. We see the edges of power, where the Empire projects force and interesting stuff happens, where the destinies of nations hinge on a single battle or moral choice, rather than the metropole, which corners more slowly if at all. The prequel trilogy’s political ambitions tangled its story with the engines of power that drive the Galaxy Far, Far Away—and limited its characters to maneuvering within those engines, rather than “taking the first step into a wider world.”
A friend of mine has written a glorious CYOA fanfic for Sunless Sea (I don’t even play Sunless Sea! I haven’t played Fallen London in years!) which you should all go look at: “The Virulent.”
I can’t remember who passed me the link to this piece on Dorothy Arzner, a director in the early years of Hollywood, but it makes for fascinating reading: “Dorothy Arzner, Hidden Star Maker of Hollywood’s Golden Age.”
Type the name “Dorothy Arzner” into Netflix’s search bar and you’ll get zero results.
It’s an odd outcome, considering Arzner, a prolific golden age film director, has 16 feature films—among the most of any woman in Hollywood, ever. She gave Katharine Hepburn one of her first starring roles. She navigated the transition from silent films to talkies with panache, inventing the boom microphone in the process. And yet, she is largely unknown today.
And finally: the best picture on the internet:
Reviewed over at Tor.com. Spoiler: I really liked it.
I’ve been away. I come home after six days to find a stack of review copies waiting for me. No pressure, like?
Courtesy of Tor Books, Max Gladstone’s LAST FIRST SNOW, and ARCs of David Weber’s HELL’S FOUNDATIONS QUIVER and Gene Wolfe’s A BORROWED MAN. And courtesy of Titan Books, George Mann’s THE AFFINITY BRIDGE and Bennet R. Coles’ VIRTUES OF WAR.
From the Guardian, again: Cremated human bones in pot found in Crossrail dig. (I wouldn’t say “gruesome” ritual. Puzzling, maybe.)
From the Irish Times: It’s hard to accept yourself when your country doesn’t. (The one thing I like about the campaigning for this referendum is that it is making me feel as though Ireland is full of queer people, queer women, where before I didn’t… quite… believe that we were normal? – Yes, I’m getting used to using the word “we” when it comes to queer women. Took me a very long while to get comfortable with that.)
From the blog Per Lineam Valli (Along the Line of the Wall), a series all about Hadrian’s Wall. First post here.
Foz Meadows on how to learn to write about female desire. (This is an awesome post and I want to hug it. Because, desire itself aside, yeah, fanfiction? Once I started reading it? Actually gave me models for my own sexuality when I couldn’t really find many examples elsewhere.)
Strange Horizons roundtables “Representing Marginalised Voices in Historical Fiction and Fantasy,” with Joyce Chng, David Anthony Durham, and Kari Sperring, moderated by Vanessa Rose Phin.
Via Max Gladstone, “LIT MISERABLES, Or, Les Écrivains Misérables. Produced by Andrea Phillips, starring: Andrea Phillips [Ensemble], Max Gladstone [Javert, Marius], Fran Wilde [Gavroche], Sarah Pinsker [Eponine], Lynne Thomas [Fantine, Marius, Thenadiers, Eponine], James Sutter [Javert], Mishell Baker [Cosette], Martin Cahill.” This? This is awesome.
BBC Radio 4 on “Ursula Le Guin at 85”: Naomi Alderman talks to leading novelist Ursula Le Guin about her life and work and hears from literary fans including David Mitchell and Neil Gaiman. (And Karen Joy Fowler, too.)
It is a bloody awesome radio programme, I want to say. Le Guin is amazing. Also BBC Radio 4 will soon be broadcasting radio adaptations of The Left Hand of Darkness and the first three Earthsea books. This is BRILLIANT news.
Max Gladstone writes about action scenes and writing in “Fighting Words: Thoughts On Prose Style Prompted By John Wick.” (Why does Max Gladstone keep writing smart things? It makes a body jealous.)
Maureen Kincaid Speller writes a very interesting piece on “We Need To Talk About Dragons – John Mullan, George RR Martin, Game of Thrones and the triumph of fantasy fiction.”
Courtesy of Tor Books, D.B. Jackson’s DEAD MAN’S REACH, and Max Gladstone’s LAST FIRST SNOW – which I look forward to reading EXCEEDINGLY. (Don’t let us down now, Gladstone!)
I review it over at Tor.com.
Spoiler: I liked it. A lot.
Patrick Weekes, Dragon Age: The Masked Empire. Tor, 2014. ARC from Tor.com.
Read for review at Tor.com.
Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road. DAW, 2014. ARC from Tor.com.
Read for review at Tor.com.
R.S.A. Garcia, Lex Talionis. Dragonwell Publishing, 2014. ARC via a friend who is a friend of the author.
This is an interesting debut effort that shows promise. The prose is good, and the characterisation is well-done. However, structurally the execution lacks coherence and the novel as a whole suffers from a case of and also the kitchen sink in terms of what kind of story it is trying to be. Some aspects of the formatting (whole sections are written in italics) make it harder to read than I would’ve preferred, which may have some impact on my opinion. In many respects setting itself up as the first novel in a series: it’s not satisfactorily complete in itself, in my view.
Warning: novel contains gang-rape. It is treated with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, but if that sort of thing puts you off your reading experience, be prepared to encounter it here.
On the other hand, Garcia shows promise, and this is an enjoyable novel if you can live with its structural problems. Thematically it is having an interesting argument about power and responsibility and politics, even if the structural issues mean this is not brought fully and coherently into view. Recommended, albeit with significant hand-wiggling and many caveats.
Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise. Tor, 2013.
Gladstone’s second novel is one that I found difficult to get into at first. In fact, it wasn’t until I read his third novel – and discovered that yes, he did certainly know what he was doing – that I went back and tried again. Oce past the hump (past page fifty or so) it turns into something tense and great: not quite as good by my lights as Three Parts Dead or Full Fathom Five, but still an excellent entry by a writer who’s shaping up to be one of the field’s best new voices.
Max Gladstone, Full Fathom Five. Tor, 2014. ARC from Tor.com.
Read for review at Tor.com. A novel I really enjoyed.
Some of which I may never finish.
Zachary Jernigan, No Return. Night Shade Books, 2013.
Fifty pages in, this is a very interesting SFnal fantasy novel which is a)very much not my cup of tea, and b)has debut novel problems with line of direction and voice. I do not disrecommend it, but as for myself I may not finish it for a long time yet: I like to feel a strong pull, and I’m just not feeling any urgency here.
Started it when I was deathly sick, though. That might have something to do with it.
Stephanie Saulter, Gemsigns. JFB, 2013.
I’m twenty pages in. I have to read and review it for Strange Horizons. Already it tends towards the self-indulgent in terms of prose, a little bit too in love with saying the same thing in three different ways or the too-clever sentence or image. (I’m starting to think that JFB’s vision as an imprint and my idea of what I’d prefer to read, in terms of style – and also on occasion in terms of content, although that’s too early to say here – are strongly divergent.) On the other hand, already flashes of interesting character. I make see-saw hands.
And I have to finish it anyway.
Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise. Tor, ARC, 2013.
About sixty pages in. I love Gladstone’s debut. This would be a great book for me if I had more reason to care about the characters: it feels sufficiently like a debut novel here that I have begun to wonder if Gladstone didn’t write this one first.
ETA: Muddled the title, folks. Sorry. SERPENTS, not DEAD.
Francis Knight, Fade to Black. Orbit, 2013.
Forty pages in. I feel no connection to the main character, and without that the setting details on their own don’t really hold me. It probably doesn’t help that it has a quasi-noir voice, and I have ever found most kinds of noir predictably boring.
N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon. Orbit, 2012.
Fifty pages in. Setting is fascinating. Have encountered three viewpoint characters, though, and am bored by two of them. Prose is not gorgeous enough to keep me constant until the two lads start (I hope) becoming interesting. Will probably finish, eventually, but feel no particular urgency.
Karen Traviss, Halo: Glasslands. Tor, 2011.
Fifty pages in. Have appreciated Traviss’s SFnal military tie-intales before, but this novel has failed to do good characterisation on the opener, and I don’t have any investment in the Halo universe to carry me through in the absence of someone fun to hang out with. Cast of dozens: not open for newbies.
Rachel Bach, Fortune’s Pawn. Orbit, ARC, 2013.
Forty-five pages in. Tone so far is at right angles to the Military Space Opera Type Boom promised by the cover copy: not so much with the boom, lots with the lusting after pretty boys with Mysteries Attached. Tonally, reminds me a lot of Generic Urban Fantasy but In Space: the Only Girl, who is Super Competent At Killing, has Smart Mouth, and Doesn’t Have A Lot Of Friends – it’s a type, okay? And our protag is basically a Space Mercenary instantiation of the type, within Standard Deviations of Bland, which doesn’t fill me with warm fuzzy optimism about how well the rest of the novel is going to go.
I’ll probably finish it, at some point, but only to see if I’m right when I call every single move in advance.
(This makes me sad. I wanted Proper Boom with Female Protagonist. Instead forty pages of Lusting Over Pretty Cook Boy.)
Possibly I’ve begun to suffer from the Critic’s Disease. You read enough, it gets harder and harder to find stuff that stands out as appealing, because even Good Things Of Their Kind start feeling stale and predictable because you’ve read (and attempted to analyse) so many Things Of Their Kind. Only the truly excellent – or the strange and experimental – becomes capable of kicking your interest up a notch…
…And thus the critic’s tastes fall farther and farther out of step with the tastes of the Average (so-called average) Reader.
Anyway. What do you think?
Tom Simon on Creative discomfort and Star Wars:
That creative discomfort can make all the difference between great writing and dreck. One could argue the point endlessly, for there are examples to the contrary — snap decisions that turned out to be brilliant, slowly gestated ideas that still turned out useless. I would maintain that such cases are outliers: so much depends on the talent of the individual writer, and on sheer luck. What we want here is a controlled experiment. We could learn a great deal by taking the same writer and putting him through a series of similar projects. In half of them, he would have all the time he wanted to brainstorm, to throw away ideas when he came up with better ones, to tear up drafts, to indulge his creative discomfort. In the other half, whenever he had to make a decision, he would simply take the first workable idea that came to mind. Unfortunately, we can’t hire a writer to go through such an experiment. Fortunately, the experiment has already been made. The writer’s name was George Lucas.
Broderick and Di Filippo turn on the fire hydrant of reference, retire to a safe distance, and let the pressure hose of words flail wildly about, bashing the reader’s brains in… We could charitably say that Broderick and Di Filippo have their hearts in the right place but they are obviously utterly unaware of the manifold traps of words like “indoctrinated” and “exotic.” Unfortunately, such cluelessness recurs, amplified…
…[M]y abiding impression of The 101 Best Novels is of being constantly blindsided; I ended the book not informed or entertained but baffled by these sentence-sized bolts from the blue. I’m sure if Broderick and Di Filippo had a couple of thousand words to write about any of these individual novels or any of the themes they touch on then they would acquit themselves admirably—they obviously know their onions. But their task was something else and, thankless though it was, they were not equal to it. Compression has crushed the life out of their wit and intelligence, leaving the reader with a mangled corpse of a book, punctured by broken bones and leaking shit.
Michelle Sagara, A Question About Male Gaze:
I’ve been thinking about books, written by men, in which women are handled well. Or, to be more specific, in which I think women are handled well. It’s a question I used to be asked while working at the bookstore, and therefore a question I’ve turned over on the inside of my head, time and again.
And this morning, because I am writing and my creative writer brain has slowed, I have returned to this, having spent an evening reading about male gaze.
All of the male authors I’ve recommended or cleared as “writing women well” (Sean Stewart for example) are entirely absent male gaze.
Cora Buhlert has things to say about Grimdark Fantasy:
There is a time in the life of otherwise privileged young western people where they become disillusioned with the world around them, once they figure out that parents and teachers are fallible and may even be jerks, that revolutions don’t necessarily lead to freedom, that voting for the right guy doesn’t necessarily mean that the wrong guy won’t win. And the young people going through those realisations tend to develop a taste for dark and gritty entertainment, because hey, the world is bad and western democracy does not work as advertised and now they want entertainment that tells it like it is. For most people, this phase starts sometime in their mid to late teens, which is also why the teen version of grimdark fantasy, dystopian YA, works so well. By their mid twenties to early thirties at the latest, they usually grow out of it. You can actually see this development in the work of several writers and artists. Alan Moore is a good example of this. His earlier work – Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Marvelman, his run on Captain Britain (all written in his late twenties to mid thirties) – is much darker than later works such as Promethea, Tom Strong or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all written when he was in his late forties to early fifties.
With a follow-up here.
The King of Elfland’s 2nd Cousin on conservatism and epic:
Here are the aspects I’m curious about:
– Aesthetics. Does our current conception of epic fantasy preclude certain imagery, metaphors, sentence construction, etc.?
– Structure. How do trends in epic fantasy constrain the narrative structures viable within the sub-genre?
– Themes. Are there thematic areas which epic fantasy cannot explore? Moral, ethical, political, sociological models it cannot dramatize?
Max Gladstone talks about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Victoria Brittain: England’s War on Terror is also a War on Women.