LUNA: WOLF MOON by Ian McDonald

Reviewed over at Strange Horizons:

In some ways, Wolf Moon feels more like a sprawling family saga than the tightly intricate political/corporate/criminal thriller that was New Moon. Here there is no instigating event, like the assassination attempt in New Moon, that unfolds into an escalating series of crises. Rather, Wolf Moon deals with disintegration and with consequences: the disintegration first of the Corta family and the consequences of their fall from power, the disintegration of the Mackenzie family into warring factions, after an act of malice destroys their main family holding just like they destroyed the Cortas’ family seat, and the disintegration of all the old norms and certainties on the moon.


GHOST SIGNS by Sonya Taaffe

A collection of excellent poetry, reviewed over at Strange Horizons.


The sheer precision and emotive effectiveness of the poetry is a thing of wonder. I’m particularly fond, if one may use the word fond when speaking of a poem that caught the breath in my throat, of “Censorship,” a short poem—as so many poems here are short—that tangles Cato Elder and Carthage, war and history and memory:

Your voice repeating itself across a sea that was never ours
the one word I cannot rub away
as easily as a city’s dust between my palms,
my mouth sea-breeze bitter with knowing
none of the names of children we have burned.

Assorted links for Friday

Strange Horizons is having their yearly fundraiser. They also have a Patreon account. Perhaps support them, for they are interesting and smart.

Politico says: “Beware Europe’s automotive-political complex.”

Catherine Lundoff has “Some thoughts about Tragic Queer Narratives.”

Aliette de Bodard has smart thoughts “On colonialism, evil empires, and oppressive systems.”

And the BBC reveals “The bitter story behind the UK’s national drink.”

Links du jour

From the Guardian: Murdered on the streets of Karachi: my friend who dared to believe in free speech.

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.

Strange Horizons has a poetry issue

I can’t agree that the Odyssey is speculative, because what reads to us as an exercise in the fantastic was religion and tradition to its original audience, but I can’t agree either that the strategic reworking of those source myths automatically makes for modernism, because the Alexandrian poets were remix artists par excellence and none of them were, thank God, Ezra Pound. If speculative poetry is to be a real genre and not just a tautology (a poem is speculative when published in a market that publishes speculative poetry), I need it to mean something in its own right, not just as reaction or perpetuation. Otherwise we’re all still at the Danish Pastry House in Medford, 2012, wondering if we edit a thing that actually exists.

-Sonya Taaffe, in Defining Speculative Poetry: A Conversation and Three Manifestos.

In this week’s Strange Horizons, I’m reviewing Mythic Delirium #30. I only liked four poems.

Can I Just Say

Eighteen months and more on, a review I wrote for Strange Horizons is still capable of attracting ire.

(ETA: Oops. I missed this! More ire than I’d thought.)

And it’s not the only one. Two years on from this review, people still occasionally pop up to take (rather odd, by me) issue with it.

(Screencap source, from the blog of the same person who has some ire for the SH review. Post whence the screencap came, since edited.)

Oddly enough, no one’s taken me to task for – or even much seemed to notice – this review, wherein I deployed Grumpy Cat.

Not this Grumpy Cat:

But still, Grumpy Cat. (I haven’t .giffed a book review before.)

No one is outraged when I review an indie title by a little-known Canadian woman, and call it terrible.

But the outrage – shall we call it outrage? In some cases it seems stronger than mere affront – that has attached itself to those other reviews?

It is persistent, and expresses itself often in gendered ways.

That, by-the-by, is an observation, rather than a complaint. For myself, I won’t complain:* I’ve come to find it incredibly entertaining when my reviews – those reviews, since they seem to be the only ones which do – draw fire on grounds of their tone, or on some spurious lack of intellect or perception on my part.

No, seriously, mate. Tell me how I’m wrong on the internet again! Ask me if I know what words mean! Imply that I’m doing something for the attention – or because I’m jealous – or because I’m bored.

C’mon. Is that the best you can do?

(Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution. And I’m not in it for you, princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.)

I’ll be over here in my corner chuckling – and maybe quoting Merleau-Ponty: “In the last resort, the actions of others are, according to this theory, always understood through my own; the ‘one’ or the ‘we’ through the ‘I’.”

We must return to the social with which we are in contact by the mere fact of existing

I don’t want to talk about phenomenology, exactly. I do mean to mention perception. This discrepancy between reactions.

As an aside: it troubles me that one response to women who perceive, and upon perceiving object to, high levels of sexual objectification or sexual violence (explicit or implied), in novels and visual media, is a version of gaslighting.

It is odd, being a person who has opinions in public. Who is mostly having opinions in public because she is being paid to talk write them. But I’ve at times (“Admirals and Amazons: Women In Military Science Fiction” is perhaps the most striking example, although you can make a case for “Epic Fantasy Is Crushingly Conservative?”) gone out of my way to phrase those opinions in ways designed to provoke.

There’s no way to have a conversation if nobody answers, after all.

Every time you open your metaphorical mouth on the internet, you don’t just run the risk of annoying someone. Given sufficient exposure, you’re just about guaranteed that someone will be pissed off. There’s always the risk of lost connections, lost income… if you’re bolshy enough and unwilling to acknowledge their point of view, sometimes, lost friends.

Words are dangerous tools. They turn in your hand. They cut as well as comfort.

The same phrase can strike two different people three different ways.

After two years having opinions, many of them cranky, most of them feminist, I’m a little surprised not to have seen a rape threat yet. (Seen.) I know, or have heard of, too many people who have received them. (Even one would be too many.) And I wonder. What separates me from them? Just my good fortune?

Or is this another case where perceptions of legitimacy and authority, attention and protection, affect responses? I don’t have sufficient data to hypothesise –

But every time I write something in the least bit confronting, I wonder how long good fortune lasts. Because I knew going in that it’s improbable it should last forever.

That’s what makes the ire those reviews attract so entertaining. I judge! I hate! I condescend!

Oh, ire-stirred ones. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

But only, and only to, the text.

At least at first.

I couldn’t write either review better now. They’re solid, honest work. Better-constructed, if I’m being fair, than some of the reviews I’ve written this summer: there’s nothing like thesis deadlines for distraction.

I’ve learned a bit since about comment threads, and engaging, since. I’d like to think I could do that part better now.

I like to think… I couldn’t, of course. I have even less time on my hands.

Can I just say:

Support Strange Horizons’ fund drive.

*Mock, or state objection, perhaps.

Fourth Walls: Strange Horizons has a fund drive, and I have some thoughts related to one of their recent columns

Strange Horizons are having their annual fund drive.

I don’t know what to say when it comes to Strange Horizons. I don’t read short fiction very often, and their editorial taste in poems is frequently – although not always – very different to mine. (They bought a poem from me, so it’s certainly not always.) I write reviews for them, so all I have to say about the reviews department is coloured by the possibility of bias – I’m honoured to be in that company: me, I come up well short in comparison to Foz Meadows and Nic Clarke and Aishwarya Subramanian and Martin Lewis, among the rest.

They publish interesting columns. All their staff are volunteers. They pay all their contributors, and the rates are pretty damn good. If they were ever to go under, they’d leave an enormous gap in their wake.

$11,000 is a relatively small budget on which to run a weekly magazine. They’re worth supporting.

The most recent of their columns, Renay’s Communities: You Got Your Industry In My Fanwork has drawn a spot of attention. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t fully get where Renay is coming from: there’s space for authors to engage in discussion of their own work… but crucially, only as long as they get that intent isn’t everything. It’s not magic: their work is open to multiple interpretations, and they have to live with knowing the interpretation they’d prefer to put on it isn’t always going to be the one that strikes the reader most strongly, or even at all.

It depends on the reader. For some of us, the brown parcel sat abandoned on a train station bench is just a package. For others, it’s a potential bomb and they’ve had too much of that kind of hurt already. (If you’ll forgive the metaphor.)

It’s odd, reviewing things and writing about them, in an SFF context. I learned to think and talk about books from writers working on the craft of creating them, because back when I acquired a computer and entered upon internet communities, I wanted write novels. (It’s a hobby I’ve mostly managed to give up – or fooled myself, at any rate, into believing so. There’s little time in a PhD for extraneity.) I kept a running tally of the books I read for my own reference. A friend – its publisher – asked me to contribute a review to Ideomancer, and that gave me sufficient confidence that I starting pitching elsewhere.

I needed coffee-money, after all.

Some of the books I’ve reviewed have been authored by friends. Some of the people whose books I’ve reviewed, or who have agreed to interviews for that column I write, have since become more than mere acquaintances. You can’t talk to pleasant people about shared interests and enthusiasms and not eventually become friendly with some of them: I’d say you had to be an asshole to want not to. And the line between what’s appropriate between friends or potential friends and what’s appropriate between writer and reviewer… gets a bit odd, at times, from this perspective.

If their book doesn’t work for me, I won’t say it to their face. That’d just be rude. But the review isn’t for them. It’s for me, and for the general readership of the website or magazine that’s (normally) paying me. The exercise in intellectual honesty – Am I harder on this book because I like the author? Or, conversely, Am I not looking hard enough at its flaws? – combined with the exercise of figuring out what the appropriate level of professionalism is in interactions with authors, publicists, editors and the like who aren’t friends who I know’ll call me on it if I step over the wrong sort of line… makes it occasionally weird, awkward, and stressful.

Maybe more than occasionally.

That weirdness leaves aside interacting with people who are readers without being also otherwise engaged in the production of reading material, or who, like me, review things for money or kicks.

Renay talks about a “fannish fourth wall.” I’ve never been a self-described abstract “fan.” And from where I stand, it looks more like a funhouse mirror. Things appear differently, depending on how you look.

Mind you, something doesn’t appear differently no matter how I look at it?

In the comments to Renay’s piece at Strange Horizons, Ben Aaronovitch keeps looking like a disingenous ass.

Complex systems

It’s an Irish summer and the sun is actually shining. I should be working on my thesis or one of the ten thousand things I’m behind on.

(Like reviews. Hi, difficulty focusing! How nice you should come visit…)

Instead, I’m taking a little time to mention something that I came across via Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons.

Tor UK has an open submissions policy. Editor Julie Crisp ran the numbers on genders submitting to their slushpile. In Sexism In Genre Publishing: A Publisher’s Perspective, she brings the numbers out into the light and finds that her slushpile ratio is 32:68 F:M overall, 22:78 F:M with science fiction specifically, and calls for more women to submit their work.

Leaving aside the discussions from short fiction markets which suggest that while men submit more work overall, women submit work of better quality – what good is a post that points out the disparity in subs? Renay (of LadyBusiness) calls it “a reductive, shallow look at the issues regarding gender parity and representation in genre.”

She says, “[The post seeks] to distance itself from the external criticism of the community which would hold it accountable for the decisions which have led to the low numbers of submissions from women. Instead of taking a forward-looking path to solving the problem of low submission, publicly posting the numbers to ask “How can we do better? What are the cultural and social issues that might be influencing women’s reluctance to submit? How can we reach out more and welcome women writers? How can we better support them once they’re here?”, Julie Crisp used the numbers to say, “Not it!” and complain about the blame being laid at her door.”

In the comments to the original post, Sophia McDougall writes

What is so hard about battling sexism in publishing is its so nebulous and fluid, you often cannot point to one deliberate, malicious decision and say “this is where it all went wrong.” This also means there is not one single decisive thing you can do to fix it. You’re right to say it’s not “clear-cut”. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that the problem is just that women aren’t interested. As the industry stands, women have good REASONS not to be interested! I know this is something that people at the publishing end can’t just wave a magic wand and fix. I know you can’t publish what you don’t receive. But publishers do have a part to play, and that has to include recognising the complexity and scale of what’s going on.

…maybe SFF isn’t worse, maybe it’s better, because at least it knows and cares that it has a problem and is trying to change. Even though it is sometimes painful.

But I feel this piece will be taken as granting SFF permission to care less.

Sexism is complex and visible disparities are the result of many intersecting factors. Showing the numbers is useful. But if one wants to change the disparity one cannot sit back and wait for better numbers to magically appear. Just because one asks nicely.

Addressing complex systems takes work.

I’ve never seen UK editions of Elizabeth Bear’s science fiction. Catherine Asaro. Kristine Smith’s Jani Killian novels. Chris Moriarty’s Spin novels. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden books. Hell, Karen Traviss. The time is ripe for some UK publisher to make an investment in an SFF “21st Millennium Classics” line, acquiring UK rights to SF novels published in the first decade of the new century, and putting an equal proportion of male and female authors in the line-up. If women in the UK don’t see science fiction by women on the shelves, published by UK publishers, they’re hardly going to see the point in submitting to UK publishers themselves.

If there was an easy fix, we would have stopped talking about this years ago. Constant, mindful engagement across multiple avenues of approach: that’s the only solution.

And that takes a very long time.

Linky will never catch up

Madeleine E. Robins, “How Feminism Killed Cooking”:

Valorization of a better, simpler, more wholesome time drives me nuts. Because it’s fantasy. I love the gorgeous, candy-colored rendition of small-town turn of the last century Iowa in The Music Man, but I don’t confuse that with real life, which included diptheria, weevil-ly flour, bedbugs, and food that often teetered on the edge of spoiled. Taking on some of the tasks of yesterday, while using some of the tools of today to avoid the nastier work, and disdaining people who cannot or don’t want to do the same, is a mug’s game. It makes it all about aesthetics, when what most people 100 years ago, and many people today, are worrying about is survival.

At Strange Horizons, Abigail Nussbaum begins the first in a two-part review of The 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, looking at The Dog Stars, NOD and Dark Eden:

What’s been missing in all this is any discussion of the shortlist itself. Which is particularly unfortunate since—and I’m indebted to Niall Harrison for first calling my attention to this fact—lost in the shuffle of the consternation over the absence of female authors from the shortlist is the parlous state of its female characters, and the fact that in most of the nominated novels, these characters are sidelined, viewed from the outside, treated as the male protagonist’s reward, or made subservient to his heroic journey. This strikes me as a more cogent, more urgent criticism of the shortlist than the outrage surrounding the absence of female authors from it—though there is, presumably, a correlation between these two problems—and it is a shame that that outrage is obscuring, and perhaps making it difficult to have, a conversation about this second issue.

All that having been said, we’re still left with one crucial question: is the shortlist any good? As might perhaps have been predicted from the old school tenor of the selected books, the 2013 shortlist is solid. Not very exciting, and with no small amount of room for improvement—lost in the shuffle of the outrage over the shortlist’s gender imbalance are two other books by men that oddsmakers were expecting to see here, M. John Harrison’s Empty Space and Adam Roberts’s Jack Glass, either one of which might have raised the tone considerably if brought in to replace any of three or perhaps even four of the current nominees—but on the whole, not a bad bunch of books. There’s much to be said for, and often against, each of these nominees, and with that we should perhaps close this preamble and begin.

Linky will sing to you about starships

Except maybe not today. You don’t want me to sing.

Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons releases the 2012 SF Count:

VIDA started it. In 2010, they published the first iteration of “The Count”, a straightforward analysis of how literary coverage is affected by gender. For a range of notable publications, VIDA calculated the proportion of books reviewed that were by women, and the proportion of reviewers that were women, and published pie charts illustrating their findings. They published similar analyses for 2011 and, most recently, for 2012. Each year, a consistent imbalance has been observed: more books by men are reviewed, and more book reviewers are men.

Following VIDA’s lead, for the past two years Strange Horizons has published “SF counts”, looking at the same parameters as VIDA for speculative fiction review venues.

…This article presents the results of the SF count for 2012.

Cécile Christofari, “Tourism, From Inside and Out”:

[I]it’s always very surprising to hear that the place where you live is not authentic enough. I don’t know what that makes of its inhabitants—am I supposed to be a paid extra, or something?

Nalo Hopkinson in the Los Angeles Review of Books, with a review of Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds:

KAREN LORD’S NOVEL The Best of All Possible Worlds put me in mind of Junot Díaz’s brilliant novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Not stylistically: while Oscar Wao is an experimental pelau of modes served up in Díaz’s distinctly Dominicano and in-your-face voice, The Best of All Possible Worlds is a beautiful shape-shifter. It reads like smooth jazz comfort food, deceptively familiar and easy going down, but subtly subversive.

Linky should be doing real work

Luc Reid interviews Ken Liu in Strange Horizons:

LR: What kinds of influence has the Chinese science fiction you’ve read had on your own work? Are there elements of those stories that stand out from Anglophone SF?

KL: I think it’s difficult, if not futile, to try to summarize entire bodies of literature in generalities. Qualities in individual Chinese writers stand out for me—Chen Qiufan’s trenchant social observations, Xia Jia’s poetic voice, Ma Boyong’s humorous blending of classical Chinese and Western elements, Liu Cixin’s grand feats of imagination—just like qualities in individual Anglophone writers impress me. But I can’t tell you how Chinese writers, as a group, are different from Anglophone writers, as a group—beyond banal observations such as Chinese writers appear to make use of more Chinese cultural references in their work.

It is true, however, that seeing Chinese cultural elements used in speculative fiction has helped me see more possibilities for telling the kind of stories I wanted to tell.

Oyceter on the first two seasons of Game of Thrones:

I knew HBO added a ton of nudity and sex before going in, but wow, I am still a bit astonished by just how much. Of course, the nudity is almost entirely women. I think there are three scenes with full male nudity, one of which is in a non-sex scene and one is in a sex scene in which convenient bits are obscured. Other than that, we get one scene of the older Stark boys topless, and two scenes with Renly and Loras making out while topless. The nudity and sex is also SO RANDOM. I assume they couldn’t get most of the main actresses to sign on for so much nudity, so instead there are endless scenes with prostitutes. And since the prostitutes are by and large random, to justify the scenes, you generally have male characters randomly pontificating about their motives or otherwise giving random exposition they couldn’t fit in otherwise.

Even putting aside my feminist rage, this is so annoying because it is such a clunky way to exposit and lets the writers stick in info that way instead of working it into the show more organically. And if they had to have sex and nudity, it’d be nice if they could have gone with something that actually added to the series, like maybe a flashback to Robert and Cersei first having sex or something.

Marie Brennan (I seem to be linking to her a lot) on “gritty” vs. “grimdark”:

So I’m thinking about our terminology — “gritty” and “grimdark” and so on. What do we mean by “grit,” anyway? The abrasive parts of life, I guess; the stuff that’s hard and unpleasant. Logistics and consequences and that sort of thing, the little stony details that other books might gloss over. It’s adjacent to, or maybe our new replacement for, “low fantasy” — the stories in which magic is relatively rare, and characters have to do things the hard way, just like us. Hence laying claim to the term “realism”: those kinds of details that can ground a story in reality.

But that isn’t the same thing as “grimdark,” is it? That describes a mood, and you can just as easily tell a story in which everything is horrible and doomed without those little details as with. (As indeed some authors do.) Hence, of course, the counter-arguments that grimdark fantasy is just as selective in its “realism” as lighter fare: if you’re writing about a war and all the women are threatened with sexual violence but none of the men are, then you’re cherry-picking your grit.

Also read the comments, particularly this one:

The thing that strikes me about the grimdark discussion is that there are multiple different-but-interlocking conversations going on at once. One is an argument about whether “realism” is grounds for granting a work a higher degree of artistic merit. Another is an argument about to what extent realism actually requires focusing on the darker and more unpleasant aspects of life. And the third is: supposing that we grant that the historical prevalence of misogyny and rape requires that they be addressed in realistic fiction, are there ways of portraying them that do no themselves reinforce misogyny and rape culture?

Consider the Tea Cosy on Another Irish Abortion:

Irish abortion stories have that thing in common, though, don’t they? Not all of them. These days they’re as likely to be accessed over the internet as through our more traditional boats and flights out. But any time one of us needs an abortion we must become outlaws- either by breaking the law or travelling until we are, literally, outside it.