C. Robert Cargill’s Dreams and Shadows: A book I was supposed to review and couldn’t finish

When I resigned the task of reviewing it as beyond my capacities, this is what I said:

“I have tried alcohol and caffeine and locking myself in a mostly-empty room, but some quality of Cargill’s writing repulses me – not with loathing (although there has at points been some of that) but with utter indifference. It is not a technically incompetent novel – incompetent novels can be entertainingly bad – but one that in the fifty pages I have clawed my way through has proven eye-bleedingly boring, smug, full of self-regard and above all prosily complacent. Yet in so indifferent a fashion I can’t even work up a good bilious rage to carry me through, and bleed out rather instead in dull and tedious resentment.”

Linky is all out of fizzy caffeine

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.

Martin Lewis reviews Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 at Strange Horizons:

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.

Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century

“The wolfhound century is on my back/But I am not a wolf”: Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins at Tor.com:

The epigraph of Higgins’ debut novel is a line from the poetry of Osip Mandelstam: The wolfhound century is on my back/But I am not a wolf. This image, as metaphor, is one that forms the novel’s thematic underpinnings: a contest between hunter and prey in which definitions are fluid, in which the world itself is fluid, in conflict with the cold, rigid requirements of the totalitarian state of the Vlast.

Sleeps With Monsters: Aliette de Bodard Answers Five Questions.

At Tor.com.

Aliette de Bodard’s recent novelette On A Red Station, Drifting, struck me so much to heart that I asked her to join us for a few questions about her work and the genre field. As the author of three novels (Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, collected as Obsidian and Blood last year) and myriad short stories, a winner of the 2010 BSFA Award for Best Short Fiction, and someone who featured prominently on the Locus 2012 Recommended Reading List, she knows whereof she speaks—and let me just say that if you haven’t read her short fiction (particularly last year’s “Immersion” and “Scattered Along The River Of Heaven,” both online at Clarkesworld), well, what the hell are you waiting for?

Books in brief: Tierney, Blood Oranges; Manieri, Blood’s Pride; Soem & Moraine, Line & Orbit; and Koyanagi, Ascension

Kathleen Tierney (Caitlín R. Kiernan), Blood Oranges. Roc, 2013.

This is a gallows-black humorously subversive take on the urban fantasy genre. Nineteen year-old junkie werepire serial killer? Unreliable narrator? Let’s do this thing.

Evie Manieri, Blood’s Pride. Tor, 2013. (Original, Jo Fletcher Books, 2012.) Copy courtesy of Tor Books.

This book deserves more consideration from me than it’s going to get in this space. Blood’s Pride is a book that feels like it belongs with the Australian school of Big Fantasy. It shares a certain mood with the work of Jennifer Fallon and Trudi Canavan: light on detailed worldbuilding, long on character. It partakes of the epic sense without the bloat of Jordan, the grimness of Martin, Michelle West’s touch of horror, or the baroque invention and detail of Sarah Monette, Steven Erikson, or Elizabeth Bear. It is, on the whole, easier to define Blood’s Pride in terms of what it fails to do than in what it succeeds in doing. Character choices and development are not wholly predictable, but feel safe rather than radical. Without being wholly mediocre, it’s structurally slack – and it takes itself a touch too seriously.

That makes it sound like I disliked the book. Not so: but I’m not blown away. I read it in two settings: there is promise here, and glimmers of invention. But Blood’s Pride falls prey to the over-eager “AND THE KITCHEN SINK TOO” approach to narrative incidents typical of debuts, while not giving its cast of characters – I count six with POV: by contrast, I believe there are four POVs in Jordan’s first WOT novel, of which one predominates – the time and space to develop as characters, to develop their arcs and to permit the reader to development emotional investment in their trials. Too many incidents arise too abruptly: closer attention to structure and theme, and fewer POV characters, would have made a tighter, more compelling read.

That said, it’s not a bad book. It goes on the keeper shelf, and I look forward to seeing if Manieri improves her game in books to come.

Lisa Soem and Sunny Moiraine, Line and Orbit. Samhain Publishing, 2013. Ebook.

Belonging to that peculiar subset of science fiction better referred to as science fantasy, Line and Orbit is both a space adventure and a queer romance (between men). I did not fall in love with it, but nonetheless it is entertaining. With weird science. And magic.

Jacqueline Koyanagi, Ascension. Prime/Masque Books, 2013, forthcoming. (August, I believe). Galley courtesy of the publisher.

Official disclaimer: I read slush for Masque, in the hopes of crushing authorial dreams. Didn’t see this until I received the galley review copy, though.

LESBIANS. POLYAMOUROUS LESBIANS. IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE. The main character has an invisible disability. But it’s not an issue book. Or a romance – the thematic freight is about family and belonging. In mood it reminds me of Firefly, or the dingy Mos Eisley scenes of Star Wars: A New Hope. Writing possesses solid turns of phrase, occasional vivid description. Mark your calendars, people. This is good shit, and I look forward to talking about it the next time I bring up lesbian skiffy in the Tor.com column.

I watched Argo recently. It is a very good spy film, apart from the ludicrous airport runway chase scene at the very end. (Oh, Hollywood.) Sharp dialogue. Immensely good performances. Very low-key, very claustrophobic, very tense. Passes the Bechdel test, if barely: can’t call it feminist on its face but doesn’t other women, either.

Linky is cranky crank

Apparently deliberate practice is the best way to carry on. I shall henceforth fail to feel guilty for not working on my thesis more than four hours at a time.

Or strive to.

LGBTQ Characters: If They’re In My Life They Should Be In The Fiction I Read:

LGBTQ characters, protagonist or support cast, should be as common as the varied people in our lives. I don’t know about you, but any given week, I associate with, hang out with, deal with, talk with, laugh with, put up with, experience life with people who are gay, straight, bi-, brown, white, black, male, female, trans-, old, young, comfortably well off or strugglingly poor, and every mix and match possible. We are real people and we have real issues. Our lives are just as complicated as anyone else’s and just as ripe for storytelling as anyone’s.

Marie Brennan talks some more about writing epic fantasy.

Anita Sarkeesian has the first of the Tropes Vs. Women in Video-Games out.

And there’s an exhibition in the British Museum on In Search of Classical Greece.

Linky would like you to believe in justice and fairies

First, we have two posts on Snow White and The Huntsman: Ana Mardoll with Snow White and Trust

What I am instead going to talk about today is how tired I am of movie scenes where women apologize for not trusting every potentially damaging secret and/or minute corner of their heart to strange men they have no reason whatsoever to trust. Because I so tired of this trope.

– and, via the said Ana Mardoll, Culturally Disoriented from last year on Dear Snow White and The Huntman: Kissing: You’re Doing It Wrong

Which is when I realized that the technically-lesbian kiss was also the only consensual kiss in the movie. And that while this consensual kiss led to Snow White’s demise, the non-consensual kiss imposed on Snow by the Huntsman… ends up saving her life.

Elizabeth Bear is brilliant about not policing other women’s clothing:

So I read some feminist fitness blogs, like you do. And one of them recently linked to a couple of posts that I’m not going to link to, but the gist of which was that women should not wear “running skirts,” or “fitness skirts,”* because it’s unfeminist to try to look cute when you work out. That women wearing skirts to work out “creates a sexist atmosphere.”

That we can’t take ourselves seriously as athletes if we’re wearing sparkly ruffles. And that it’s okay to mock women who wear them.

To which all I have to say is, “Fuck you, ladies.”

Alyssa Rosenberg on Think Progress on the VIDA report.

Inequality By Interior Design on the social construction of childhood. Now including extra baby cage!

Gollancz Geeks, or why acting as unpaid publicity is not an OMGWTFBBQ OPPORTUNITY!!!

Update March 8: Gollancz has clarified their position in a blogpost whose content would’ve been helpful in their promo emails. And whose tone seems much more appropriate when speaking to adults than the nicey-nice PR OMG ENTHUSIASM!! of the initial emails…

Welcome to the Team! We are emailing you because you expressed an interest in hearing more about our Fantasy/Dark Fantasy/Horror titles and we think we’ve got the perfect read for you!

We are so excited to be able to share [title redacted] with you.

A few weeks ago, in the interests of SCIENCE, I signed up for the Gollancz Geeks mailing list. (Note: the contact form asks for gender information in a binary configuration. Despite the @Gollancz twitter account responding sympathetically to this concern when I raised it weeks ago, the form remains unchanged.) I view “Let’s start a club!” with a certain suspicion when it comes from profit-making entities – but perhaps Gollancz wouldn’t be entirely tone-deaf and skeevy about it.

Now we want to know what you thought of [title redacted]. Whether you love the book or hate the book we want to hear your opinion. We have 25 copies of [title redacted] to share with you. If you are interested in reviewing [title redacted] please reply to this email. The first 25 people to reply will be sent a copy. We will send t-shirts, bookmarks and badges to everyone who sends back a review by the 6th April 2013. We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog.

I don’t know what they call this in PR. I’ve seen it a bit, though, and I think of it as the forced-enthusiasm cycle. (“Forced” in the sense of “forcing” plants.) It’s irritating because it’s utterly transparent.

Step one: offer a definite but small quantity of a desirable commodity to the fastest and most enthusiastic interested parties. Step two: create minor-but-look-bigger incentives for fast feedback. You’ve pre-selected for positive attitude: even if a half or a quarter respond negatively or indifferently, the rest will be buzzed – in part because they got something for “free,” which always feels like getting away with something.

The forced-enthusiasm cycle works, demonstrably. It’s not even particularly skeevy. What makes this iteration of it skeevy and a wasted opportunity?

We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog

You reserve the right, do you? You’re not asking for the right, but reserving it? Fuck you, pay me. And not with –

We will send t-shirts, bookmarks and badges to everyone who sends back a review

T-shirts? Badges? Presumably with Gollancz’s logo on it, making this an opportunity for this particularly imprint to – ahem – “build its brand.” For free. In the guise of rewarding participation. (Badges? What are we, five now?) Gollancz, me oul’mate me lad – I hope that’s not too familiar, but since you’ve invited me to join your “Team” I think you should be all right with a few liberties – I hate to break it to you, but people tend not have brand investment, so to speak, in publishing houses. Books are not fungible. Your average reader will follow authors and series, not publishing houses.

You’ve wasted an opportunity, me oul’mate me lad – which, since you make a taxable profit and publicity is a business expense, costs you next to nothing – to build investment in other authors and series under contract with you, and get sensible free publicity, by offering tat and not books as swag.

Mind, you’d still have to pay me – or at least ask nicely, I’m not unreasonable – to (re)publish a review of mine. But this reserving rights lark? Come on, me oul’mate. You don’t seriously believe you’re doing anyone a favour here. You’re looking to get publicity for as good as free! And you’re lying to your email list by pretending you’re doing us a good turn. Underneath this nicey-nice PR OMG ENTHUSIASM!!! are all the morals of a hungry shark, and what’s really insulting? You ain’t even bothering to pretend this is an equal exchange wherein we’re doing you a good turn by investing time and energy in being, essentially, Free Publicity, in exchange for Free Shit.

Now, me, I’m a jobbing amateur. Semi-professional, I guess: I writes for some people who pay me in money and some people who don’t pay me at all because I like ’em and sometimes I can use the practice, and on my personal blog I writes just for the hell of it, mostly. It’s not my dayjob. (Although if someone were to hire me to do this sort of thing fulltime I’d probably quit my thesis so fast you wouldn’t even see my supervisor’s head spin.) People send me a review copy, they pays their shot and takes their chances. I’m confident enough to believe it’s an opportunity for them to reach the hundred-odd folks who Stats tells me come to the most popular posts here or however many hundred (thousand? I have to believe there’s more than ten lurkers for every commenter) skim that column I write at Tor.com. It’s not an opportunity for me to make them happy: there’re lots and lots and lots of books in the world, and even if I read more than three a week, reading – and thinking about, and writing about – one person’s instead of another person’s is still a significant investment of my time.

Thank you Team Gollancz Geeks for the incredible reply!

We are so delighted that so many of you are interested in reviewing [title redacted]. We are now in the process of notifying our [title redacted] reviewers. If you have been chosen to review this copy (again this is first come first served) you’ll receive an email by the end of next week.

If you weren’t selected this time to review [title redacted], don’t worry we’ll be contacting you soon about other opportunities.

(May I be snippy here and suggest more attention to punctuation in professional correspondence wouldn’t hurt?)

So, this is March 7th. Gollancz want the book reviewed by April 6th. They’ll notify potential reviewers by the end of next week – say March 15th. Assume the books are put in the post on that date and head out to UK parts only. Allow three to five working days for arrival of books. March 21st, perhaps? You’ve just over two weeks to read and review the book by Gollancz’s imposed deadline if you want their logo’d tat. Anyone else think that’s a little tight?

Gollancz, me oul’mate me lad. You can keep your opportunities. They’re not really opportunities. You’re running a giveaway, be honest. And in return for winning a prize, you want the LUCKY READER!!! to work for you for free.

It’s transparent. And it’s manipulative. And it leaves me feeling pretty cranky and disinclined to pay, y’know, real money for Gollancz books, if they’re going to be this transparently manipulative in their PR endeavours.

Also, nicey-nice PR ENTHUSIASM OMG LOVE TO SHARE!!! gives me hives from the saccharine falsity. So there’s that.

My liver may be fucked but my heart is honest.
And my word is true.

…I’m not nice. I’m not fair.

But, y’know. As the witch said to the bishop. At least I know it.

Sleeps With Monsters: Urban Fantasy is Licentiously Liberal?

New post over at Tor.com, Sleeps With Monsters: Urban Fantasy is Licentiously Liberal?

In the comments to Sleeps With Monsters: Epic Fantasy is Crushingly Conservative? one of the participants suggested that, if epic fantasy is held to be conservative (the discussion on what constitutes epic fantasy and whether or not it is conservative remains open), perhaps we should discuss whether urban fantasy is “crushingly liberal.” For the sake of alliteration, another commenter suggested licentiously liberal—so that’s what we’ll argue today.

THE CLONE REPUBLIC: a tedious, racist, sexist crime against literature

Steven L. Kent, The Clone Republic. Titan Books, 2013. First UK publication. Originally published 2006, by Ace Books.

Freeman was a “black man.” Understand that since the United States brought the world together in a single “unified authority,” racial terms like “African,” “Oriental,” and “Caucasian” had become meaningless. Under the Unified Authority, the Earth became the political center of the galaxy. Most commerce, manufacturing, and farming were done in the territories, and the territories were fully integrated. I heard rumors about certain races refusing to marry outside of their own; but for the most part, we had become a one-race nation. So when Ray Freeman, whose skin was the color of coffee without a trace of cream, stepped out of his ship, it was like the return of an extinct species.

[Kent, 2013, 38]

I should have stopped there.

The pull-quote on The Clone Republic‘s jacket is from the SFRevu. That should, perhaps, have served as a warning. But it suggested that “Fans of Jack Campbell should find plenty here to enjoy.”*

I can tell you three things about the work of Jack Campbell/John Hemry. It doesn’t explicitly, gratuitously, dismiss the existence of people who aren’t White pseudo-USians, although Campbell’s cultural koines veer close to America In Space. It has its problems with portraying women as sexual beings, but it grants them the same range of professional competence as men, in and outside the military. And although he can be structurally repetitive from book to book, Campbell’s a writer who knows how to create tension and maintain pacing within the confines of that structure. As undemanding light entertainment, Campbell is pretty good. I like Campbell’s work. For what it is, I like it quite a lot.

And, importantly, he doesn’t disappear me/people like me. He doesn’t disappear competent women.

But we were speaking of The Clone Republic. Which is pretty far from Jack Campbell. Kent’s most sordid crime against literature is tedium. There is no tension to be found in his utterly unremarkable prose – to call it turgid would be to grant it an undeserved accolade: moribund is by far the more appropriate word – no sense, in the movement from incident to incident, that here is a writer with any idea how to control pacing, develop character, or create the shape and outline of a coherent novel. There is no crescendo, no emotional climax, no real resolution.

But aside from this most ignoble of literary crimes, Kent has trespassed even further. For, you see, aside from the awful neo-colonialist assumptions and racism encoded into that quoted paragraph, misogyny is the backbone of Kent’s universe. His protagonist exists in an exclusively masculine military world. There are no female naval officers. No female spacers. No female marines. No female support staff. No female technical analysts. There are only two named women within the world of the novel, and those women enter the stage only to have sex with Kent’s protagonist and his protagonist’s best friend while the aforesaid pair are on leave in Hawaii.

I’m pretty fucking tired of novels where women don’t exist, or exist only instrumentally vis-à-vis male protagonists. It tells me the author isn’t interested in talking to me. It tells me the author doesn’t think I’m worth considering as part of the audience. My tolerance for such books can, no doubt, get lower. But it’s already pretty bloody low.

I read books full of Men doing Important Things with No Women Doing Anything Of Note, and I feel soiled. I feel bloody well defiled. That’s putting it strong, but you know something? I’d rather visible virulent laughable misogyny than this… empty silence.

The racism, though. That’s right there up front.

*cue film trailer music*

In A TIME. When THERE ARE NO BROWN PEOPLE. A CLONE SHALL COME. And lo, he shall be PALE BEIGE. And he will feel REALLY GOOD ABOUT HIMSELF WHILE KILLING PEOPLE. And there will be no language but ENGLISH. And no POWER but WASHINGTON DC. And the LAW shall be the LAW of Plato’s Republic

*/film trailer music*

Tedious, racist, sexist. Moribund. Intellectually and emotionally barren – barren as a burnt heath ploughed with salt. To call it prosaic would be flattery. I did not like this book. I do not find anything in it worth recommending.

I condemn it. I condemn it. I condemn it. And had I the power, would banish it to the outer darkness, to utter oblivion and damnatio ad memoriae.

*The pull-quote, it transpires, is actually from a review of the seventh book in the series.

Books in brief: Hambly, Good Man Friday; Locke, Up Against It; Kent, The Clone Republic; and Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830-1980

Barbara Hambly, Good Man Friday. Severn House, 2013.

Another excellent installment in the Benjamin Janvier series. If you have not yet read the Benjamin Janvier mysteries, do so. They are seven different kinds of brilliant.

M.J. Locke, Up Against It. Tor, 2011. Copy courtesy of Tor.com.

READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. This is one of the best works of “hard” science fiction I’ve read. It’s fully as good as anything else in the field – better than most, with well-developed, fully rounded characters, interestingly plausible science, and a smashing thriller plot. What I don’t understand is why it’s flown under the radar. It seems like a Terrible Oversight.

So go read it. Seriously. Probably you will like it, if you like Stross’s less futureshocky SF, or Chris Moriarty, or, I think, Bear’s Dust. Near-future near-space asteroid SF!

Steven L. Kent, The Clone Republic. Titan Books, 2013. (First published 2006.) Copy courtesy of Titan Books.

Oy. This book. This book is so bad. And so blind to its clueless white-guy misogyny and thoughtless colonialism. And tedious! I am composing a review-rant. It may take some time, for I read this in search of light entertainment – the pull-quote-blurb compares it favourably to Jack Campbell – and instead come away feeling soiled and dehumanised.

Do not recommend.

Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980. Virago, 1987.

Like any work of history that carries its narrative up to within a decade of its writing, its latter chapters and conclusion are doomed to age poorly. But the greater proportion of this book is a lucid, solid – at times brilliant – social history of women and madness in English culture.

Well recommended.

Grittiness and Sexuality in Fantasy

Foz Meadows has a very interesting post, On Grittiness and Grimdark:

[E]liding the genre’s political dimensions is especially problematic: grittiness is only a selective view of reality, not the whole picture. Yes, there’s pain and despair and suffering, but not exclusively, and when you make grit a synonym for realism – when you make an active, narrative decision to privilege specific, familiar types of grimness as universals – then you’re not just denying the fullness of reality; you’re promoting a version of it that’s inherently hostile to the personhood and interests of the majority of people on the planet. (And in that sense, it doesn’t seem irrelevant that the bulk of gritty, grimdark writers, especially those who self-identify as such, are straight, white men.)

If your idea of ‘grittiness’ includes misogyny (for instance), it’s more or less inevitable that your female characters will not only encounter systematic sexism, but necessarily be scarred by it, because if it were possible for them to remain unscathed by such an integral aspect of your preordained notion of grittiness, then by the rubric of gritty = honest, they would be unrealistic characters. Which means that, with the best will in the world, you’ve committed from the outset to writing women whose lives and selves are damaged by men – and while, as a female reader, I don’t object to encountering such characters, I do object to the assumption that these are the only female characters you can realistically write.

Grittiness has its place in fiction; as do representations of existing inequalities. But when we forget to examine why we think certain abuses are inevitable, or assume their universality – when we write about a particular prejudice, not to question, subvert or redefine it, but to confirm it as an inevitable, even integral aspect of human nature – then we’re not being realistic, but selective in our portrayal and understanding of reality.

Read it all. Read the comments. Then go read Kate Elliott on What Is Your Consensual Sex and Love Doing In My Epic Fantasy? (Livejournal.)

To my mind, we lessen the story we are telling about human experience if we do not include and see as worthy all of human experience, especially including positive depictions of sex and love. What kind of world do we vision if we only tell the ugly stories about such intimate matters?

(I believe it’s laziness and a puritan cultural streak that sees – consciously or subconsciously – sexual intimacy as something punishable that drives the ubiquity of the portrayal of sexual violence in fiction. But I’m a rabid man-hating hairy-legged feminist, so what do I know, y’know?)

A couple of other links:

Maureen Kincaid Speller takes Ghost Planet – of which I couldn’t get past the first page – apart:

Ghost Planet is novel as frightfully efficient storytelling machine, with all its plot points lined up neatly, its characters popped out of their moulds and trimmed, its language oiled and functional, the whole thing so overworked as to be stripped totally of absolutely anything that might make it interesting. It’s not terribly good science fiction, and it’s definitely a dull and predictable romance.

Meanwhile, the latest Shadow Unit is excellent. With poisonous spiders. Maybe I’ll get paid soon (*eyes Strange Horizons*) and have enough to donate.

A thought on poetry

A conversation with Amal El-Mohtar and Alex Dally MacFarlane on Twitter, which began here, with a link to Sofia Samatar’s poem “Girl Hours”, crystallised for me some of my feelings about poetry.

Samatar’s is a visceral and moving piece of poetry, weaving in and out of history, science, bodies, ways of knowing with intensity, fire, and astonishing image, juxtaposition and rhythm:

You were not the only deaf woman there.
Annie Cannon, too, was hard of hearing.
On the day of your death she wrote: Rainy day pouring at night.

Oh bright rain, brave clouds, oh stars,
oh stars.

Two thousand four hundred fires
and uncharted, unstudied,
the hours, the hours, the hours.

It has the same force and power for me as Seamus Heaney’s “From the Lightnings VIII,”


The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

(Out of the marvellous as he had known it. I will love that poem forever for that line.)

or Pablo Neruda’s “Canto XII: From the Heights of Macchu Picchu,”

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

The thing is, I cannot see genre in poetry. Division by forms, yes. But not by genres: even narrative is a form. There is image, and there is rhythm, and there is theme, and there is world changing in an instant – but not genre.

I find it impossible – I mean, how do you say “This is” and “This isn’t”? All the poetry that works in me partakes of the fantastic and the transcendental, but if separated into its constituent elements, how do I say “This is science”? “This is magic”? “This is mimetic”? “This is not”?

This is the immanence of things that know no words, that have no spoken names. This is poetry, in all its intensity, and freight, and emotion, and fire.

Poetry is as close as I get to religious experience, anymore.

Perhaps. If it doesn’t reach the poetic/transcendental for someone, in some sense, then I can’t find it in me to call it poetry. Failed poetry, doggerel, weird prose: but not poetry. The inner light and fire, the special intensity, the power to change, the power to move: these are poetry’s characteristics.

It doesn’t have to work for me. If it only works for one person in ten thousand, then it still works – but the one thing poetry cannot be and remain poetry is universally mundane.

What I’d Nominate If I Could Nominate: the Hugo Awards

Nominations for the Hugo Awards close on March 10. I can’t nominate, since I’m not going to splurge on a supporting membership for 2013 – or for LonCon 2014, until I know what my finances will be like through the end of June. But if I could, here’s what I’d nominate:

Best Novel

Elizabeth Bear, Range of Ghosts. It is the kind of epic fantasy I’d always wanted to read without until I read it, actually knowing: vast, brilliant, inventive, inclusive, mythic.

Leah Bobet, Above. Marketed as a Young Adult novel, Above ripped my guts out and put them back in different. Despite its categorisation, it’s a mature, powerful, inventive work.

Kameron Hurley, Rapture. Because the trilogy is one of the best and most provocative pieces of science fiction I’ve read: visceral, weird, inventive, brutal. And Rapture is the best book of the three.

Ben Aaronovitch, Whispers Under Ground. Because I think Aaronovitch is doing interesting things in the urban fantasy genre, and Whispers Under Ground is an excellent book.

Kari Sperring, The Grass-King’s Concubine. I’m pretty certain Sperring’s work will be overlooked. But in all truth it’s one of the most revolutionary approaches to fantasy of the year, and beautifully written.

Best Novella

Aliette de Bodard’s On A Red Station, Drifting. Because hell, wow. Brilliant science fiction, brilliantly written.

Best Novelette

Brit Mandelo, “Finite Canvas.” Tor.com.

Best Short Story

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, “Song of the Body Cartographer.” Philippine Genre Stories, June 2012.

Aliette de Bodard, “Immersion.” Clarkesworld, June 2012.

Best Related Work

Brit Mandelo, We Wuz Pushed: Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling. Aqueduct Press.

Best Graphic Story

No opinion.

Best Dramatic Performance, Long Form.

Dredd – for the same reasons Jonathan McCalmont gives. It’s the best work of science fiction I’ve seen on the screen in forever.

The Hunger Games. It’s a brilliant adaptation of a hard-to-adapt novel, full of strong performances.

Best Dramatic Performance, Short Form

No opinion. Just don’t let Doctor Who win again.

Best Editor, Short Form

No strong opinion, but John Joseph Adams, Joselle Vanderhooft, and Ellen Datlow do interesting things.

Best Editor, Long Form

No opinion: not enough information to form one.

Best Professional Artist

No opinion.

Best Semiprozine

Ideomancer.com, because I think they do good work. But I’m biased here.

Strange Horizons.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

I’ve written for all of those – but that correlates pretty well with what I actually read, on a regular basis.

Best Fanzine

The World SF Blog.

SF Mistressworks.

Best Fancast

I only listen to the SF Squeecast and Galactic Suburbia with any regularity. And SF Squeecast won last year…

Best Fan Writer

Requires Hate. A vicious, insightful, and provocative critic.

Aishwarya Subramanian. Always interesting and lucid.

Abigail Nussbaum. Reviews editor at Strange Horizons, and an incredibly insightful critic.

Martin Lewis. Never less than interesting and articulate.

Best Fan Artist

No opinion.

John W. Campbell Award For Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

I’m not sure of the eligibility for the people I’d like to see in this category. (I suspect a couple of them are past the two-year cut-off or otherwise ineligible?)

Max Gladstone
Karen Lord
Tina Connolly
Samit Basu

I’m informed that work done for pay is permitted for consideration under the Fan Writer category. Not sure that’s entirely fair: I, for one, wouldn’t do most of the work I do unless I was getting paid for it, although I enjoy my work. Not sure that fits with my idea of fan work.

Reviews elseweb

Deb Taber’s Necessary Ill, at Tor.com:

Necessary Ill, Deb Taber’s debut novel (out of Aqueduct Press) is a difficult read, but a worthy one. Difficult, because it asks hard questions and refuses easy answers; and because it demands you extend your sympathy to all sides: mass-murderers, liars, haters, the wounded and the bereaved and the betrayed.

M.C. Planck’s The Kassa Gambit, in this quarter’s Ideomancer.com:

Planck seems like an auspicious name for a science fiction novelist. With The Kassa Gambit, his debut, Australian-based M.C. Planck presents an auspicious if flawed start to his career.

Felix Gilman’s The Rise of Ransom City, also in Ideomancer.com:

It’s always interesting to read a novel written in the style and manner of a memoir. Such a book (fictional or not) succeeds or fails, rises or falls, on the vividness of the memoirist’s personality and the observed details of the surrounding world. The reader who enjoys the memoirist’s company and tone will find digressions and side-roads diverting: the reader who finds it tolerably entertaining will have less patience, and require more in the way of narrative coherence and identifiable character growth, to maintain a feeling of investment in the ultimate outcome.

Melanie Rawn’s Touchstone, also in Ideomancer.com:

It’s been over a decade – fifteen years, if we’re counting each and every one – since Melanie Rawn last published a solo work of second-world fantasy, The Mageborn Traitor. Before the long hiatus in her career, Rawn’s track record leaned to the sprawling family-saga, with a knack for believable interpersonal relationships and narratives that take years to come to ultimate fruition. Touchstone, the first in a new series and a new milieu, could not possibly live up to the weight of expectation this reviewer placed upon it. To its credit, it is a book that disappoints far less than it could have.

Yes, I’m the only review-writer for Ideo’s Spring 2013 issue. Fortunately there’s a bit more variety in the stories and poems. I recommend you take a look, and if the spirit moves you, donate. (Donations help pay for short fiction and poetry. I am not working there for pay.)