Sleeps With Monsters: My Year In Queer

A new post over at Tor.com:

Are we reaching some kind of critical mass this year in terms of queer content in books published by mainstream SFF imprints? Where queer people have a central role to play, and where, moreover, being queer does not end universally badly? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this year—including some novels I’ve read that aren’t published quite yet—is a banner year.

Sleeps With Monsters: Power Ballads and Professionals

A new post over at Tor.com:

Meera is utterly in love with her boss. She thinks she’s got a really bad crush on a straight girl. What she doesn’t realise is that her feelings are requited. This is a story about how awkward it is to figure out whether or not you can have a relationship with your boss—or with your employee—while investigating the bizarre thefts of dresses designed by a cult fashion designer, including one from off the back of his widow, and also falling off rooftops. (Carina finds being the Skeleton relaxing compared to being in the spotlight.) The awkward dance of does-she-like-me? does-she-like-me-back? is complicated by Meera’s many ex-girlfriends, with all of whom Meera still seems to be on good terms, and who are, to quote Carina, “really thirsty.”

THE BLOODPRINT by Ausma Zehanat Khan

A new review, over at Tor.com:

I wanted to like it [The Bloodprint] more than I did. In terms of voice, characterisation, and prose style, it feels not quite cooked yet: it only begins to feel like it gels together into something greater than the sum of its disparate parts in the last 100 pages (quite late for 400-page-plus book), just in time for it to cliffhanger on the way to volume two. I’m an old and jaded critic, and I have come to prefer books that feel narratively satisfying within a single volume, even if they are clearly part one, than books that feel as though they stopped more because they ran out of room than they reached a natural break point.

Sleeps With Monsters: The Cold Blade’s Finger

A new column over at Tor.com:

I want to rave about Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull. Actually, it feels like I need to rave about it: a glorious, dramatic, lush and striking fantasy set in the same continuity as the Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and The Steles of the Sky), with a brilliant cast of characters and an opening that involves an ice wyrm attacking a caravan on its way up a frozen river. It’s no exaggeration to say I was hooked from the first page.

Links of interest!

Star Trek: Discovery:

At Lady Business:

One of the things I loved so, so much about The Vulcan Hello, and about Michael’s character, is that both show that Discovery is in love with space. Michael’s space walk scene is a really obvious, hearts over the ‘i’s,love letter to space (as well as a clever wink to the technique of shooting Star Trek in the early days) and it is glorious. Her early scenes among the sand dunes shout ‘Yes, space is unknown and can be scary but look how amazing it is out there’ and then throw chocolates at space’s feet. Michael’s practical, exposition drop of an opening speech quickly turns into ‘I remain optimistic. It’s hard not to be in the face of such beauty.’ and a discussion of a binary star system while looking out onto beautiful space vista. Star Trek: Discovery <3’s space. Hard.

 

At NoAward.net:

  • Liz is intensely amused that there was plot justification for heavy lens flare
  • There are Starfleet insignia on the boots. Like, these costumes were designed expressly to torture cosplayers, right?
  • We were so busy having feelings that we kind of overlooked the plot stuff. Liz is intrigued by Michael’s upbringing and the bombing of the Vulcan Learning Centre, and is reserving judgement on the Klingon stuff. Are Klingons inherently interesting when Worf’s not around? Look, they can’t help not being Romulans or Cardassians. No one’s perfect.
  • Liz was chatting to Tansy Rayner Roberts, who described the premiere as “emotionally intelligent”, and I think that’s a really good summary.

 

At The Mary Sue:

I’m looking forward to the far more gender-fluid future where gendered stereotypes lose ground, and anyone can be named anything that they damn well please, though we’ll still have to grapple with the cultural weight of names.

 

Books:

Elizabeth Bear on female characters and epic fantasy:

If women existed in the real world at the same ratios in which we exist in epic fantasy, the human race would be obliged to reproduce as do anglerfish. Which is to say, with one large female swimming along, going about her business, while a plethora of smaller males clamp their jaws onto her flanks, graft their bloodstreams to hers parasitically, and allow themselves to be dragged along with her wherever she happens to roam because it’s their best chance of having the opportunity to release a stream of milt over the eggs that she will inevitably deposit.

(Don’t read the comments.)

 

K. Arsenault Rivera on personal failure in fiction:

So often in epic stories the hero always makes the right decision, so often they act in the interest of the greater good. To me, it’s always been far more interesting—more human—when they choose to wallow a little instead. We might all like to imagine ourselves winning duels and pulling swords out of our loved ones, but we can all relate to making bad decisions.

 

Other:

A scientific study of cat personalities.

Call for Papers on classical receptions in speculative fiction.

 

HORIZON by Fran Wilde

A new review over at Tor.com:

The things I’ve liked best about Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe books—2015’s award-winning Updraft, last year’s Cloudbound, and now the trilogy’s capstone, the compelling Horizonhas been the character of Kirit Densira, accidental hero, accidental city-breaker, and determined friend; the weird, wonderful worldbuilding (invisible sky-squid that eat people! enormous bone towers in which people live far above the clouds! a society based around unpowered human flight!); and the deep concern with consequences.

Horizon is all about consequences.

Octocon, 6-8 October, Camden Court Hotel, Dublin

I’ll be attending Octocon next weekend. If anyone wants to bring a copy of my book for me to sign, I’d be happy to do that. I’m afraid I won’t have copies with me, but you can order them through all reputable booksellers, including Hodges Figgis on Dawson St.

I’ll be bringing some of my stack of books I will never get to read/reread in order to give away, so there’s that.

These are the panels I’ll be on:

 

Beyond the Hellmouth

Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Salusa Secundus (Camden Court Hotel)

What makes a convincing fictional hell? Is it the uptempo singing or dancing or must it be personal and bespoke? Should moral relativism define your eternity and isn’t it possible to get used to anything eventually?

Lynda E Rucker, Peadar Ó Guilín, Dr. Allen Stroud, Fionnuala Murphy (M), Dr. Liz Bourke

 

The Art of Shipping (Free Shipping With Every Order Of The Phoenix) [18+]

Saturday 21:00 – 22:00, Salusa Secundus (Camden Court Hotel)

From characters on tv shows to countries to fast food restaurants to Kirk and Spock, everything seems to have ships now a days. Why are fangirls / is everyone obsessed with shipping?

Sakura Perez (M), C.E. Murphy, Diane Duane, Dr. Liz Bourke, Ms. Wendy Fries

 

Shapes of Family & Relationships In Genre

Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Salusa Secundus (Camden Court Hotel)

What would be the shape of a “traditional” family off the surface of this planet? How do relationships work on a spaceship or during early planetary colonisation? What would be the economic incentives shaping family life in space? From Heinlein’s line marriages, the alien / human sexual partnership in A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, multi-parent families in for example The Expanse, how have these questions been explored and how have the ideas stood the test of time.

C.E. Murphy, Paul Anthony Shortt, Russell A. Smith, Fionna O’Sullivan (M), Dr. Liz Bourke

 


 

I still haven’t bought my membership, because I am a broke freelancer and also slow. I should probably get on that…

NULL STATES by Malka Older

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

This is a story about governance and governing, about power and systems, and the edges of both—the parts where they break, and warp, and potentially break down. Older’s gift is to make those systems fascinating and human: relevant, and easy to grasp. Well, one of her gifts: she has great skill with evoking place and its complicated histories, when her characters stay in one location long enough.

“You look different when you tell the truth. Your eyes change.” ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) – Patreon

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It is August 2017. I’m tired and overwhelmed by world events (the USA, Iraq, Finland, Malaysia, Catalonia, and of course Australia’s wonderful idea to hold a marriage equality plebiscite), local events, and how much work I have to do in order to get paid.

This is not a review of the news, though, but of Atomic Blonde, the film I went to see in order to distract myself from all of that.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Sam Hart and Anthony Johnston, directed by David Leitch (in his first feature-length film), and starring Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde is a spy film set in 1989 Berlin. Claustrophobic, stylish, rooted in its time and place, Atomic Blonde reminded me a little bit of The Sandbaggers, a little bit of The Bourne Identity, and a lot of Greg Rucka’s spy novels and graphic novels (some of which, come to think of it, were published by the same outfit as The Coldest City).

The cinematography is excellent. There’s a recurring motif of shots through doors and windows, of shots in reflections, of mirrors, of things seen at an angle or edgewise-on. Everything is angles, everything is deceptive, nothing you see can be taken at face value. The characters are all angles and smooth surfaces, frictionless except where they’re playing it rough: everything is nested betrayals and triple-crosses.

Theron plays spy/agent Lorraine Broughton with a chill like the ice-bath we see her climbing out of in the opening scenes — bruised, battered, bloody and still somehow entirely collected. Her performance is light on dialogue, in contrast to the ninety-to-the-dozen chatter of James McAvoy’s David Percival (played with a combination of boyish charm, brutal self-interest, and sincerely dangerous competence): instead, her character is given definition through body-language. The physicality of Theron’s performance is intense, at times almost feral, in a way that fits seamlessly with the really good fight choreography.

(The fight choreography is really good: utterly brutal, unforgiving, full of found objects and with occasional appropriate punch-drunk stumbling. It’s visceral in a way that fight choreography seldom manages.)

Atomic Blonde is a spy film in which most of the characters seem to end up dead of Being A Spy.

It also portrays a queer relationship.

Theron’s Broughton is approached by French agent Delphine (Sofia Boutella), a younger and rather more innocent spy. Broughton is enthusiastically into it. (An aside: I didn’t know I wanted to see something like this until I did, and I didn’t know Atomic Blonde had a queer relationship in it until I saw it. A queer relationship! Treated just like a straight one! Not marked out in any way, not a giant part of the plot as in Carol or The Handmaiden, just spies being spies in bed.) This relationship is the only place where we see a hint of something that could be considered softness in Broughton, the only place where she’s a little less than perfectly guarded. It seems that she does actually feel something for Delphine — enough, at least, to tell her to get out of Berlin rather than killing her when Broughton thinks that Delphine has double-crossed her.

Of course, Bury Your Gays is a thing. So I knew Delphine was doomed from the moment she and Broughton kissed. And hey, what do you know? I was right. It’s a film that buries its gays, and I don’t want to say, “But at least it has them” (but at least it has them), although having them at all is unusual for a spy film.

But it’s 2017. I wanted to at least to be able to hope for Delphine to walk off alive by the time the credits rolled. I want there to be enough films where that happens that Queer Death becomes unpredictable. Not, “Oh, she’s doomed now, right?” “Oh, maybe NOT DOOMED JUST YET — nope, that was a fakeout. Doomed.” “Sigh.”

The strangulation scene, when Delphine very nearly fights off her murderer, is so annoying wrong. Hollywood has this tendency to show both CPR and garrotting to be very effective within a short timeframe. In reality, if you are going to choke someone to death, even if you crush their windpipe, it’s going to take a while. Even if it is restriction of bloodflow rather than oxygen that’s the root cause. And they’re going to be unconscious for a few minutes first. Like, three-six minutes. This is why, in sport martial arts, you can actually choke someone out without killing them. Their eyes don’t just roll up and go straight to dead!

I knew better than to expect Atomic Blonde to subvert the Buried Gays/Dead Girlfriend tropes, but seriously, GIRL AIN’T DEAD YET USE A BULLET. Bullets are harder to argue with: the part of me that knows how strangulation works kept expecting her to show up later, at odds with the part of me that knows how Hollywood works.

Atomic Blonde is a good film. I’m going to go see it again. It works well. (And it has a really great soundtrack).

But, you know. Fuck the Bury Your Gays trope. It’s boring and predictable and tedious and bad storytelling. Atomic Blonde would have been a better film without it.

 


This review brought to you thanks to my Patreon backers.

Sleeps With Monsters: The Weird West of Wynonna Earp

A new column over at Tor.com:

I didn’t know I needed a weird modern Western—complete with curses, demons, and complicated family dynamics—in my life. But apparently I didn’t know what I was missing! It turns out that this is exactly what I wanted, when it comes in the form of SEVEN24/IDW Entertainment’s Wynonna Earp, created by Emily Andras, based on the comic by Beau Smith, and starring Melanie Scrofano as the eponymous Wynonna.

THE REAL-TOWN MURDERS by Adam Roberts (Patreon)

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The Real-Town Murders, Adam Roberts (Gollancz, ISBN 978-1-473-22145-1, HC, stg£16.99, 230pp). September 2017. 

The Real-Town Murders is the first novel by Adam Roberts I’ve managed to finish, if not the first I’ve tried to read. (The Thing Itself was, perhaps, excessively Kantian.) Instead of bouncing off after a grimly determined start, though, with The Real-Town Murders I got instantly caught up in a mystery-plot that turned into a thriller, as Roberts’ protagonist is caught up in a coup playing out between government factions.

Alma is a private detective in a not-too-far-future England. She’s one of the few people who work outside the Shine — an augmented-reality immersive successor to the internet — and whose leisure, such as it is, also takes place outside the Shine — something that’s even more unusual. This is partly from choice, and partly from necessity. Alma can’t afford to lose track of time. Her partner, Marguerite, is bed-bound with a tailored disease: a disease that targeted Alma and Marguerite specifically. Marguerite needs treatment every four hours, and the window for treatment is five minutes long. Otherwise she dies. And Alma must be the one to treat her, because what is necessary for treatment changes every time, but it needs Alma’s DNA all the time.

We first meet Alma as she begins to investigate a locked-room murder mystery. A body showed up in an automobile factory. There was no way for the body to get there, but the man in question is definitely dead. Alma has just enough time to become properly intrigued by the puzzle when a government agent requests and requires her to stop investigating. Then she learns that said government agent has turned up dead — when another government agent shows up to require her to come with them.

This will keep her away from Marguerite for far too long. In order to keep her lover alive, Alma has to go on the run — a process of evading government scrutiny and arrest made that much more complicated by needing to return to Marguerite’s side, like clockwork, every four hours. While also getting to the bottom of the mystery and finding enough leverage, somehow, to get these warring government factions to leave her alone and let her take care of Marguerite.

This is a compelling book, despite Roberts’ occasional weird choices when it comes to representing dialogue. (“Own dare stand” for “understand,” for example.) The thriller-plot is cunning and twisty and tightly paced, and comes together effectively. But the heart of the book, for me, is Alma’s relationship with and to Marguerite.

In the so-specifically targeted disease that has physically incapacitated Marguerite, and which binds Alma to a four-hour timetable to treat her, there is a wealth of scarcely-hinted-at backstory. (One which probably answers the question of why does Alma, of all the private investigators in the world, get roped in to a government conspiracy?) These are fantastic characters, with a compelling relationship — and that’s before we get to the other characters that people this novel.

It’s very rare for science fiction and fantasy to show a relationship between two people, where one of the two is physically disabled and the other is her carer. It’s rarer to show a relationship of mutual respect and love, where the physical dependence of one upon the other isn’t shown with any diminution of personhood or intellectual independence.

The Real-Town Murders could, I think, have shown Marguerite a little more awake and a little more intellectually involved in Alma’s investigation, but in the time we see her conscious and not delirious with fever, we still see a woman with an enormous personality and immense confidence in her own mental capacities — a woman who solves the mystery before Alma can, even if Alma believes her contribution, at the time, to be feverish rambling. Alma never questions her own commitment to Marguerite, never thinks about letting her lover die. She’s going to be there. No matter what, she’s going to be there.

The Real-Town Murders is a deeply satisfying novel. If you enjoy near-future thrillers, I recommend it — maybe even if you don’t.

 


This review brought to you thanks to my Patreon backers.

World and Character in Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe

A new post over at Tor.com:

It’s long been a truism in science fiction and fantasy that the world is a character—sometimes, indeed, the central character, against which humans and other beings recede into insignificance. Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe—the trilogy comprising Updraft (2015), Cloudbound (2016), and this September’s Horizondoesn’t make the humans insignificant, but thanks to the wild, weird scope of its world, the world looms large in the reader’s consciousness—as large as the giant bone spires, high above the clouds, that are home to Wilde’s characters.

RUIN OF ANGELS by Max Gladstone

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

Although Ruin of Angels weighs in at more than 560 pages, Gladstone’s tight pacing and thriller-like narrative structure make it feel like a much shorter book—or at least a fast one. The characters are compelling, the worldbuilding batshit and complex and lush in the way I’ve come to expect from a Gladstone book. Any series runs the risk of growing stale, but Ruin of Angels is garden-fresh. It’s ambitious and epic and really good, and I look forward to reading much more of Gladstone’s work.

Sleeps With Monsters: Flying Beasts and Complicated, Amazing Woldbuilding

A new column over at Tor.com:

It all comes down to worldbuilding. Delightful, amazing worldbuilding. This is a world in which magic—the Slack, which trained people can use to manipulate the elements—co-exists with technological development. Increasing technological development in the hands of the Machinists has lead to conflict, because the magicians—”Tensors”—understand that their monopoly on doing certain things will be challenged by these developments.

A SONG FOR QUIET by Cassandra Khaw

Reviewed over at Tor.com:

A Song for Quiet is a short piece of work. So short that when I set out to review it, I wondered how much I would have to say. But Khaw has a real gift for writing truly disturbing horror with a solid core of human empathy and… I won’t say hope, exactly, but a sense that in the face of horror, persistence and humanity still matter. Khaw’s prose breaks open unsettling visions of twistedness, of things wrong and inimical to human life and sanity. (Really, it left me quite perturbed and in need of a comforting hug and a warm drink.)