Alison Glazebrook and Madeleine M. Henry, eds., GREEK PROSTITUTES IN THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN 800BCE – 200CE



Alison Glazebrook and Madeleine M. Henry, eds., Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean 800BCE – 200CE. University  of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI, 2011.

This is a really, really interesting book. It’s a collection of papers, all discussing in some fashion ideas around prostitution in the ancient world, the evidence for it, and the history of how scholarship has treated the topic of prostitution in antiquity. Scholarship, the editors argue (as do many but not all of the contributors), has long fallaciously considered that the ancient Greeks believed the hetaira (literally, “female companion”) and the porne (best translation probably “whore”) to be distinct classes where it comes to selling one’s sexual labour. Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean contains several papers which engage critically with this view, as well as several which engage with the evidence for prostitution in the archaeological record, and with the image of women and of prostitutes.

The papers in this volume provide, in fact, a fascinating range of opinions on, and approaches to, (Greek) prostitution in the ancient world: the volume is engaged in an ongoing argument — a fruitful and productive one, and a lively one too — about the study of prostitution in the ancient Mediterranean. Not including the introduction and conclusion, the volume is composed of ten papers.

It opens with Madeleine M. Henry’s “The Traffic in Women: From Homer to Hipponax, from War to Commerce,” a paper which feels a little old-fashioned to me in its use of feminist theory (“the first contract is the sexual-social contract of male sex right,” after Catherine MacKinnon) to analyse the depictions of women in early epic and early lyric poetry. Prostitution, Henry appears to argue, is a logical development with the rise of the polis and the city-state economy from a world which sees women as the property of men, as gifts or valuable objects rather than people in their own right. (I take issue with Henry’s theoretical underpinnings, but her discussion of this worldview is illuminating.)

Alison Glazebrook’s “Porneion: Prostitution in Athenian Civic Space” is the second paper in this volume and attempts from archaeological (less from literary) evidence to locate places of prostitution within the city of Athens. Glazebrook concludes that places of prostitution may not be purpose-built buildings, and that the sale of sex may be carried out alongside other forms of market-oriented labour.

I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by Sean Corner in “Bringing the Outside In: the Andrōn as Brothel and the Symposium’s Civic Sexuality,” wherein the role of the andrōn as an outward-facing part of the oikos is discussed, and where Corner concludes that the andrōn functioned as part of egalitarian civic life, by bringing symposiatic homosociality within the home, and the symposium “integrated a man into the reciprocity of an egalitarian non-kin community of liberal pleasures” (79), but it is an interesting read.

Clare Kelly Blazeby discusses the portrayal of drinking women in on vases in “Woman + Wine = Prostitute in Classical Athens?” This paper examines the evidence in detail, although I think more analysis of the curse tablet evidence would have been great, and discusses the class-related aspects of women and alcohol in ancient Athens. (Is the portrayal of a woman drinking a portrayal of a woman who’s, to use an old-fashioned phrase, no better than she should be? Opinions divide.)

Helene A. Coccagna in “Embodying Sympotic Pleasure: A Visual Pun on the Body of an Aulētris” discusses a vase in which a female flautist is shown being vaginally penetrated by the mouth of an amphora. It’s a fascinating examination of the idea of mouths and wombs in ancient Greece, and how this comes to play into sex, wine, appetite, and penetration.

Nancy S. Rabinowitz’s “Sex for Sale? Interpreting Erotica in the Havana Collection” doesn’t really stand out in my memory, apart from her discussion of the value of painted vases (many found not in Greece, but in Etruria) for direct evidence of the society in which they were made. But T. Davina McClain and Nicholas K. Rauh’s paper, “The Brothels at Delos: The Evidence for Prostitution in the Maritime World,” is a fascinating example of looking at the archaeological evidence and carefully using it to suggest the presence of brothels (or places where sexual labour was sold in an organised way) in an area near the port at Delos. It is also an interesting example looking at space as it might have been lived in.

Judith P. Hallett in “Ballio’s Brothel, Phoenicium’s Letter, and the Literary Education of Greco- Roman Prostitutes: The Evidence of Plautus’s Pseudolus,” discusses the evidence for, and the portrayal of, the education of prostitutes as provided by a Plautus play. I think one cannot necessarily draw wider conclusions from Hallett’s discussion here, but the questions she raises are interesting in and of themselves.

Nicholas K. Rauh’s solo contribution, “Prostitutes, Pimps, and Political Conspiracies during the Late Roman Republic,” discusses conspiracy theory as it applies to the portrayal of higher-class prostitutes and their involvement in Roman Republican politics. It is an interesting paper, but a little slight, I think.

Konstantinos K. Kapparis’s “The Terminology of Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World,” the final paper in this volume, is not slight in the least. It’s a fascinating examination of the words and terminology used to talk about prostitution from the early periods up to the Byzantine lexicographers. It’s very revealing of attitudes towards male and female prostitution.

As a whole, this is a fascinating collection. It may not be entirely welcoming to the lay reader, but the interested amateur will find a great deal here to chew on.




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DISHONORED 2: First Mission Reactions (A Long Day in Dunwall)


This is not a review. Well, not exactly.

I’ve had Dishonored 2 for a couple of months — more like four, actually — but I only recently cracked the box and loaded it up. I enjoyed Dishonored‘s worldbuilding, design, and (for the most part) storyline, and I’ve had a weakness for stealth-murder (or stealth-sneaky) games for a very long time.

My main issues with Dishonored were the lack of options with regard to the protagonist’s gender, and its lack of a realistic diversity (everyone was white) given that it took place in a port city.

Dishonored 2?

So far, Dishonored 2 is everything I loved about Dishonored with so very many fewer of the issues I had with it. I am DELIGHTED that one of the protagonist options is Emily Kaldwin, Empress of Dunwall — who apparently spends her limited time away from empress-ing learning the skills of stealth assassin-ing from Corvo Attano, her father and chief bodyguard. (Everybody needs a hobby.) Emily, alas, is not a very fortunate empress: fifteen years to the day after her mother’s assassination, a coup (backed by magic) unseats her from her throne. (At this point, you can choose to play as either Corvo or Emily — Corvo is BORING. Of course I went with Emily.)

With her father transformed into a statue and her friend the guard captain cut down in front of her, you-as-Emily must escape the palace, make your way across the city, and set out on a quest to identify and bring down your enemies. First, though, you need to make your way to the harbour, where there’s a ship whose captain might prove to be an ally…

This first mission is called “A Long Day in Dunwall,” and yes. It is. Especially if you’re trying to get the complete stealth and no-killing achievements. But it’s visually stunning, and Emily comes across, in those occasional moments when she has something to say, as a much more complex and snarkier character than Corvo ever seemed in the course of Dishonored. Creeping up behind soldiers from the shadows, I felt much more intensely invested in Emily’s inner world and her (understandable) desire for revenge. Traitors! I should just stab them.


But then you reach the harbour, where the ship Dreadful Wale [sic] awaits you. Its captain is one Meagan Foster, and I was… really pretty happy to see that the first ally you encounter is a black female ship captain with one arm. She seems like a badass. 

As far as I’m concerned, Dishonored 2 is already doing better on several fronts than its predecessor. It’s prettier! Its characters are more interesting, and have more character! And it’s much better at not being all about the men.

I’m looking forward to starting mission #2…

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Sleeping With Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, a collection of my reviews and nonfiction, is published by the good people at Aqueduct Press in July. It is currently available to order in paperback from, although electronic versions will be forthcoming. I’ll update with other vendors as I have them.

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I now offer editorial services: you can find them here, or by clicking on the link in the header that says “Editing Services.”

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

“Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.” – Small Gods.

A great light has gone out of the world of literature. My most sincere condolences to his friends and family.


Some final thoughts on LonCon3

It is still very weird to me, that I have finally met so many people in person whom I have known or encountered on the internet… and having the conversations in person feel like a completely natural extension of our previous conversations. A mental/intellectual/emotional comfort level translated really smoothly into a physical comfort level: I was hugging people left, right, and centre, because it felt perfectly appropriate. (If it wasn’t, I apologise.)

To be fair, by Sunday my general level of excitement/apprehension/overstimulation/lack-of-sleep turned into a sort of semi-drunken giddiness, without need for any alcohol. So my grasp of the appropriate may have suffered accordingly.

I should mention that I was able to attend the convention because of the generous support of the Dublin 2019 Worldcon bid towards my flights, as an Irish person up for a science fiction award and thus Promoting Science Fiction And Ireland. Think kindly of them: they did me a damned decent favour.

There have been a couple of posts floating around about the “generation gap” between LonCon3 and Nine Worlds, and drawing various different conclusions over which was “better.” For me, I was only at Nine Worlds for one day, and for that day very sleep-deprived, but my observations suggest that there were just more people at LonCon3 overall. I mean, sure, a majority were probably in the 40-60 age bracket, because that’s a demographic group with high odds of disposable income, independent mobility, and spare time, with a long tail off to the octogenarians and a more scattered spread of people from 0 years to 40 years – but that’s pretty much par for the course when you’re talking about doing anything. I saw an awful lot of family groups and quite a few college-aged people, and it was far more diverse than I’d been expecting – my previous experience being with attending a couple of Irish conventions, at which I mostly had far less fun that I have had at academic conferences, Worldcon in Glasgow 2005 (which I almost abandoned in tears because of existential alienation) and World Fantasy in Calgary in 2008 (which I attended as an experiment in trying to figure out how the professional writing/editing world worked when it was talking to itself, and which did drive me to tears of alienated loneliness).

Which is not to say it was a magnificent triumph of social justice and diversity. Just that clearly a lot of people did a shitload of work to reach out, and failed while trying to do better, rather than failing by not trying. This is my impression, anyway.

(And mad props to Programming, for the sheer amount of work that went into having a programme with so many different things going on. The Programme Guide terrified me with All The Things it contained, but also was pretty exciting.)

There’s one difference between the two London conventions that stands out to me, though. What startled me about Nine Worlds was the impression of affluence I got from the majority of people I saw, panellists aside – rightly or wrongly: maybe people were just wearing their Sunday best, I don’t know. But at LonCon3, I felt more comfortable because a lot of the people I encountered were either there to work or because it was their One Big Chance to meet everyone they knew and/or admired from their work.

(And a few Rich Old Entitled White Americans, but shit, you get those playing tourist all over Dublin all the time anyway.)

I’m a working-class sod with middle-class pretensions. The smell of Money makes me uneasy. And LonCon3 had less ritzy surroundings (seriously, the Radisson is always going to stink of the rentier classes, leaching the lifeblood of the working people) and it seemed more people who were there to Do A Thing, rather than Be Entertained.

(This distinction probably explains why I’ve always been more comfortable at academic conferences, where everyone is usually there to Do A Thing.)

Anyway. I don’t have an argument. I had fun. Have a cat picture.

Vladimir says hello.

Vladimir says hello.

Libraries and cats.

I have been working in one lately.

This is the view of the outside of l’ÉFA’s (the French School at Athens) library building:

The French have nice premises.

The French have nice premises.

This is a partial view of the inside of Salle A:

Salle A

Salle A

This is a lovely flowering plant that I wish I could identify:

Anyone know what the pink thing is?

Anyone know what the pink thing is?

And these are two of the three cats I saw in the garden at lunchtime:

White cat.

White cat.

White cat enjoys sunlight.

White cat enjoys sunlight.

Sneaky marmalade.

Sneaky marmalade.

Hiding under bushes.

Hiding under bushes.

Two at once.

Two at once.

This, again?

So Paul Kemp wrote a thing. “Why I Write Masculine Stories.”

Both Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig responded. Probably other people did too, and I haven’t seen them, because I am writing a thesis and oh god oh god my life is a BLACK HOLE AND EVERYTHING IS DISAPPEARING –


So Kemp has written some books, and he wrote a thing about why they are masculine stories. (And how he’s not anti-woman and why no one should jump down his throat.) But there’s a problem here.* And because I’m cranky, I’m going to add my two cents pointing it out.

Kemp is basically framing the positive attributes of honour culture – among them defence of people less capable of defence than oneself, honesty, loyalty, self-discipline and true friendship – as essentially gendered, and ignoring the problems that creates. Framing it thusly removes women a priori from the category of those expected to participate in (capable of) honourable acts.

That’s prime retrograde bullshit right there, under the guise of “traditional masculinity.”

His comment in reply to Simon Spanton brings this problem a little more clearly into view, where he asserts that what would be cowardly in a man is seen as normal for a woman. Whatever his intentions, that right there reinforces a worldview in which femaleness is lesser than maleness.

I’m tired of treading this ground. I can’t quite express all my inchoate frustrations with it without resorting to expletives, so I’m just going to say:


*Quite aside from some apparent confusion over the Roman term virtus, but I’ll leave that to the Latinists.

A brief summation of some books read over the last weeks

I am a very irregular blogger. Well, I never promised otherwise.

Amalie Howard, The Almost Girl. Strange Chemistry, 2014. ARC.

Reviewed at I fear I may have been rather unkind to the poor thing.

David Weber, Like A Mighty Army. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Very much following the tone of previous Safehold books: more wargaming than character development.

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Sequel to A Natural History of Dragons. I like it. Lots.

David Drake, The Sea Without A Shore. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Next in Drake’s entertaining RCN space opera series. And, in the way of that series, very enjoyable.

David Weber and Timothy Zahn, A Call to Duty. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Set in the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, the setting might be David Weber, but the style, energy, verve, and attention to character is all Zahn. I like Zahn’s work: I tend to like it best when he’s playing with other people’s toys, and whatever one may say about Weber’s latest works, he has an impressive toybox when it comes to Manticore and its navy – and its navy’s history. I liked it a lot, and I’m delighted to hear that it’s only the first in a contracted trilogy.

Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy. Ebook, gift.

Excellent historical romance involving science. I like science.

Faith Hunter, Death’s Rival. Roc, 2012.

Fun violent urban fantasy.

Sharon Shinn, The Shape of Desire and Still Life With Shapeshifter. Ace, 2013.

Not exactly interesting romance with minimal point to the fantastic content.

Libby McGugan, Eidolon. Solaris, 2013.

Reviewed for Vector (forthcoming). Oy, how boring and irritating was this book.

Michelle Sagara, Touch. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of DAW.

An excellent sequel to the excellent Silence. I should be reviewing it for shortly.

Mary Renault, The King Must Die

As promised. (Although I’ve had to change up the order of things.)

Mary Renault’s The King Must Die is the first novel by Mary Renault I’ve ever read. A re-imagining of the youth of Theseus, it’s a work of stunning power and mythic scope. Renault’s imagining of gods and of sacrifice is vital, present, humane, and full of the power of divine immanence. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Renault has influenced many other writers in her time: I was put very much in mind of the tone and some of the thematic resonances – at least with reaction to divinity at work in mortal lives – of Jacqueline Carey’s first Kushiel trilogy as I read. Renault’s language and sense of rhythm is beautiful; her craft is masterful.

Her historical chronology and her ability to write female characters is not so great.

For all that The King Must Die is billed as a historical novel, it is necessary to read it as a fantasy. For once you pause to consider the impossibility of the Cretan elements existing contemporary to the mainland elements, the entire thing falls apart. The mainland – Troezen, the Corinthia, the Isthmus, Attica – has what seems to be the material culture of early Geometric/”Dark Age”/Homeric Greece, but with extra added literacy.

(While Linear B writes the Greek language, it falls out of use with the crisis and destructions at the end of the Bronze Age, and there is a gap of some three hundred years and more before Greek is written again, this time in alphabetic script. “Dark Age” Greece was illiterate. The first examples of writing in the Greek alphabet are from the cup known as the Cup of Nestor from Pithekoussai, Ischia, Italy, and the Dipylon inscription, from the area of the Kerameikos in Athens. Both of these examples date from no earlier than 750 BCE, which makes them Late Geometric in period. At this time, Euboea and Corinth were the economic powerhouses of Greece, with Athens beginning to rise in pre-eminence, and there is evidence for extensive trade with Italy, Phoenicia, and Asia Minor. Although not, contra Renault, with “Hyperborea.” Renault appears to labour under the apprehension that the stone henges were raised contemporary with the Greek “Dark Age.” Rather than being at least 1000 years older…)

I base the assumption of “roughly Geometric” as the intended time period in part from the depicted culture, both material culture and the depiction of the warbands, and in part from Renault’s depiction of Theseus as beginning the synoikismos of Athens and Attica. While Athens is one of the few sites to have evidence for continued settlement across the divide of the collapse/crisis/depopulation/migrations at the end of the Bronze Age into the Geometric period, it did not during the early and middle Geometric periods rival Euboea for economic activity, and it does not appear – to me, at least – that a movement for Attic synoikismos can really be said to take place much before the 8th century itself.

It might be possible to see the culture of the Greek mainland as plausibly Submycenaean, were it not for the fact that, as we know from the Linear B translations, the Mycenaeans spoke Greek (the work of Chadwick, Kober, and Ventris had already proven this by 1956) and Renault’s characters speak of a “Hellene” invasion as having occurred within far fewer generations than it would seem necessary to fit these into an archaeologically-possible chronology. Unless the “Hellene” invasion can be seen as coterminous with the Dorian migrations, but while Classical sources talk about the “Dorian” invasion, it’s been impossible to pin down satisfactorily. However, this wouldn’t square well with the narrative reality implied by Renault’s non-Hellene “indigenous” people, the “Shore People,” which she casts as matriarchal and practically autochthonous, and which she connects strongly to the rituals of the Eleusinian mysteries and to the worship of Demeter…

It’s confusing.

All that aside, the society of the mainland may work as plausibly Homeric, with some handwaving. But it doesn’t work at all as something that could have existed contemporary with “palace”* society on Crete, even in the Late Minoan IIIA-IIIC period, when we have evidence for Mycenaean presence at Knossos and the use of the palace site as a centre for Mycenaean-style administration in the form of Linear B tablets. Bull-leaping (the “Bull Dance,” as Renault terms it) is a significant part of The King Must Die‘s Cretan narrative, but known bull-leaping depictions don’t date from later than LM IIIB. Ca. 1200-1100 BCE, all the remaining major centres of Crete suffered destruction events, the population went into decline, and during the Subminoan period, sites are in the main characterised by their small size and defensibility.

After the Bronze Age destructions, Knossos once again grew into a significant centre in the Cretan Iron Age, but by then most of the cities of Crete laid claim to Dorian Greekness. And the Knossos palace complex was long since destroyed. So chronologically that doesn’t work too well either, unless Theseus is a time-traveller.

Historicity aside, I’m not really hot on the fact that most of the named women are either manipulative and out for power or passive and happy to be led by a man… but that seems to be Renault’s modus operandi. And in characterising “civilised” men as effete and “mincing”… Yeah.

In conclusion: a brilliantly-written Aegean ahistorical fantasy, with a bunch of problematic shit. On the whole, I’m rather glad I read it.

*Several archaeologists prefer the term “court-centred complex” to palace, since it makes fewer assumptions about the function and nature of the structures. But “palace” is the more widespread term.

Further reading on bull-leaping (.pdf):


Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism, and Systemic Failure. Part II.

Part I.

I thought I was pretty clued up on feminism.

…I belong to a writers’ group which recently perused the opening 10,000 words of a novella I’ve written called ‘Invent-10n’. It’s a near-future story that features a rather feisty twenty-year-old singer with a penchant for jive talk called Jenni-Fur. I thought I’d rendered her as a tough, take-no-prisoners sort of rebel but it seemed that some of her dialogue offended the two female members of the group.

Using the argot of 2030s Britain, Jenni-Fur described herself as ‘a lush thrush with a tight tush’, which was thought to be both unrealistic and borderline ‘pornographic’.

Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.

[H]ere we are again: sexual harassment, SFWA, marginalizing of women writers, the VIDA count…women in genre is the issue of the day. And what is happening at Jo Fletcher Books and with Rod Rees is, in my opinion, nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the outrage and frustration that so many women in this field are feeling.

Tricia Sullivan, June 28, 2013.

The month of June 2013 saw sexism (and bigotry in several forms) bubble to the surface of the SFF genre conversation. Not fictional sexism, but the real-life kind: the Resnick/Malzburg dialogues (liberal fascism! censorship!) were followed by repugnant white supremacist and ex-SFWA presidential candidate Vox Day’s vile rhetorical attack on award-winning author N.K. Jemisin. And then we were faced with the news that Elise Matthesen had made the first formal report against Tor editor James Frenkel, long rumoured to be a man with whom one should avoid getting into an elevator.

I am fed up by the level of sexism and racism in our community and am increasingly of the opinion that remaining silent on the matter provides aid and comfort to those who don’t deserve it.

Hugo-Award-winning author Charles Stross

Though the column argues that Rees is a good writer of female characters, nothing in it bolsters that claim.

– Sherwood Smith (Inda, Coronets and Steel) and writing partner Rachel Manija Brown (All the Fishes Come Home to Roost).

Rees’ article comes at a time when the attitudes of men (and of women) in the SFF community towards women, and particularly the attitudes of male writers and editors, have been highlighted, and not to their advantage.

Nor to ours. Regressive attitudes and willful ignorance make communities unwelcoming and unsafe. And it is not to anyone’s advantage to let harassment, belittlement, and lack of empathy proliferate unchallenged.

And Rees is one of the willfully ignorant, unable or unwilling to make the leap of empathy to seeing women as whole human beings, courageous and persevering in all kinds of adversity, capable of life and hope and change in even the most restricted of circumstances. Rees, you see, sees certain periods of history and certain places as antithetical to women: by which I can only conclude he means in direct and unequivocal opposition to the existence of female-bodied persons.

For example when you put female characters in settings (especially historical ones) which are antithetical to women it becomes difficult to shape a character which is sympathetic to that setting without violating… feminist norms.
Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.

Rees goes on to imply that women are unsuited to writing “visceral” fiction for adults.

It seems to be a fixture at the SF conventions I’ve attended to have a panel discussion debating why there are so few women writing in the adult SF and fantasy genres. Could it be that the success of female writers in YA fantasy fiction is in part attributable to their young female characters being better able to adhere to this [the “feminist”] template of the ideal female? Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype [of an active woman with agency] doesn’t work and hence struggle.

So. Women should stick to writing for children, because it’s less challenging, is that the implication? Less visceral? Rees has obviously never read Elizabeth Wein or Scott Westerfeld.

Karen Healey (The Shattering, When We Wake) finds YA fiction, “as visceral as it gets – racism, suicide, sexuality, love, death, grief and joy are not topics marked ADULTS ONLY,” and pointed out the works of Alaya Dawn Johnson and Sheri L. Smith as treating with particularly visceral events and themes.

According to Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon, Unspoken), people are far more likely to hold female characters to impossible standards – “and that’s a product of sexism. Generalising or denigrating YA, a genre which has a lot of female writers and a lot of female protagonists, tends to be a product of sexism as well.”

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown say they find so many things wrong with Rees’ piece that they don’t have time to call out every single one – but the thing that leaps out at them most, they say, is his claim that women are too smart to be “foolishly” brave. “The actual implication is that an entire segment of human experience and motivation is solely male. In short, he is saying that only men are heroic.”

Charles Stross disagrees with everything Rod Rees says about writing across gender. “Rod Rees’ world view, as he expresses it, appears to be so heavily informed by black and white stereotypes that there is no room in it for shades of grey. All men are ‘this’, all women are ‘that’. All behavior is dictated by assigned gender roles, and gender roles are deterministically nailed to the physical sex of the protagonist. (He also seems unable to distinguish between biological sex and performative gender.)” He adds, “For a lot of men the social conditioning to treat women as different is so strong that they can’t recognize the essential points of similarity that exist: they’re effectively unable to look beyond the gender gap.”

Men with this problem, Stross says, don’t relate to women as people, but rather as either aliens or objects. “Theory of mind, the ability to project consciousness and intentionality on them and model them as ordinary people doesn’t seem to pertain… [and] men who don’t see women as people feel free to chastise women who behave in a manner incompatible with their preconceptions.”

The takeaway from all this is that Rees is, at best, clueless; at worst, deliberately trolling.

But what about Jo Fletcher Books?

Epic List of Epicness Part II: The EPICENING

As I said, Jared and Justin talked me into this. This half of the list reflects more closely my personal preferences, rather than what I see as influences/important works in the field. In rough order of preference. Very rough. Ask me a different day, and I will have a different order.

Also, I am ignoring Rule #2. Because I can. Because I want to bring up many individual works!




1. Elizabeth Bear, Range of Ghosts. (Tor, 2012)

This is best described as “the epic fantasy I had been waiting to read all my life, unknowing.” I love it. It is amazing.

2. Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls. (Harper Voyager, 2003.)

This is one of the books that changed the way I look at the world, and had a profound, fundamental affect on me. Sometimes, I think it helped save my life.

3. Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. (Harper Voyager, 2001.)

I don’t love The Curse of Chalion quite as much as I love Paladin of Souls. But it is still one of those books that touched me deeply, in ways difficult to express.

4. Martha Wells, The Wheel of the Infinite. (Eos, 2000.)

I don’t know if I can express how much I love Wells’ The Element of Fire – and after Element, Wheel is the book of Wells’ that I love best.

5. Kari Sperring, The Grass-King’s Concubine. (DAW, 2012.)

Is it epic fantasy? I don’t know. I don’t care, either. It is the best thing to come out of DAW in 2012.

6. Elizabeth Bear, All The Windwracked Stars. (Tor, 2009.)

Peri-apocalyptic fantasy! Epic in scope, amazing, brilliant, I love it.

7. Amanda Downum, The Bone Palace. (Orbit, 2010.)

It is epically amazeballs, even if it doesn’t fit a subgenre definition of epic fantasy. Its sequel, The Kingdoms of Dust (Orbit, 2011), does fit such a definition – and is also amazing.

8. Beth Bernobich, Passion Play. (Tor, 2010.)

Neither its title nor its cover do this excellent novel justice. It and its sequel, Queen’s Hunt (Tor, 2012), are very strong character-centred epic fantasy.

9. Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel’s Dart. (Tor, 2001.)

The first book in a revolutionary epic fantasy trilogy. I’m serious when I call it revolutionary: Carey’s work is distressingly underrated by critics, but its ability to mix sexual desire and grand, sweeping narratives – to combine the personal and the political both so closely and so coherently – is an achievement in itself.

10. Tanya Huff, The Silvered. (DAW, 2012.)

Epic! With shapechangers and pregnant women and war and things going boom and a prophecy and everything: and not only that, it stands alone. (I also love Huff’s Quarters books – Dear DAW Books, please reissue them in an omnibus or two. I want to give them to my friends.)

11. Kate Elliott, Crossroads trilogy. (Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, Traitor’s Gate, Tor US/Orbit UK, 2006-2009.)

Elliott can always be relied upon to do something interesting in her work. In the Crossroads trilogy, she’s interrogating the assumptions of epic fantasy – and has people who ride griffins. Good stuff.

12. Michele Sagara, Chronicles of Elantra. (Luna, 2005-?)

A long series, at this point. It is an urban fantasy set in an epic fantasy world, and Magical Doom regularly appears in the narrative. Dragons! Elves! Fun stuff! One of the many interesting ways by which epic fantasy can be interrogated.

13. Celine Kiernan, The Poison Throne. (Orbit US/O’Brien, 2010.)

IRELAND REPRESENT! Ahem. With that display of gross nationalistic fervour out of the way, let me say that this book, the first (and best) in a trilogy aimed more into the YA demographic? Is really very essential reading.

14. Sarah Monette, The Doctrine of Labyrinths. (Mélusine, The Virtue, The Mirador, Corambis; Tor, 2005-2009.)

A strange, baroque, not infrequently grotesque entry into the lists of epic fantasy. I have some strong affections for it, despite problematic elements.

15. Sherwood Smith, The Banner of the Damned. (DAW, 2012)

Epic fantasy with a scribe and a scholar as its protagonist. An asexual protagonist. It stands alone well enough, too.

16. Claymore.

I mean the anime series, but I’ve got about five volumes into the manga, too. Shocked it’s not a book? Don’t be: it’s still EPIC.

17. Dragon Age: Origins.

Bioware’s giant RPG has its problems. But it is definitely epic fantasy, and I think despite its problems, it’s still worth looking at – particularly for how it takes epic fantasy elements long familiar to us from literature and adapts them to a new medium.

18. Violette Malan, The Sleeping God. (DAW, 2008.)

Mercenaries. Kicking arse, taking names, killing people in the face and saving the world.

19. Rae Carson, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. (Greenwillow, 2011.)

Aimed at the YA demographic, this is again the first book of a trilogy (better than its sequel, I think). Lovely coming-of-age epicness.

20. Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, A Companion to Wolves. (Tor, 2007.)

The frozen north. Trolls. Men bonded to intelligent wolves. Trolls.

21. Jacqueline Carey, The Sundering. (Banewreaker, Godslayer; Tor, 2004-2005.)

Epic fantasy. As told from the villains’ point of view – but more complicated than that.

22. Steven Erikson, Deadhouse Gates. (Tor, 2005.)

I’m picking only one novel from Erikson’s opus magnus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen – because, well, I fell off the wagon at book five, and have yet to go back. But Deadhouse Gates would be a stellar entry in any epic series: it certainly is here.

23. Simon R. Green, Deathstalker series.

Epic fantasy in a science fictional horror universe.

24. Ursula Le Guin, Voices. (Harcourt, 2006.)

24. Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia. (Harcourt, 2008.)

Yes, you get two entries for #24. I couldn’t choose between them. I love them both.

25. The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.

Every adaptation is a fresh recension. LOTR on film brought epic fantasy to a massive audience, and paved the way for epic fantasy to come to the screens again.

A fond mention for Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I don’t think is epic but which is cool nonetheless.

The Odeion of Herodes Atticus

Built by Herodes Atticus, Greek, Roman senator, confidante of the Emperor Hadrian, to the memory of his wife Regilla (whose brother accused Herodes of her murder). Mid 2nd-century CE. Incorporated into the Byzantine and later Ottoman fortification walls of the acropolis.

Entrance to the lower tiers!

The Odeion was quite tall.

And not just tall…

They’re setting up for Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” opera.

The Cats of Athens

Because the internet is for cat pictures.

Cat of the Hill of the Muses

Cat of the top of the Classical Agora

Cat of the Tourist Information Office, Dionysiou Areopagitou

Cat, very pregnant, of beside the Panathenaic Way

Cat of the Athenian Acropolis, shortly before she bellied herself under the leftmost marble block.

Bonus! Unsociable Tortoise of the Pnyx

Epic List of Epicness

Jared (of Pornokitsch fame) and Justin (Staffer‘s) between them conned me into this. I don’t know why I didn’t say no – perhaps because, despite all the things piling up on my plate, I remain a sucker for punishment.

The challenge: construct a list of 50 essential works of epic fantasy. I confess to having played a little fast and loose with the definitions, but I like my list. I had fun with it.

Today, you lot get to see the first 25.


Jared’s list is over here.

Tansy Rayner Roberts was persuaded into joining us here.

Justin’s wrongheaded opinions may be found here.


The list that follows should be considered as – partly – descriptive of what I view as major influences on the field of epic fantasy. And partly me having fun.


1. Homer, The Odyssey.


Opinions are divided over whether one can call the epic narratives of antiquity epic fantasy, as such: but Homer stands at the beginning of the entire history of European literature, and the fantasy genre has itself made multiple uses of the adventures of quick-tongued Odysseus.


2. Plato, The Republic.


Plato’s ideal city is utopianist and dystopian at the same time. A fantasy of perfect governance, it is also a fantasy of perfect, stratified oppression. Philosophy may not be fantasy, exactly, but Plato too stands at the head of a whole number of intellectual traditions…


3. Ovid, Metamorphoses.


More even than the Aeneid, the influence of the Metamorphoses – changeable gods, shape-shifted mortals – is a rich vein that’s been mined throughout the history of European letters.


4. Lucian of Samosata, The True History.


A fantastical, satirical epic journey, encompassing the Moon and the Isles of the Blessed. War, peace, shenanigans, humour.


5. The Táin.


IRELAND REPRESENT! The Cattle-Raid of Cúailnge’s Cow. A story of jealousy, sex and revenge from Iron Age Ireland. This too, falls under the heading of “debatably fantastic” – but it’s part of my canon, and I’m keeping it.


6. The Mabinogion.




7.  Marie de France, Lais.


Medieval Europe isn’t a period I’m much enamoured of, but today’s epic fantasy is still recognisably in part a descendent of the courtly romances of the middle ages. Marie de France here stands for an entire genre – as one of the first to write courtly lays in English, and one of the first to involve Arthurian elements.


8. Snorri Sturlason, The Poetic Eddas.


No one can ignore the influence of Norse myth. As the Avengers have so rightly proven.


9. Geoffrey of Monmouth, A History of the Kings of Britain.


History? Well, maybe. There’s some Arthuriana here…


10. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess Newcastle, The Blazing World.


Is it fantasy? Is it science fiction? A utopian vision of a different world, ruled by a queen advised by spirits of the air…


And now we skip forward a few more centuries…


11. Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword. (1954)


Not nearly as foundational as The Lord of the Rings, and more in the sword-and-sorcery vein, still it can be said many works of epic fantasy are in dialogue with Anderson’s.


12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. (1954-1955)


A foundational text of modern epic fantasy, and the one with which most subsequent texts are in dialogue.


13. Frank Herbert, Dune. (1965)


Sometimes science fiction and epic fantasy come in the same package. I’m just saying: Dune has as much in common with epic as it does with SF, perhaps more.


14. Barbara Hambly, The Darwath Chronicles. (1982-1983)


Portal fantasy, where the protagonists from our world cannot return home. The world of the Darwath Chronicles faces a cataclysmic threat: monstrosity and climate change combine to threaten all life. Brilliant, horrific, astonishing: read the later sequels as well.


15. P.C. Hodgell, Godstalker Chronicles. (1982-?)


It never ceases to delight me that we now actually have some hope of seeing Hodgell’s series finished and published in its entirety. Really imaginative epic fantasy that incorporates sword & sorcery elements, it is made of pure, delightful win – at least for me.


16. Tamora Pierce, Tortall. (1983-?)


Pierce was writing epic fantasy YA since long before YA was the New Hot Thing.


17. John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting. (1983)


Debatably epic, but astonishingly fantastic.


18. Elizabeth Moon, The Deed of Paksenarrion. (1988-1989)


A trilogy about a shepherd’s daughter turned mercenary turned god-chosen paladin.


19. Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time. (1990-2013)


The first of a series of writers to reshape the landscape of epic fantasy, beginning in the 1990s.


20. Janny Wurts, The Wars of Light and Shadow. (1993-?)


I’m a book behind on this series, which – it must be said – seems to have lost a little steam over the last couple of instalments. But its initial arcs are a powerful, imaginative entry in the epic lists.


21. Terry Goodkind, The Sword of Truth. (1994-2007.)


Goodkind followed in Jordan’s footsteps, and although now I can’t see what I ever saw worth reading in his first six books, at the time I first encountered them they contained elements that delighted me – like women who did fighty things. His financial success probably didn’t hurt in terms of paving the way for the next slow-growing blockbuster, GRRM.


22. Melanie Rawn, Exiles. (1994-1997)


An incomplete trilogy that is still one of the best pieces of fantasy I’ve ever read. Also, let Rawn’s place here on the list stand in for the place she also deserves for the fantasy-soap-opera of The Dragon Prince and its sequels.


23. George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. (1996-?)


These days, Martin’s part of the bedrock establishment of epic, but when A Game of Thrones first hit the shelves, its particular brand of medieval grittiness was doing something rather subversive with narrative expectations. In those days, killing off characters was still a shocking thing to do… and I got tired of it after the second book. But its influence can’t be denied.


24. Michelle West, The Sun Sword. (1997-2004)


I haven’t finished this series, but I admire what West’s been doing with it, and with its prequel-continuation, The House War.


25. Joe Abercrombie, The First Law. (2006-2012)


I read the first book. I didn’t really like it. But Abercrombie’s success – and, consequently, his influence on the features of epic fantasy – can’t be denied: I’ve been recommended The Heroes and Red Country, and will probably be reading them.


Tune in on Monday for the next exciting installment of EPIC LIST: PART II: THE EPICENING. review: The Gist. Written by Michael Marshall Smith, Translated by Benoît Domis, Re-Translated by Nicholas Royle

And you all can read it here.

The Gist, a novelette by Michael Marshall Smith, is the latest offering from Subterranean Press’s limited but honourable catalogue. To say it is by Marshall Smith—or at least, by Marshall Smith alone—is, however, something of a misnomer. Between The Gist’s covers are three novelettes and one novelette: Marshall Smith’s original, translated once into the French by Benoît Domis, translated again (without access to the original text) back into the English by Nicholas Royle. Two further recensions of the first text: three recensions of a single work.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Exiled Blade: a confession of unprofessional shirking

I was supposed to review this book. I wanted to review this book. (I really enjoyed the previous volume in the series.) JCG’s Orbit US publicist, a very personable person, sent me a review copy of The Exiled Blade

And, well.

There are some books that come along at the worst possible time for you to read them. Some books, regardless of their talent and ability – sometimes because of the directions in which talent and ability is bent – you can’t read then. Or sometimes ever.

I lasted eight chapters. I didn’t stop because Jon Courtenay Grimwood is a bad writer. I stopped because This should have been when we were happy [p50]; because JCG is in fact very good, and the level of pain and grief and despair he managed to evoke, the cold sense of lowering doom, heartbreak, incipient dread, made my teeth hurt. I stopped because this is a Hamlet, isn’t it? Nobody comes out intact, everyone comes out broken…

…And right now I need sweet little hopeful happy-ending lies in my life. I need stories that focus on joy as well as pain. Because I need to escape from hurting for a while, me, not face the world’s cruelty condensed and intensified in JCG’s viscerally-rendered courtly shadows, his dark and glittering Renaissance Venice.

One day I’ll be able to read this book without bile backing up in my throat. One day I’ll want a dash of bleak horror in my literary cocktail again. But not this month. Maybe not this year.

Until then, cheers. I’ll drink something sweet and sticky, and leave dry bitters to other folks.