WITHIN THE SANCTUARY OF WINGS by Marie Brennan

A new review over at Tor.com:

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final novel in Marie Brennan’s acclaimed Memoirs of Lady Trent series, following last year’s Labyrinth of Drakes. And if you thought Labyrinth of Drakes was good, Within the Sanctuary of Wings is a pure treat: I think I can say that at least as far as I’m concerned, Brennan definitely saved the best till last.

BOOOOOOOOKS!

My photography is terrible, and Visi-cat is unimpressed.

My photography is terrible, and Visi-cat is unimpressed.

If you can make it out despite my awful camera skills, that’s Liu Cixin’s THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, R.S. Belcher’s THE SHOTGUN ARCANA, Beth Bernobich’s THE TIME ROADS, V.E. Schwab’s A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, and Marie Brennan’s VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK, about which I am very excited.

Hugo Award Nominations 2014. Part IV.

I’m attending the 2014 Worldcon, and that means I get to nominate for the Hugo Awards. And, because I’m the kind of shy retiring flower who hesitates to share her opinions, I’m going to tell you all about my nominations!

But I’ll do it in more than one blogpost, because the Hugo Awards have a lot of categories. And one may nominate up to five items in each category.

First post here. Second post here.

Now, let’s talk about the final category: Best Novel.

The sheer size of the field means it’s impossible for any single person to read every novel published in it, much less every novel and a good proportion of the short work, and the related work, and grasp at least some of the art – rather like Jonathan McCalmont and Martin Lewis and Ian Sales, I’m pretty convinced the Hugo Award has too many categories. (But we run with the award we have, not the one we wish we had.)

So when it comes to the novels I read that were published in 2013, let’s not pretend it isn’t a more limited field than the field as a whole. And while I’m going to be picking the best of that, let’s not pretend that technically-best isn’t going to be playing up against favourite-things-best.

So, caveats aside, what novels did I find best of 2013?

Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE tops the list. A debut novel, it is polished, powerful, doing interesting things with space opera, and kicked me in all the narrative squids.

Elizabeth Bear’s SHATTERED PILLARS comes second. It is an incredibly well-written book, and I really think its predecessor, Range of Ghosts, should have made more award lists last year.

Marie Brennan’s A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS is also on the list. I really like the world, the voice, and the narrative conceit of it, even if the pacing can be up-and-down.

Nicola Griffith’s HILD. I don’t care if it is fantasy, magical realism, or “merely” straight historical fiction. It is ON THIS LIST, because it belongs here.

I am torn over fifth place on the list. Nalo Hopkinson’s SISTER MINE? Roz Kaveney’s REFLECTIONS? Something else I haven’t got to read yet? Feel free to convince me in comments.

Marie Brennan’s THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS

Reviewed over at Tor.com.

A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent opened a new series by Marie Brennan. In it, Isabella, a gentlewoman from the nation of Scirling—which bears a passing resemblance to Victorian England—begins the tale of how she became the foremost dragon naturalist of her age. The voice is a retrospective one, that of a mature woman reflecting on the experiences of her youth, and it is this choice of perspective that lends Natural History a great deal of its appeal.

The Tropic of Serpents shares Natural History’s voice, and—to my mind, at least—exceeds its appeal.

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 Tor.com. I fear I may have been rather unkind to the poor thing.

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

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. 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 Tor.com. 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 Tor.com shortly.

Linky has only two links

Marie Brennan continues the “gritty” vs. “grim” discussion in three conversations at once:

So my take on these multiple conversations would be to toss the “realism = superior” thing out the window, to decouple realism/grittiness/etc from grimdarkness (as per my last post), and then to have a more focused discussion about the specific portrayal of negative issues, and where the line is between depicting those things to critique them and depicting them out of habit, or for the shock value. Which is a situation where you’re mostly going to benefit from analyzing specific texts, before you try to make statements about trends — and that, I will admit, is where I probably have to step out, because I don’t have the data to argue my point. I haven’t read Martin since A Feast for Crows was released, got only halfway through Abercrombie’s first book, and so on with the rest of the key names in this debate. I know I don’t agree with every criticism I’ve seen of Martin (nor every defense), but I also know I should re-familiarize myself with the text before I try to debate it.

I doubt we’ll be able to get the debate to focus on that third question, because this is the internet. The conversation is going on in two dozen places, not all of which are aware of one another, and it’s sliding in new directions with each post. But I do think it helps to bear in mind that the question exists, and isn’t coterminous with the other things we’re talking about.

Once again, I encourage reading the comments, especially those by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen.

Feminist Ire on Leo Varadkar’s World: Where Men Are Men and Women Are Grateful:

The implication of Varadkar’s comments are clearly that women in those situations where it may be a short-term cost to work should give up their jobs in order to avail of the personal insolvency arrangements. There is no other way of interpreting it.

And make no mistake about it he means women and women only should give up their jobs. Women for the most part earn less than men and it is they who should sacrifice their careers in order to save the family home. If they don’t do this, they can’t partake in the system and if the bank succeeds in having the home repossessed, well it’s Mammy’s fault because that selfish bitch wouldn’t give up her job. Dear Women, Leo Varadkar wants you to pull your socks up and get on with the hoovering because you have no business in trying to make your way in the workplace. That’s man stuff.

…What this demonstrates is how women and women-focused issues are deemed completely irrelevant to the discourse around indebtedness, employment, and even motherhood in Ireland. Who cares if the childcare cost is arguably temporary and leaving her job contains a risk that may result in not getting another job a few years down the road? Who cares that nobody wants to acknowledge that childrearing is a form of labour? Who cares that women are expected to be responsible for childrearing, housework and labour outside of the home? Who cares that it costs up to €2,000 a month to put two children in a crèche? Certainly not the good and the great…

…For women it’s a lose-lose situation. This is part of a strategy designed to make women work within the home for free to enable men to work outside it for payment.”

I’ve quote a lot, because it’s important. Read the whole thing.

Linky should be doing real work

Luc Reid interviews Ken Liu in Strange Horizons:

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

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

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

Oyceter on the first two seasons of Game of Thrones:

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

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

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

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

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

Also read the comments, particularly this one:

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

Consider the Tea Cosy on Another Irish Abortion:

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

Sleeps With Monsters: Marie Brennan Answers Six Questions

Over at Tor.com, I interview Marie Brennan, author of A Natural History of Dragons:

Marie Brennan: I honestly think anthropology is one of the most useful fields a fantasy writer can study, more so even than history. It introduces you to other ways of living, other ways of thinking, and really cracks apart the idea that things which are familiar to you are somehow the natural product of existence, rather than social constructs that, from an outside perspective, may seem very odd indeed. This can be anything from the big ideas (some cultures are horrified by burial of the dead; others are horrified by cremation) to the small details of daily life (which meal of the day is the big one?) to things that are completely random and recent (pink used to be a boy’s color!). Putting those kinds of things on your radar can make your settings far richer and more interesting, whether you’re writing about the past, the present day in a country foreign to you, an invented land based on some part of the real world, or some place as unlike reality as you can manage.

Linky has been away playing Mass Effect

Because it was the closest thing I could get to a holiday from this constant cold cold wind and rain. Had we not the ability to import food, we’d be looking towards famine conditions, I suspect. Drowned fields and intermittent frost at this time of year doesn’t bode well for either the grain or the potato harvests.

Sobering thought, that for much of history the vast majority of people were only ever one bad harvest from suffering, and two from catastrophe.

Charlie Stross on The Permanent Revolution:

But it’s important to understand that virtually the entire mainstream of political and social discourse today is radical and revolutionary by historical standards. (Hell, the concept of sociology itself is a construct of the revolutionary philosophers.) This is not an historically normative set of touchstone ideas to run a society on. We’re swimming in the tidal wave set running by an underwater earthquake two centuries ago — and like fish that live their entire lives in water, we are unable to see our circumstances as the anomaly that they are, or to know whether it’s all for the best.

Marie Brennan on Batman had it easy:

It never even occurred to me that Bruce Wayne should have been in danger of sexual abuse. (Spoilers now for The Dark Knight Rises.) As McDougall points out, he’s physically helpless, in a prison full of violent criminals who have no path to sexual release except their hands and one another. We know how that kind of thing turns out in reality; we make jokes about it, because the subject is so uncomfortable. Yet put Bruce Wayne in prison, in a scene that is supposed to represent him reaching absolute rock bottom, and nobody touches him for any reason other than to help him.

Can you imagine how audiences would have reacted if Bruce had to fight off a rapist? Even if the rape weren’t completed. A lot of people were put off just by Silva unbuttoning Bond’s shirt and putting a hand on his thigh, by a few lines of suggestive dialogue. They would have blown a gasket permanently to see Batman treated like, oh, name just about any superheroine you care to. Batman, like Bond, is a Man’s Man, the ultimate in unimpeachable masculinity. You can’t damage that by having somebody try to rape him, whether they succeed or not.

This Week in My Classes: Am I Making Excuses for Gaudy Night?

But are these aspects — my feelings, and what I’ll call my ‘expertise’ — really so unrelated? Don’t I love the novel because of how I interpret it, and don’t I interpret it as I do because of the time and thought I’ve put into reading and rereading it? Or is it that I read and reread it because I love it, and thus I interpret it as I do because of how I feel about it? What does it mean to “love” a novel anyway? And since this particular novel focuses on precisely the challenge of integrating head and heart, can’t I just stop worrying about which came first, the love or the understanding, and be happy that here I find the perfect fusion of the two?

Mentioned in the comments to my SWM column on Dishonored: the Border House Blog on The Treatment of Women in Dishonored:

I think that’s what frustrates me about the depiction of women in Dishonored. The women in Dunwall are oppressed as they are in most ‘violent’ games set in fictional or non-fictional historical places. I just wish that at least once, either the women are given the chance to fight back and improve their situation, or I am given the option as a player to help them and show that I care. I feel like in Dishonored I am made blatantly aware of their inequalities and how unhappy the women of Dunwall are but also I am hobbled and unable to do anything about it, rendering it a cheap trope used to color the setting and add flavor to the plot.

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 needs to catch up with logging her reading (and write faster)

Marie Brennan on How to write a long fantasy series:

It took three years and two months rather than the two years I initially planned, but I have, at very long last, finished the Wheel of Time re-read and analysis. And as I promised quite some time ago, we’ll end with what I’ve learned.

This post, unlike the others, is not WoT-specific. I’ll be referencing the series, because it’s the primary source of my thoughts on this topic, but the point here is to talk about the specific challenges of writing a long epic fantasy series — here defining “long” as “more than a trilogy, and telling one ongoing story.” (So something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books wouldn’t count, since they’re a conglomeration of multiple trilogies.) My points probably also apply to non-fantasy series, but other genres are much less likely to attempt multi-volume epics on this scale, so I’m mostly speaking to my fellow fantasists.

I do not pretend this is in any way, shape, or form a recipe for commercial success with an epic fantasy series. After all, most of this is a checklist of errors I feel Jordan made, and you could paper the walls of Tor’s offices in fifty-dollar bills with the cash he made for them. Nor am I claiming artistic failure awaits if you fail to heed this advice; you might squeak through on luck, or just really good storytelling instinct. But I do feel that bearing these points in mind can help the would-be writer of an epic series avoid falling off some of the more common and perilous cliffs.

Michelle Sagara with Where Is My Outrage? Here It Is:

The title refers to this post, by author Nora Jemisin. It is worth reading. It is not going to make your night any happier.

But then again, I’m not going to make your night any happier. I don’t know if people will find this post triggery–but it will descend, in all probability, into rant and a genuine, visceral anger. So this might be the time to scroll past.

Leah Bobet on Freedom To Read:

And we need to learn that: so people of all ages can see some of the world and decide who they want to be. So we can not just think critically, but realize that you can disagree with certain things.

I learned that what you want and what you’re talented at aren’t necessarily the same thing, and why that’s okay, long before I washed out of my first professional choir and had to face that I would never be a career musician. I learned that gay people are just people, with loves and ideas and problems, before the first friend ever came out to me. I understood something of how wonderful my city could be years before I started to explore it.

I read those things in books. That was a good thing in my life.

I am glad nobody took those books away.

Joe Abercrombie on The Value of Grit:

Grit is an inclusion. Not grit is an absence. Nothing to prevent gritty books including the ennobling, the clean, the beautiful. Indeed, I’d argue that the extremes of darkness only allow the glimpses of light to twinkle all the more brightly, if that’s the effect you’re after. Clean books deny themselves a chunk of the physical and emotional spectrum.

(As an aside: finding Abercrombie talking about grit as an inclusion makes me think about archaeology’s pottery analysis and what inclusions of different sorts of materials in ceramic fabrics tells you about their origins. Yes, I am that kind of geek. Although not as much as some people I know…)

Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink has some Hugo nominations and is gracious enough to consider me in the Fan Writer category. Really, me, I don’t think work done for money ought to count, but apparently it does – so thanks, man. I think you should be nominating Martin Lewis or Maureen Kincaid Speller instead, but it’s nice to be noticed.