Books read, April 2015

I bounced off a lot of books this past month. Nearly as many as I read. But every time I think to myself, “maybe you’re being too harsh; maybe you should have given them more of a chance before you stopped,” I think of The Summer Prince and Three Parts Dead, and how I didn’t have to give those books a chance. They hooked me from the start, and didn’t let go. I need an exceedingly good reason to spend my time on books that don’t do that, when I know there are books out there that are so much better.

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, Richard Parks. A collection of Parks’ “Lord Yamada” stories, about a demon hunter in Heian-era Japan. Because these are often structured as mysteries (the real challenge is for Yamada to figure out what’s going on with the supernatural problem, rather than finding a way to make it stop), they can be a bit repetitive; I recommend reading this in leisurely doses, rather than trying to mainline the whole thing in go. I especially liked the stories that diverged more from the formula — there’s one where Yamada doesn’t even really solve the problem, except insofar as he lectures the person who should be solving it until they come up with a clever solution. The weakest for me was probably the last tale; it read to me as setup for the novel I also have on my shelf, rather than a substantive conflict-and-resolution in its own right. But I picked these up because I wanted to read about yokai and ghosts in Heian Japan, and was pleased with what I got.

Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I retain enough trivia about seventeenth-century European history that the instant a certain nickname got used, I went “oh JESUS is that what’s going on,” long before the actual explanation arrived. Which was not a bug: I liked tumbling to it early, rather than feeling as if that spoiled the story. I’m not sure I’m going to continue with the series, though; I didn’t really warm to any of the characters, and am still in a mood where having the two most prominent female characters be a) not very prominent and b) a former hooker and a little girl described, with no irony I can discern, as having been born evil, did not sit very well with me. On the other hand, if you want more Dumas and have run out of Dumas to read, this may well scratch that itch for you.

Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman. Short story collection, read for review purposes. I’ll link to that when it goes live, and for now only say that I think it’s about on par with his previous collections: not every story worked for me, but enough did that I enjoyed reading it overall.

The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers. Another Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. Ye gods the bell-ringing detail in this . . . but it avoids being as tediously dreary as Five Red Herrings, so that’s good. I figured out how the guy had died a bit before the characters did, and felt like they were a little slow in not thinking of it sooner — and nrgggggh, how awful — so while this one was enjoyable, it’s certainly not at the top of my Sayers list.

Lifelode, Jo Walton. Lovely domestic fantasy set in a world where moving between east and west changes not just how magical the world is, but how rapidly time passes. The main character can see through time, kind of, which is (I presume) why the book is told entirely in present tense, with little to no signaling when it’s about to slip from one point in the timeline to another; once you get the hang of that, though, the effect is lovely. And I adore the way religion operates here — Hanethe’s experience with Agdisdis and so forth.

In the House of the Seven Librarians, Ellen Klages. Not sure if this is a novelette or a novella or what, but I read it in a stand-alone printing, so it goes on the list. Seven exceedingly peculiar librarians keep running a library after it’s shut down, and then find themselves raising a little girl when someone drops her through the return slot along with a book of fairy tales several decades overdue and a note apologizing for the lateness and offering up a firstborn child in repayment.

The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson. This, as I mentioned above, is the book that made me decide that I’m right to drop things that don’t hook me fast enough. It’s probably the best YA book I’ve read recently — but it’s hard to describe why, because part of what makes it good is its complexity. The setting is four hundred years post-apocalypse, and the characters live in the stratified Brazilian city of Palmeres Tres; you could call it a dystopia, but that implies the society is straight-up bad, which undersells the reality. Johnson got her Golden Bough on with the worldbuilding: the city is ruled by a queen, who is chosen by a summer king elected by the people. But the summer king reigns at her side for only one year, at the end of which the queen sacrifices him in a public ceremony. In the story, the current summer king is a guy named Enki who hails from the lowest stratum of society, and the narrator, June, becomes obsessed with him, in ways that are only partly romantic. She’s an artist who likes to play with the idea of transgression; through her interactions with Enki, her work becomes more genuinely revolutionary. So the story is about art and politics, and life and death, and the tensions between age and youth and technological progress or the lack thereof. The whole way through, there is the inescapable awareness that Enki will be dead before long, and what his death will or will not mean. It’s full of beautiful detail, and I devoured it in record time.

ITLoD, Marie Brennan. Revisions. My own books don’t count.

Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone. This is one of those books that defies description. The tech level of the setting doesn’t pigeonhole neatly into any real historical period, and when it comes to describing the plot, I wind up kind of flailing my hands and saying something about necromantic lawyers trying to sort out claims on the essence of a recently deceased god. Except that if I describe it that way, it sounds like the type of thing I would put down very fast, and the opposite was true. Partly this is because the book is not infrequently funny: there are a lot of aspects that would make me call the book grimdark, if it weren’t for the fact that the narration keeps being hilarious. Plus the main characters are mostly good people, underneath their various character flaws — and the ones driving the largest percentage of the plot are women, too, so bonus points for that. Add in a wild assortment of interesting worldbuilding touches (yeah, it’s a theme with me), and I am looking forward to picking up the next one. In fact, if the series continues this good, I think I know what one of my Hugo novel nominations will be next year . . . .

Avatar: The Rift, vol. 3, Gene Luen Yang. Third and final volume of the trio I started in March. The conflict here is one that shows up again in The Legend of Korra, and I’m glad I read this, because I haven’t yet finished watching the show, and I’ll be curious to see how the two interlock.

Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal. Last of her Glamourist Histories. I devoured it in a single afternoon and evening, which will be more significant when I explain to you that this one is a brick — roughly twice the length of most of the other installments. Vincent and Jane go to Antigua to sort out issues with his father’s estate, and things get REALLY COMPLICATED when they arrive. But the story does not quite go in the expected directions, and is frequently more interesting for doing so. Also, the payoff of the repeated “I am not a china cup” line is possibly the best moment in the entire series. :-D

And on that note, I remind you that Mary and I will be touring together starting this week. I hope to see some of you there!

Clockwork Phoenix 5!

Clockwork Phoenix, the anthology series edited by Mike Allen, is back for a fifth round. Kickstarter page is here.

I have a particularly fond relationship with this series, because I’m one of two authors (Tanith Lee being the other) who has had a story in every volume so far. Previous installments have included “A Mask of Flesh,” “Once a Goddess,” “The Gospel of Nachash,” and “What Still Abides.” Mike is the guy who will buy a fake book of the Bible from me, complete with King James-era prose; he bought a piece written entirely in Anglish. Clockwork Phoenix is where I can cut loose stylistically, or explore weird philosophical concepts in story form. I know what I want to write for this volume — in fact, I’ve started writing it already — but of course the anthology needs to happen before I can sell anything to it.

So go forth and Kickstart! The CP books have been great so far, with a wide range of really weird and beautiful stories, and I’d love to see the series continue.

Edmund Schubert, IGMS, and the Hugos

Edmund R. Schubert, editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show, has withdrawn himself for consideration in the category of Best Editor, Short Form.

My understanding is that it’s too late at this point to actually withdraw; his name will be on the printed ballots. But he no longer wishes to be in the running, and therefore would prefer people not vote for him.

Why am I posting about this? Because he’s put together a free sampler of material from IGMS — basically the stuff he might have put into the Hugo Voters’ Packet had he stayed in. And there’s a story of mine in there: “A Heretic by Degrees,” the first Driftwood story I ever published.

Schubert approached me ahead of time and asked whether I would be willing to let him reprint that story in the sampler, given the controversy around the Hugos. I told him I was fine with that, and in turn, I asked and received his blessing to talk about my relationship with IGMS.

As many (but possibly not all) of you know, the full name of IGMS is Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. And Card, as many (but possibly not all) of you know, has become increasingly vocal over the years about his homophobia. This is, to put it mildly, not a position I support — which makes my relationship with the magazine complicated.

When I sold “Heretic” to IGMS, Card’s homophobia and other offensive behaviors were not fully on my radar, and I had not yet begun to think through such matters to the extent that I do today. I was just looking for a place to sell the story, that would pay me a decent rate. Later on, that changed: I knew full well what he was like when I sold them “Love, Cayce,” which is the other story of mine they’ve run. By then, my decision hinged on two things:

1) Card’s name is on the magazine, but he isn’t the editor. He hasn’t been the editor since 2006, and while he has occasionally selected a story for the magazine, this is rare. The vast majority of what you read in IGMS is there because of Schubert, who is not taking his marching orders from Card.

2) It pleased me to take money from a magazine bearing Card’s name for a story that has a lesbian relationship in it. (It’s a small detail, not the focus of the story — which is part of why Schubert didn’t pick “Love, Cayce” for the sampler. But it’s there, and it’s treated as both positive and unremarkable.)

And this brings us back to the sampler. Schubert told me his reason for putting it together was, he wanted to showcase what IGMS stands for, under his leadership. Because he is not Orson Scott Card, and he is not running a magazine that stands for homophobia, racism, misogyny, or any other kind of bigotry. I’m not claiming IGMS is a flawless paragon of diversity and progressive ideals; to be honest, I don’t read it regularly. (These days I don’t read any magazines regularly, not even BCS: most of my fiction consumption has been novels.) But it is not a microphone for Card’s views. Nor is it the kind of straight white male conservative bastion the Puppies seem to love so much. Schubert was not asked if he wanted to be on the Puppy slate; he does not applaud their tactics. And he does not agree with their bigotry.

Jim Hines posted recently against the polarization of the field, the sense that you have to “take sides” (and of course in that view there are only two sides, with no crossover or nuance or conflicting agendas). In the end, I think of my stories in IGMS, and my professional interactions with Schubert, as being a rejection of the notion of “sides.” As I told Schubert in email, I have no idea what his politics are, and I don’t care. Or perhaps it would be better to say: what matters to me about his politics is how they influence his professional behavior. I have seen no sign that he’s using his editorial position to promote bigotry; on the contrary, he deliberately crafted the sampler to be 50/50 men/women, and a quick glance shows me at least four non-white writers on the TOC. Nor has he been so publicly hateful that I can’t avoid knowing about it, a la Card. Could I judge him for keeping company with Card, for being willing to run a magazine that bears the name of a man who is so interested in hurting gay people? Sure. And I’m sure there are people out there who judge him in precisely that way. I can’t really fault them for that. But if I’d let that stop me back in 2011, IGMS wouldn’t have run a story about a bunch of second-generation D&D-style adventurers, one of whom happens to be a lesbian, getting into all kinds of trouble.

I don’t want to help build the echo chamber. I’d rather tear the walls down.

So that is where I stand. I haven’t sold IGMS anything since 2011, though I did send them one piece in 2012. Whether or not I send them anything else will depend on how much short fiction I manage to write, whether I think any of it fits with the magazine, and whether think I can sell it somewhere else that will pay me more — no offense to Mr. Schubert. :-) They aren’t my top market, but they aren’t off the list, either. And I’m happy to see “A Heretic by Degrees” included in the sampler, because I’m happy to be an example of what Schubert wants IGMS to stand for.

If you show up for my tour, you get to see . . . .

. . . something shiny and new. I won’t show it to you yet, but here’s a hint:

paint supplies

Full tour schedule is here. If you live in or near Chicago, San Diego, Petaluma, Portland, Salt Lake City, Scottsdale, Houston, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Asheville, or San Francisco, I hope to see you there!

Intent is not magic, but it *does* matter

I don’t know why, but recently I’ve been seeing posts around the internet about intent and its role in harassment/discrimination/etc which, to my eye, are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I am 100% on board with the “intent is not magic” message. If you hit me in the face, then my face hurts, regardless of whether you did maliciously or by accident because you turned around to throw something and didn’t realize I was right behind you. Your good intentions don’t erase the pain and give me a magically unbroken nose. And if your intentions were good, then the proper reaction to finding out that you hurt someone else should be to feel horrified and apologize for what happened. If you get defensive? If you bluster on about how you didn’t mean to like that changes what happened? Then you’re doing it wrong.

(This example is actually not theoretical for me. During the karate seminar in Okinawa, I accidentally rammed somebody in the cheekbone with the end of my bo while trying to slide it out of the way for people to sit down on a bench. I felt terrible, to the point where even now, nine months later, I want to apologize to her again. And I wish I spoke more than ten words of German, so a language barrier wouldn’t have gotten in the way of my attempt to make amends.)

But what I am not on board with is an actual sentence I read the other week, which is: intent doesn’t matter.

It does.

Intent doesn’t erase the damage, no. But it goddamned well ought to inform what happens next. If you hit me in the face by accident and were mortified the instant it happened, then I don’t need to lecture you on how hitting people in the face is bad: you already know that, and just need to be a little more careful. If you hit me in the face because you weren’t aware that face-hitting hurts, then somebody needs to explain that basic point to you, and you need to take a good hard look at your habits to figure out what things you’re doing are likely to result in face-hitting. If you hit me in the face because your society says, yeah, face-hitting hurts but it’s totally okay so long as it’s done to the right targets, then you need to rethink not just your habits but your morals, and the change needs to be not just to you, but to the cultural environment that taught you to behave that way. And if you hit me in the face because you hate my guts and want to see me hurt . . . then I need to get the hell away from you, because the odds that any positive change can be effected there are nil.

In all of these cases, my face still hurts, and you should still apologize. And maybe I’ve been hit in the face enough that for my own well-being, I need to get the hell away from you without pausing to find out whether that was just an accident. But to say that intent flat-out does not matter — to say that there’s no point in figuring out the causes behind actions — that, to me, is taking the point waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far. (And both “intent doesn’t matter” and “I don’t see why we should figure out motives” are actual arguments I’ve seen in the last week or two. I’ve debated whether I should include links, but I decided I’d rather keep the focus on the concepts, rather than the people promoting them — especially since one of those posts was not recent, and for all I know the writer has changed their views.)

The minute we give up on intent, we treat every injustice done to us as a nail, to be hit with the exact same hammer. And that’s not going to get you very far with screws or rubber bands.

We should not put intent above the effects of a hurtful action. We should not act like it’s a magic shield against responsibility for your actions, and the person who was hurt should stop whining already. But we shouldn’t throw it out entirely, either, and it disturbs me to see people saying we should.

EDITED TO ADD: From Mrissa in the comments, an excellent link that says this better than I did, including the concept that “intent is data.” And data is useful.

Protagonists and Villains

This post is going to talk about the new Daredevil TV series. It isn’t really spoilery, but if you want to avoid all hint of what the characters do in later eps, be warned that I do hint.

So my husband and I finished watching Daredevil last night. I liked it well enough; there were some elements I really appreciated, and it turns out I have some hard-coded subconscious switch that responds really well to black masks tied at the back of the head, because they remind me of the Man in Black from The Princess Bride. :-P (I actually didn’t want to see him get his proper costume, because I liked the simple black mask so much.) If you want to chat about the show in general in the comments, feel free.

What I’m here to talk about is Karen Page and Wilson Fisk.

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Continue reading

David Gemmell Legend Award

It’s come to my attention that A Natural History of Dragons is on the longlist for the David Gemmell Legend Award. Now, that is a very long longlist; there are forty-three other books on it. But still! Yay!

The Legend Award is bestowed by popular vote, so you can head on over there and register your opinion right now, if you so choose. Voting remains open until May 15th, and then once the shortlist is generated, there will be a second round. While you are there, you can also vote for the Morningstar Award (fantasy debut) and the Ravenheart Award (fantasy cover art — no, Todd Lockwood was not nominated, alas).

Sonya Taaffe now has a Patreon

Sonya Taaffe (sovay on LiveJournal) has just set up a Patreon to back her film reviews.

If you don’t understand why I’m signal-boosting this, you probably haven’t been reading her reviews. She writes beautifully about film, primarily with an eye toward the performances of the actors: she has a knack I envy, of describing characterization and behavior in a concise, vivid fashion, and showing how characterization is revealed in behavior. She also has wide-ranging tastes; while a good deal of her blogging is about classic or forgotten films from decades ago, she isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a snob. Here is her review of Thor, and here is The Avengers. Both, as you might expect, pay particular attention to Loki:

Marvel can do whatever it likes with gods I don’t have a personal stake in, but I expected to be bleeding from the ears from the reconfigured family relationships alone. Instead I wanted much, much more of him. I love how he has a habit of appearing in mirrors, how you can almost never tell what is calculation and what he really feels; how, black-haired, blue-eyed, feverishly pale, he’s a callback to the icy dark of Jötunheim, but the dusk-blue that burns up through his skin at its touch, hel-blár, is the one mask he never knew he was wearing. He has a thin-skinned, transparent look about him, a raw edge under glass. It makes him an effective deceiver: he looks as though you should be able to read him with one level stare, which will only show you what you want to see. And it makes him vulnerable: the incredible, child’s desolation in his face as he lets go of everything that has been his life and falls into Ginnungagap like a collapsing star. Like a good trickster, he is never a single, quantifiable thing. All of his scenes are exactly as they should be.

Or here she is about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the ten minutes of really great movie buried in the middle of an extremely mediocre one.

I love her film-blogging enough that I sent her a complimentary DVD of Seven Souls in Skull Castle, just because I want to know what she might have to say about it. (And by the way, if you want to see that movie for yourself, you can now buy your very own copy.)

So if you want to see more of that, consider supporting her Patreon. More lovely film-blogging for everybody!

I’m declaring today #AppreciateAnAuthor Day

There’s been a lot of nasty stuff in the last week, what with the controversy over the Hugo Awards and all. I think we all need to cleanse our palates with some good, old-fashioned fannishness.

Pick an author whose work you love. Or more than one! (Living authors preferable: you can hold a seance to raise the ghost of a deceased author, if you prefer, but that’s a lot of effort.)

Send them a message telling them how much you like their work.

It’s that easy. Send them a tweet, if they’re on Twitter. Or email, if you want to say more than fits into 140 characters. Or post something to their Facebook page. Or make a blog post, and send them the link to the post. Hire a plane to do some skywriting over their house — wait, no, that one’s a bit stalkery. (Don’t call them, unless you’re already good friends. Again: stalkery.) Tell them about a character you love, or a plot twist that blew your mind, or a book that you imprinted on, or a short story that lifted your mood on a day when you really needed it.

Be a fan. Let them know.

You may just make their day.

looking for a deck-type-thing

Every so often I get stuck on a story, in a way that involves my brain going around and around in the same rut without exploring different possibilities. Sometimes when this happens, I turn to external tools to help me brainstorm new options — most often cards of one kind or another. Which kind depends on the story in question: I have at my disposal tarot (two different decks), Brian Froud’s Faerie Oracle, Edward Gorey’s Fantod Pack, that Once Upon a Time storytelling game, another thing of that type for B-movie horror tropes that I’ve never actually used because I don’t generally write that kind of story . . . .

But it works best if the cards I’m using have at least some aesthetic/conceptual connection to the kind of story I’m working on. Which brings me to my question:

Does anybody know of something like that which is East Asian in flavor?

Doesn’t have to be some kind of traditional thing (I have a hanafuda deck, but it ain’t much use for story ideas, unless I really need to brainstorm flowers). Could be a game — though please, something where I can buy the entire deck in one go; I do not want to wander down the primrose path of a collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh! or whatever. Doesn’t even technically have to be cards, though I like cards, so that’s what I’d most like to get.

Any suggestions?