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Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: “There are Such Monsters in a Palace”

Before I get into the meat of this week’s column (four novellas!), I want to extend my thanks for the thoughtful and constructive comments on last week’s column. Well done for those, dear readers! You (some of you) restore my faith in human nature.

This week, I thought I’d have a fine and uncontroversial blog post about a wee selection of novellas: Foz Meadows’ “Coral Bones,” from the anthology Monstrous Little Voices (out of Abaddon Books); Beth Bernobich’s The Ghost Dragon’s Daughter (self-published); Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing, forthcoming); and Heather Rose Jones’s The Mazarinette and the Musketeer (self-published). Believe me when I say I didn’t set out to read four novellas in a row in which queer and female relationships, both romantic and not, prove the main factor shared between them: it happened entirely by accident. I’m not exactly unhappy with this turn of events. It’s just always a bit startling when it happens.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A Magical Arms Race: Revisionary by Jim C. Hines: a review

Jim C. Hines has made a career out of writing immensely fun fantasy adventures; novels which possess both a measure of thematic depth and a sense of humour. Revisionary is his latest, the fourth and final novel in the well-received Magic ex Libris series. It might be an end—but it’s a pretty solidly satisfying one.

Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer, a magician whose power comes from books and belief. For years he’s been a member of the secretive organisation known as the Porters, who existed to exert control over magic and books, and to preserve the safety of ordinary people. But as a result of the upheavals of Unbound, the Porters’ immortal leader, Gutenberg (yes, that Gutenberg) died, and Isaac found himself in the unenviable position of having to reveal the existence of magic to the world.

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Sleeps With Monsters: There’s A Counter In My Head

There’s a counter in my head. Imagine a tiny recording demon, making marks in its ledger, constantly alert.

There’s a counter in my head, and I can’t turn it off.

It counts women present in a narrative. It counts people who aren’t men. It counts queer representation. It counts—although somewhat less strictly, due to the blinkers of its upbringing—the presence of people who aren’t white, or who aren’t able-bodied. It counts up roles. It compares and contrasts roles. It counts incidences where things follow a trend, and where they diverge. It recognises patterns. Dead women. Sexual objects. Motivating objects. Objectified. Tragic queerness. Queerness-as-a-phase. Women sidelined. Elided. Present but only significant for how they relate to a white able-bodied cisgender man.

[It counts whose story gets to be told, and by whom.]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Hollywood’s Problem With Really Low Bars

The spoilers are strong with this one.

So. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s pretty Star-Wars-y, isn’t it? Nice change from the prequels: it’s got that lived-in space opera feel about it again, the feeling that there’s a life beyond what we’re shown on the screen. And Rey! Rey with that lightsaber, man, that’s a moment.

But for all my tiny feminist glee about Star Wars finally showing me a Force-sensitive hero who is also a woman on the big screen (a competent woman! who isn’t made into a sexual object! who isn’t the only visible woman in the whole course of the film!) it brought home to me, yet again, just how low Hollywood’s bar really is when it comes to giant franchises and women’s roles. We really are so used to making do with scraps that we end up delighted to get tossed even half a bone.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

The Politics of Justice: Identity and Empire in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Trilogy

“…I don’t think you know many Radchaai, not personally. Not well. You look at it from the outside, and you see conformity and brainwashing… But they are people, and they do have different opinions about things.” [Leckie, Ancillary Justice: 103]

Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch books—the trilogy which comprises Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy—have a significant amount of thematic depth. On the surface, this trilogy offers fairly straightforward space opera adventure: but underneath are a set of nested, interlocking conversations about justice and empire, identity and complicity. How one sees oneself versus how one is seen by others: when is a person a tool and when is a tool a person? The trilogy is one long argument on negotiating personhood and the appropriate uses of power; on civilisation and the other; and on who gets to draw which lines, and how.

It’s also, as I may have observed before, about what you do with what’s done to you.

This post assumes you have read the trilogy in question. Therefore there will be spoilers, and prior knowledge is taken for granted. With that said, let’s talk about Breq.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Catching the Stragglers from 2015

How many months will it take to get used to writing “2016” instead of “2015”? The annual complaint, adjusted for the year: as a child, I always wondered how the characters of the various Star Treks could keep their Stardates straight.

But before we ramble on into the meat of 2016 proper, there’re a few books from 2015 that I’ve only just caught up on, and that I really think you should check out.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: In Defence of Fanfiction, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Trust Myself

It’s been a while since I got personal in one of these columns. So I thought while everyone in the northern hemisphere is sleeping off the midwinter revels, it might be a good time to slip some deep and philosophical navel-gazing in under the wire. Exciting, right? (It’s okay. You can still go back to sleep if you like.)

Many people have written a lot of things concerning fanfiction. Most of them have a wider appreciation of the history—and the breadth—of the form than I do. Fanfiction and fairytale exist on the same continuum, I remember reading somewhere: it’s all part of the human impulse to take the stories we hear and make them our own. And that makes a lot of sense.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Books To Look Forward To In The First Half Of 2016

2016. Hell, 2016. How is it coming up 2016 already? I’d only just got used to it being 2015. Now I’m going to have to get used to a whole new year.

But in compensation for none of us being as young as we used to be, there are new and interesting-sounding books coming out in the next six months. So many, in fact, that I can’t keep track of them. I’m sure I’m missing plenty, but here are a few I’m looking forward to in advance.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Profound Indifference: Meeting Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

I read short fiction seldom, which makes me an odd choice to review an anthology of it. Let me get that caveat out there before everything else: although I know what I like, my ignorance of the form is vast.

Meeting Infinity is the fourth in a series of science fiction anthologies out of Solaris, curated by award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan. It comprises sixteen pieces of short fiction by James S.A. Corey, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Simon Ings, Kameron Hurley, Nancy Kress, Gwyneth Jones, Yoon Ha Lee, Bruce Sterling, Gregory Benford, Madeline Ashby, Sean Williams, Aliette de Bodard, Ramez Naam, John Barnes, An Owomoyela, and Ian McDonald, as well as an introduction by the editor.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Tempus Fugit

How is it the middle of December already? I could swear that the last time I looked around, it was only October. This whole business of time travel only taking us to the future is terribly infuriating: how am I ever supposed to catch up on my reading?

(It might not really be time travel, but damn does it feel like time sped up when I wasn’t looking.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Cliffhangers and Character Arcs: Adapting Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon’s Gate is the third novel in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series. The powers-that-be here at Tor.com asked me to revisit it in advance of the premiere of the television series based on the books. To talk about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the adaptable…

In my case, though, it’s less revisit than visit for the very first time. I’ve only just read Abaddon’s Gate, and I haven’t yet made it to books four and five. What long threads does Abaddon’s Gate lay down that will be taken up later on? I don’t know. But I do have opinions on what should come out of this section of the narrative arc in a television adaptation—as well as rather less optimistic opinions on what we will, in the end, eventually see.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Space Opera and Explosions

I’ve been reading several books that I’d like to be able to tell you about in detail. Unfortunately, a feverish chest infection is really really good at wiping the details from my mind, so I can only talk about these excellent books in the broadest strokes. Still, if you need a pick-me-up? Here’s some reading I’d very much like to recommend to you.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: S.L. Huang Answers Nine Questions

Today we’re joined by S.L. Huang, author of the Cas Russell books—superhero stories in where the main character is less of a hero than the protagonist of batshit pulp noir. Huang’s novels are independently published, and I for one find them an awful lot of fun. Explosions, mysteries, mathematics, and compelling characters: it’s a good mix.

She’s agreed to answer a few questions for us, so without further ado—

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Don’t We All Want To Read Faster?

My reading has slowed down this autumn. (Well, it’s winter now, and it still hasn’t sped back up.) I’m told this is understandable when one comes to the end of a large and demanding project, but it’s peculiarly frustrating. There are several shelves of books I want to read and talk about! Like Genevieve Cogman’s The Masked City and Becky Chambers’ The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, and Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood, and Julia Knight’s Swords and Scoundrels, and Charlie Jane Anders’ All The Birds In The Sky. To say nothing of books published in years previous to this one…

But such is, as they say, life. This week I hope you’ll let me tell you about three interesting novels that I have managed to read recently.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters