Jan 1 2013 10:00am

Sleeps With Monsters: Recommend Some Things!

Recommend writing/media produced by or focusing on women and/or genderqueer people in the new year!

It’s—is it really January already? Damn.

Well, while we’re all recovering from the shock of finding ourselves in a whole new year, I’m going to seize on the new year thing as an excuse to tell you all about the books I’ve really enjoyed in the last couple of months.

But first, a shout-out for a film.

Anyone in the audience heard of Australian YA writer John Marsden? His Tomorrow, When The War Began series has recently been released by Quercus in the UK, although it’s been around for a while in the States, and longer in Australia. (The conceit: Australia is invaded by an unnamed powerful enemy. A group of teenagers, cut off from their families while camping in the bush, turns guerrilla and fights back.) The eponymous first book in the series was made into a film in 2010, whose DVD I’ve recently watched.

While the books are somewhat terrible—albeit compulsively readable—the film (adapted and directed by Stuart Beattie) is an adaptation that smoothes out the book’s flaws and turns out a startling good motion picture, with a remarkably strong ensemble cast. The teenage protagonists are allowed to have their own strengths and flaws, continuing to act like teenagers who can’t quite internalise the fact their home has turned into a warzone—and it’s that rare thing: a film with lots of action that nonetheless shows friendships between women.

Well, between girls.

Tanya Huff’s The Silvered also deals with war, friendship, and loyalty. It marks Huff’s first return to second-world fantasy since 1999’s Sing the Four Quarters, and although it has epic overtones, it forms a self-contained story. When five mages, the wives of the ruling-class shapeshifters of Aydori, are abducted by forces dispatched by the invading Emperor Leopold, the only people left to go to their aid are Mirian Maylin, a respectable young woman who tested high for magecraft but evidenced no real talent, and the young shapeshifter Tomas Hagen. High magic and desperate adventure ensue, with an honourable enemy, a young woman growing into her own power, and women who aren’t trained to fight being heroic in their own ways.

Sherwood Smith’s Revenant Eve (DAW) and Marie Brennan’s Lies and Prophecy (Book View Café) are books I wish I could like more. But the Ruritanian conceit of Smith’s novel just isn’t for me (although the historical elements were very strong: I hope Smith writes a straight-or-nearly-so historical someday), and the combination of the U.S. college setting and a sense that Brennan was soft-pedaling at times conspired to dim my enthusiasm for Lies and Prophecy’s psychic-gifts-are-real-and-studied Tam Lin-esque bildungsroman. Both of these novels are engaging in their own ways, and I feel I should mention them in the spirit of fairness. As I should mention Brenda Cooper’s The Creative Fire, out of Pyr: a science fiction novel about revolution on a generation ship, first in a duology, it does nothing egregiously wrong save for failing to really click with me.

A book that did really click with me, despite its flaws (when a romance novel marries an adventure plot and is a debut novel from a niche press to boot, a handful of flaws are par for the course) is Barbara Ann Wright’s The Pyramid Waltz, which you may have heard me mention before. What can I say? Finding a lesbian fantasy romance that’s decent at sentence, character, and plot, not just I’m-going-to-cover-my-eyes-and-groan-and-giggle entertaining, is a surprise and a delight.

A final shout-out for Malinda Lo’s YA Adaptation, and Deborah Coates’ Wide Open—which I borrowed from a friend after being assured that no, it really wasn’t another urban fantasy romance, despite the impression of its flap copy. It turns out that it’s really atmospheric modern-day fantasy on the border between rural and urban. I well recommend it.

So, O Readers, what have you been reading lately? What do you recommend? And what are you looking forward to reading in the next few months?

(Please keep the comments and recommendations focused on writing/media produced by or focusing on women and/or genderqueer people, thanks.)

Liz Bourke may be found on Twitter @hawkwing_lb, doing any work but the work she should be doing, and wittering on about books.

1. TansyRR
I tore through Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein which is extraordinary - an ostensibly YA novel (without more than a breath of romance!) it's the story of friendship, heroism, identity and cowardice OF WOMEN serving during WWII. The central relationship is the deep friendship of two girls: a spy and a transport pilot, who end up in France when they shouldn't.

There are some extremely serious and confronting topics addressed, such as cruelty and torture to prisoners, but I thought this was dealt with in an impressively non-gratuitous way. Gorgeous use of unreliable narrators, vivid and entertaining character voices and, OH. Such a good story of young female friendship, where the world (and not a boy) is at stake, and their story is about something so very substantial.

This isn't a science fiction or fantasy book, I realise belatedly, but it's that kind of rigorous & clever historical that I think would appeal to many in the SF/Fantasy readership, and certainly fits with the 'books about women being great' idea.
Michael M Jones
2. MichaelMJones
I'm going to go ahead and recommend my anthology, Scheherazade's Facade, now available in ebook or print edition for your pleasure.

Not only are the majority of the 12 authors in it female (with at least one identifying more as genderqueer), but the stories deal with gender and identity in some surprisingly fascinating ways.
3. kalafudra
Here are some of the series and books that I enjoy, all written by women:

Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling novels (starting with Slave to Sensation) are straight up romance in a SciFi setting, but Singh has great world-building skills and strong characters (a lot of them of color) and when I'm in the mood for straight-up fluff, she's my go-to author.

Kristin Cashore's Graceling (and then Fire, though personally for me not so much Bitterblue) is a great young-adult(-ish) fantasy novel with a generally wonderful heroine.

I recently read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and though it is technically not genre, it is an intelligent persiflage of gothic horror novels with one of the most relatable and realistic teenaged heroines you're bound to find anywhere.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's Zahrah the Windseeker is definitely for a younger audience but if you don't mind that, she takes you on quite a ride in a fantastic setting.

I had the same problem with N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy (starting with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) that you did with Revenant Eve and Lies and Prophecies: there's nothing really wrong with the books, in fact they're creative and well-written, but I just didn't click with them.

As for genderqueer stuff:

I can't recommend it yet, but I've been meaning to read Geoff Ryman's Lust for ages - it sounds very promising.

And there's Clifford Chase's Winkie - a kafkaesque story about a teddy bear come to life who is on trial for terrorism. Winkie is identified as male throughout the story, but then he's also pregnant and becomes a mother, so there are some interesting twists and turns that Chase explores there.

As for movies, you could check out my blog - a couple of years ago I saw a few movies at a queer filmfestival and reviewed them:
Bruce Arthurs
4. bruce-arthurs
Not particularly new, but I recently read Alistair Reynold's Revelation Space. Big-idea Space Opera, whose frequent twists, turns and *ahem* revelations reminded me of A. E. van Vogt in his prime. I've put Reynold's other books on my wishlist.

(van Vogt's reputation is tainted, somewhat like Heinlein's, by his later self-indulgent and out-of-control works. But his prime work, again like Heinlein, is well worth re-reading and remembering. )
Michael Grosberg
5. Michael_GR
I'd like to recommend to very different things. One is a light, funny vampire romance series, The other a twisty, disturbing SF with alien artifacts and superpowered humans.

I'm not a big fan of vampire fiction but I am a sucker for good titles, so as I browsed the list of audiobooks on Audible one day, and ran into a short novel titled "Good Girls Don't Have Fangs" by Molly Harper, I just had to try it. And it didn't dissapoint. Now don't get me wrong, it's not very original in setup - It's basically a Sooky Stackhouse southern vampire fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off - but what it lacks in original worldbuilding it makes up in snark, self awareness and local color.
The tale is told from the viewpoint of Jane, a geeky librarian recently turned vampire. There's obviously a romance plot and the obligatory (but not very important) suspence subplot but most of the fun is in seeing Jane atttempt to cope with her new situation - get a new job you can do at night, fend off interfering relatives, explore her new superpowers, and find the undead products shelf in the local Walmart. There are several sequels of diminishing interest but at least the first three are woth reading.

The second recommendation is an online work - "Fine Structure", by Sam Hughes. It's freely available online. I'd hesitate to call it a novel, it's more a linked series of short stories describing events in the present and their effects on future history. There's Fringe-like superscience, and alien messages, and superpowered humans, but unlike Fringe it was written by someone who "gets" science and can invent believable hypothetical theories - so it's much more believable in that respect. the plot is dark, mindbending, and chock full of crazy ideas, weird artifacts, and disturbing imagery. I'd recommend it to fans of Peter Watts and Ted Chiang. Bear in mind that character developmnet isn't the focus here so don't expect much; This is an idea-driven work.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
Jacqueline Carey just started a new urban fantasy series, Agent of Hel, that has a pretty good opener. Explains the world, leaves enough unexplained that new installments will add more layers, and the identity hiding heroine(she's part demon and has a tail) already has a plethora of potential suitors(and suitorettes, it IS Carey after all) in line, though the first book is easy on the hot and heavy.
Estara Swanberg
7. Estara
The teenage protagonists are allowed to have their own strengths and flaws, continuing to act like teenagers who can’t quite internalise the fact their home has turned into a warzone—and it’s that rare thing: a film with lots of action that nonetheless shows friendships between women. Well, between girls.
If you like this kind of thing, you might really enjoy - Sherwood Smith did and Ana from the Booksmugglers has it on her 2012 bestof list and it's nominated for the Cybils - Andrea K. Höst's self-published And All the Stars (which is very friendship centered with the following blurb:
"Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind. Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem.

At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending." @Goodreads
And with regards to a non-fantasy historical story by Sherwood herself, she released her Heyer-homage Danse de la Folie via the BVC last year, there are even characters that show up in both books. By the way, everyone, Sherwood's solo books at BVC are currently 50% off until January 7th! That means a safe way to get the revised Crown Duel or that last Wren book which wasn't traditionally published.

And then there are Judith Tarr rereleases (and new ones - her newest book realised via Kickstarter campaign can be bought there - Living in Threes) and Vonda N. McIntyre, etc. Loads of female writers who support gender-equal stories at BVC, for my money.
8. Mary Beth
I've recently fallen in love with (and enthusiastically recommended to all my friends) Martha Wells' Raksura books, starting with "The Cloud Roads." She's doing really engaging things with gender roles, which I think would appeal to Sleeps with Monsters readers, but also tackling issues of abandonment and isolation--how does someone who's severely damaged by his past adapt to and function in a highly stratified society? Plus, the world-building is gorgeous and creative, with a plethora of nonhuman races (of which some are more humanoid than others) and not a few eldritch abominations. And the main characters are flying shapeshifters!
Tucker McKinnon
9. jazzfish
Kalafudra @3: if you found Zahrah the Windseeker too much of a middle-grade book, Who Fears Death keeps the same fantastic feel with a stronger plot. (And has a callback to Zahrah, which is nice to see. :) )

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