Tue
Feb 25 2014 12:00pm

Sleeps With Monsters: But I’m Not Wrong... About Books. I Hope.

“Really, it’s terrible,” says Electra in Sophocles’ eponymous play, “to speak well and be wrong.” (ἦ δεινὸν εὖ λέγουσαν ἐξαμαρτάνειν, l. 1039.)

February saw a lot of speaking and quite a lot of being wrong over the increasing professionalism of SFWA. It seems a shame to pass over it in silence, but everything I could have added has already been said elsewhere, and better. But the resistance to new voices—to, especially, women’s voices, and in that regard let me recommend both Joanna Russ’s How To Suppress Women’s Writing and this piece by Mary Beard on “The Public Voice of Women”—displayed by elements within the SFF conversation is one of the reasons I’m grateful to Tor.com for the opportunity to continue writing this column.

(And hey, did I mention Sleeps With Monsters has been shortlisted for the BSFA’s Best Non-Fiction Award?)

Rather than dwelling on the sediment in the churning ponds of the internet, though, this month I want to draw your attention (again!) to some new books.

And one videogame that I couldn’t afford and spent money on anyway. Because the description of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD — well, it sounds like it could’ve been made for me.

And Becky Chambers at The Mary Sue convinced me of its merits:

Aveline never stopped feeling dominant, even when she changed into brocade and lace. When Aveline puts on a fabulous dress and a coy smile, she’s not doing it for the player. Oh, no. When Aveline flirts, it means someone is about to get played. And/or stabbed. Aveline is always in control, no matter what her appearance or her behavior. Assuming a traditionally masculine role does not compromise her femininity. Assuming a traditionally feminine role does not compromise her power.

God, I love this character.

It’s not the utter brilliance that is Tomb Raider: not even close. But I’m having a lot of fun killing people as Aveline de Grandpré. I encourage you all to give it a chance.

But what about the books? I’m getting slow in my advancing age: at the time of writing, I haven’t yet managed to finish Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, or Ankaret Wells’ Heavy Ice, or Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky, or Joanne Harris’s The Gospel of Loki, or even Francesca Forrest’s Pen Pal—which comes highly recommended by Sherwood Smith. (But I’ll be able to tell you about some of them next month.)

Of the six to which I hope to draw your attention today, two (Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor and Heather Rose Jones’ Daughter of Mystery) hit my perfect narrative sweet spot of EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL I WILL READ THESE THINGS FOREVER, three (Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age and Dreams of the Golden Age, and Seanan McGuire’s Half-Off Ragnarok) struck me as various degrees of fun, and the last (Deborah Coates’ Strange Country) wasn’t quite the book I was expecting, but it eventually convinced me it was a good book nonetheless.

Daughter of Mystery is a Ruritanian romance of an alternate Europe. Set in a small Alpine nation bordering Austria, Italy, and France, at some unspecified point between the 17th and 19th century, it earns its place in the fantasy genre proper by the inclusion of religious magic—miracles that can be created and directed by the appropriate rites. It’s also a coming-of-age (rather explicitly: the plot relies on the age of majority of its principal actors) and a love story that explores power and privilege between individuals. It has some flaws—the pacing is at times uneven, although the prose shows a mature competence—but this is the author’s debut novel. I expect she will improve, and I look forward to seeing her do so.

(For those of you in the audience who also read category romance: it rather reminds me of a Courtney Milan novel with more fantasy elements and more queerness. Good stuff.)

As for The Goblin Emperor, due out in April, CAPSLOCK EXCLAMATIONS OF JOY, people. I can’t tell you all the things I found lovely about it in a single paragraph—or in ten. Just trust me that it is magnificent, and go order yourselves a copy right now. (I reviewed it. I neglected to mention several amazing things in that review.)

Half-Off Ragnarok is a novel of murders, misunderstandings, arson, gorgons, family, and relationships that start badly but turn out pretty okay. It feels somehow slighter than its predecessors, Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special, but it’s still a lot of fun—and at points, laugh-out-loud funny, too.

I liked After The Golden Age, Carrie Vaughn’s first nod to the superhero stories of the old-fashioned pulps, much more than I enjoyed its loose sequel, this year’s Dreams of the Golden Age. After’s protagonist is the daughter of superheroes with no powers of her own: an accountant, whose relationship with her parents has been rocky at best—complicated by the fact that villains keep kidnapping her for leverage, and by the revelation to the world of her teenage rebellion as sidekick to a supervillain. It’s an interesting novel about family and responsibility and power, as well as being quite a bit of fun. And it’s not a traditional superhero narrative, which means it appealed to me a lot more. Dreams is in part a much more traditional superhero narrative, and a much less focused one: I liked it less, but it’s still a fun book, and worth reading if you enjoy its predecessor.

Which brings us to Strange Country, due out in May, Deborah Coates’ third novel after Wide Open and Deep Down. Coates writes interesting Midwestern US contemporary fantasy with an eerie, haunting undercurrent, and her main character so far, Hallie Michaels, has an appealing directness. But in Strange Country much more of the narrative is carried by Deputy Boyd Davies, Hallie’s boyfriend, than I’d expected—and that narrative has more PTSD, more uncertainty, and less activity than I’d been hoping for. But it does all come together in the end, and the narrative does earn the cold, distant, disconnectedness that attends much of its characters' early interactions. It just wasn’t the book I expected—but it’s a good book, and I’m looking forward to what Coates writes next.

There are still too many books and too little time.


Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.

11 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
I'm taking a break from Assassin's Creed for the moment, I've gone back to FF XIII in preparation of Lightning Returns, but YES LIBERATION.

It seems like it'll be similar to Freedom Cry, which really forces you to play differently than you did as Edward, because Adewale looks like a slave on an island in the middle of a slave revolt, so he can't openly carry obvious weapons, like swords and pistols. From what I've seen about the personas, they work much the same way.
Gerry__Quinn
2. Gerry__Quinn
You read and review books written only by one gender. The books you review are generally Extruded Fantasy Product with Lesbians. How could you possibly be wrong?
Gerry__Quinn
3. Andrea K
David Drake (review of 21 February) is sure going to be surprised to learn his new gender.
Alan Brown
5. AlanBrown
@3 LOL!
And Liz, I am afraid your reviews were overshadowed (for me at least) by the links you posted to the big SFWA controversy. I had heard about the flap regarding the cover illustration, but had no idea how prolonged and nasty the conflict had gotten. And now, you can't google SFWA or the Bulletin without seeing page after page of links to vitriol and angst. It is sad to see so many people diminishing themselves and their reputations with ugly ranting. Maybe the fact that writing is such as solitary endeavor is what makes it so hard for writers to get along in their professional organizations. I can't remember the past conflicts, but SFWA seems determined to constantly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It is a sad and ugly affair. But I do appreciate you bringing it to our attention, because it certainly is a teachable moment that should make us all pause and think about a whole range of issues.
Liz Bourke
6. hawkwing-lb
Aeryl @1:

It's not the best game, but it's a lot of fun.

Gerry_Quinn @2:

Sometimes the fantasy product is neither extruded nor contains lesbians, and I don't know how to deal with the disappointment! I nearly die with it!

(Thanks, though. I'm going to save "Extruded Fantasy Product With Lesbians" for the title of my fictional tell-all autobiography.)

Andrea K @3:

So will David Weber and Eric Flint! And a couple of other lads, too...

AlanBrown @5:

Well, this time it's not SFWA's fault. The organisation seems to be resolutely professionalising and modernising: there are a few outspoken voices who seem to be resisting the trend loudly.

But I'm only an interested onlooker.
Constance Sublette
7. Zorra
From this description, it's really hard to see how anyone could suspend disbelief:
Daughter of Mystery is a Ruritanian romance of an alternate Europe. Set in a small Alpine nation bordering Austria, Italy, and France, at some unspecified point between the 17th and 19th century ....
Just for starters, the cultural and political differences in this region between the long 17th century of wars of religion, the 18th century's ancien régime and then the nineteenth century's post-Revolutionary era and Napoléon's imperium, are staggering.
Gerry__Quinn
8. HRJ
Zorra @7:

Actually the date of the novel's setting is highly specific and retrievable from in-story references. (1817-1819 to be precise.) But as the POV is very tight and the action deals only tangentially with international affairs except as background, that information doesn't tend to bite the reader on the nose. So it's understandable that readers often come away with a much vaguer impression.
Gerry__Quinn
9. SherwoodSmith
Yes, oh, yes and yes again in re Goblin Emperor.
Gerry__Quinn
10. wol
"There are still too many books and too little time."

Amen, sister, amen! If wishes were horses, there'd be an extra six hours of reading time tucked like a kangaroo's pouch into every day. How's that for a mangled metaphor?
Constance Sublette
12. Zorra
8. HRJ --
Actually the date of the novel's setting is highly specific and retrievable from in-story references. (1817-1819 to be precise.) But as the POV is very tight and the action deals only tangentially with international affairs except as background, that information doesn't tend to bite the reader on the nose. So it's understandable that readers often come away with a much vaguer impression.
That's not what the reviewer said. The reviewer said this:
Daughter of Mystery is a Ruritanian romance of an alternate Europe. Set in a small Alpine nation bordering Austria, Italy, and France, at some unspecified point between the 17th and 19th century ....
Since these two statements are in direct opposition to each other, can we say bad reviewing?

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