The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Part I: Le Guin’s Early Stories and Germinative Tales

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering the first half of the short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, from “Semley’s Necklace” to “The Good Trip,” pp. 1-128 in the 1975 Harper & Row hardcover edition.

As a rule, I don’t particularly like short fiction. Before the gasps of heresy overtake me, let me explain: I like big stories, I like to get lost in a world, to become part of the milieu of characters the author is bringing to life. Short stories can offer this and many novels don’t. And some short stories are downright annoy-all-your-friends-with-your-reading-suggestions amazing. Some by Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Nisi Shawl, and (odd as this pairing is) Arthur C. Clarke come to my mind. But as a preservation strategy—we live in a world where dozens of worthwhile SFF novels come out every year—I keep to novels and only delve into the world of short fiction when those friends won’t let me do otherwise.

[As a rule, however, I love Ursula Le Guin’s writing.]

Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Five Science-Fictional Approaches to Healthcare

Recently I encountered an SF novel in which medical care—more exactly, healthcare funding—featured as a significant element. Curiously, the work drew on the same rather implausible healthcare system used to such effect in, say, Breaking Bad. No doubt the author was simply unaware of other approaches. Other science fiction authors have been more imaginative when it comes to healthcare systems, as these five examples show.

Note that authors favour plot-friendly factors over other real-world criteria for health systems. A reliable rule of thumb is that the more user-friendly a medical system is, the more likely that it will be relegated to the background—James White’s Sector General series being a notable exception. If medicine is as cheap and convenient as brushing teeth, odds are good that medical issues will consume as much plot time as brushing one’s teeth…

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Announcing the 2020 Dragon Awards Finalists

DragonCon has been a mainstay convention in Atlanta, Georgia for decades, a massive gathering to celebrate all things nerd, from tabletop gaming to films and television to cosplay to SFF novels.

Since 2016, the convention organizers have been holding their own set of awards, the Dragon Awards. This year’s finalists for the award have been revealed, and public voting is now open.

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Exile’s End

Exile’s End is a complex, sometimes uncomfortable examination of artifact repatriation and cultural appropriation. An artifact of indescribable and irreplaceable beauty created by an “extinct” culture has been the basis of another culture’s origin stories. The race who created the artifact has survived on a distant world and has sent a representative to reclaim it, throwing everything into question.

Inspired by the SF camp in Danzhai, China, which is co-hosted by the Future Administration Authority (FAA) and Wanda Group.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Revisiting Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife tetralogy never, I think, equalled the popularity and recognition of her Miles Vorkosigan novels or her World of the Five Gods work (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt, and the Penric and Desdemon novellas…) but it remains, for me, a revelation about the kinds of stories that it is possible to tell in fantasy, and the struggles it is possible to reflect.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A King Arthur Tale for the Brexit Era: Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone

The Matter of Britain, the cycle of stories relating to King Arthur and his knights, is as capacious a set of legends as the world possesses, and so the tales have received a staggering range of interpretations. From Tennyson’s pious odes to Victorian Britain, through Mark Twain’s declaration of Yankee independence, from Wagner’s promotion of the German volk and Edwar Burne-Jones’s self-consciously old-fashioned paintings to T.H. White’s tragicomic elegies, King Arthur has accommodated every vision or concern that artists have attached to him. Perhaps each era gets the Arthur it requires.

Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone gives us an Arthur for the Brexit era: A tyrant in lieu of a king, brute violence in lieu of gallant feats, undisguised venality in lieu of chivalric ideals. This is the Matter of Britain become the Matter with Britain.

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Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby: Patriarchy Without Feminism Is Hell

Ira Levin’s bestselling horror novel Rosemary’s Baby is a paranoid fever dream about patriarchy. The main character, Rosemary Woodhouse, is the target of a literally Satanic plot of rape, forced birth, and domesticity. She is, in other words, the victim of the same conspiracy of sexism, misogyny and male entitlement which targets all women in a sexist society. “There are plots against people, aren’t there?” she asks, with a plaintive insight.

But while Levin’s book is devastatingly precise in its analysis of patriarchy’s disempowerment and control of women, it isn’t exactly a feminist novel. In his 1971 book The Stepford Wives, Levin mentions Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and talks directly about the growing women’s movement. But in Rosemary’s Baby, feminist consciousness is notably absence, which is part of why the novel is so bleak and terrifying. The narrative recognizes that Rosemary’s fate is diabolically unjust. But it offers no way out, narratively or theoretically. The devil’s victory is total not because he defeats feminism, but because he rules over a world in which feminist possibilities don’t exist.

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Never Say You Can’t Survive: People Are Only as Interesting as Their Relationships

Charlie Jane Anders is writing a nonfiction book—and is publishing it as she does so. Never Say You Can’t Survive is a how-to book about the storytelling craft, but it’s also full of memoir, personal anecdote, and insight about how to flourish in the present emergency.

Below is the twelfth chapter, “People Are Only as Interesting as Their Relationships.” You can find all previous chapters here. New chapters will appear every Tuesday. Enjoy!

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Series: Never Say You Can’t Survive

What You Need to Know Before Reading Seth Dickinson’s The Tyrant Baru Cormorant

How do you defeat a seemingly insurmountable empire, that overtakes foreign nations through trade with hooks attached, that swallows up foreigners and remakes them in its own image? You destroy it from the inside out.

This has been the rallying cry for Baru Cormorant, since 2015’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, when a bright young child of an island nation watched the Empire of Masks take over her home of Taranoke (renamed Sousward) and kill one of her fathers. Baru threw herself into her Masquerade studies, internalizing the Incrastic hygienic and eugenic disciplines that would condemn her for her womanhood and her homosexuality, proving her brilliance, with the aim to ascend to the capital of Falcrest and make sure no foreign child ever had to suffer like she did again.

But to unmake the Masquerade, she must make herself into one of its agents, burrow deep as a cancer so as to be blameless. To ascend to Falcrest’s inner circle of cryptarchs, she must step upon hundreds of innocent and beloved bodies. Does Baru Cormorant wear the mask, or does the mask wear her? With the third installment of The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, the Empire of Masks’ greatest threat may well prove to be its greatest triumph—and before Baru’s play as Tyrant, we must remember how she became a Traitor and then a Monster.

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More Than a Boy Leaves Home: Choosing One’s Fate in the World of The Wheel of Time

In my very first essay for Reading the Wheel of Time, I referenced something a writing teacher once told me about stories—that they all begin with either a boy leaving home, or with a stranger coming to town. In that first piece I observed that, when it comes to The Lord of the Rings-style questing narratives, these two types of story are actually one type, in which a stranger (usually a wise guide, sometimes an enemy, and often both) comes to town, and it results in a boy (or a girl, or a group of young people) leaving home.

What I find so interesting about this structure is the concept of change, and the catalyst of that change, within a narrative. Of course, all stories are about change. Sometimes this change takes place over a moment or a day, other times over years or even a lifetime. The change can be small or large, external or internal, but it is always there—without change nothing has happened, and there is nothing, as they say, for the gleemen to recount. Thus, when we categorize a story into “a stranger comes to town” and “a boy leaves home,” we are actually considering where the catalyst for change comes from, and we are considering where the change, the arc of the story, takes place. In the first example, the world of the story has change brought into it from some outside force. In the second, the protagonist(s) go out into the world and both are forever altered by the experience.

[The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

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