Tor.com content by

Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: My Year In Queer

Are we reaching some kind of critical mass this year in terms of queer content in books published by mainstream SFF imprints? Where queer people have a central role to play, and where, moreover, being queer does not end universally badly? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this year—including some novels I’ve read that aren’t published quite yet—is a banner year.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk, or All at Once: Where to Start with the Work of Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear is a frighteningly prolific writer. In a novel-writing career that’s just about to enter its second decade, she’s published twenty solo novels, three novellas and mosaic novel in her New Amsterdam series, one trilogy co-authored with Sarah Monette, and two collections of short fiction—which do not, by the way, collect all her extant short fiction. She’s collected a John W. Campbell Award and two Hugo Awards for her fiction, putting her in a fairly small club…

…and she keeps writing more. Which means if you haven’t been reading her stuff all along, you might feel a bit daunted trying to figure out where to start. Because the thing about Bear? She’s not just a prolific writer. She’s a writer who jumps subgenres, and sometimes styles, from book to book and series to series, and absolutely in her short fiction. She’s always trying something new.

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Epic Fantasy in an Old-fashioned Mold: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

I was under the impression, for some reason, that The Bloodprint was Ausma Zehanat Khan’s first novel, but it turns out that she’s already written a mystery. The Bloodprint, then, is Khan’s first fantasy novel, and she has delivered the opening volume of an epic very much in the doorstopper tradition.

Arian is a Companion of Hira. She is sent on a quest to find a relic known as the Bloodprint, a book of the Claim—a text which is sacred, and remembered largely in fragments—with a small group of companions. She does not trust the motivations of the woman, the First Companion, who sent her, and she is pursued by the forces of the oppressive, conquering, misogynistic Talisman, the followers of a repressive preacher who burn libraries, destroy the written word, enslave women found without men, and otherwise act like utter arseholes. On her way north to the Wall and beyond it, to the city of Marakand, she must overcome peril, figure out a way through new lands, and be admired by an array of men in varieties both sleazy and heroic. But her allies are maybe not as trustworthy as she might have hoped.

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Sleeps With Monsters: The Cold Blade’s Finger

I want to rave about Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull. Actually, it feels like I need to rave about it: a glorious, dramatic, lush and striking fantasy set in the same continuity as the Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and The Steles of the Sky), with a brilliant cast of characters and an opening that involves an ice wyrm attacking a caravan on its way up a frozen river. It’s no exaggeration to say I was hooked from the first page.

I know someone else will be reviewing it around here, so I’m not going to talk about it in review-type terms. (Insofar as I could. I mean, I went head-over-heels for Range of Ghosts, and so far, The Stone in the Skull looks set to give me the same kind of wow, fantasy, GIMME feeling about it and its sequels.) Instead, let me just share some ENTHUSIASTIC RAVING about some of the cool shit it’s doing, and some of the stuff I really, really liked about it.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Destruction and Renewal: Horizon by Fran Wilde

The things I’ve liked best about Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe books—2015’s award-winning Updraft, last year’s Cloudbound, and now the trilogy’s capstone, the compelling Horizonhas been the character of Kirit Densira, accidental hero, accidental city-breaker, and determined friend; the weird, wonderful worldbuilding (invisible sky-squid that eat people! enormous bone towers in which people live far above the clouds! a society based around unpowered human flight!); and the deep concern with consequences.

Horizon is all about consequences.

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Exploring a New Corner of the Universe: Provenance by Ann Leckie

It is difficult for me to write this review without simply gushing READ THIS NOW. (But seriously: read this now.)

It’s true that I have been a fan of Ann Leckie’s work since first reading Ancillary Justice, and that Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy only deepened my appreciation for Leckie’s ability to tell a story. The Imperial Radch trilogy impressed a lot of people, as witnessed by the array of awards and award nominations it took home. But after such a successful debut—after such a lauded debut trilogy—there is always going to be a question when the author moves on to something new. Can the next book live up to the quality of what has gone before while breaking new ground? Or will they spend their career telling different versions of the same story?

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Humanizing Systems: Null States by Malka Older

Malka Older’s Infomocracy (book one of the Centenal Cycle) made its debut last summer to rapturous praise, including from The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review. (I admired it too, although I was late to the party.) Now, in Null States, Older returns to the world of Infomocracy, with a cast of characters both old and new.

Two years have passed since the last global election, and global microdemocracy is still dealing with the fallout from the controversies and illegalities that attended the change of Supermajority. The new Supermajority is struggling to define itself and to make its case as the first new Supermajority since the beginning of the global microdemocracy system, while Information—the pervasive and supposedly objective organisation and system that underpins global microdemocracy and makes it possible—is still somewhat under pressure from the weaknesses that were revealed during the last election. Meanwhile, a shooting war in Central Asia, between two states that aren’t part of the microdemocracy system, is putting pressure on the system, with several centenals—electoral and administrative divisions—squeezed between the shooting war and the nation-state of China, which is not very happy about the situation near its borders.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Why Can’t More Books Pander To Me?

The speed of my reading lately frustrates me. I need to read faster, so I can talk about some of the amazing-looking novels in my to-be-read pile, like Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull, K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter, Jodi Meadows’ Before She Ignites, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, and, oh, let’s call it several more. (“Several” is such a flexible word.) Because they all look good, and some of them—like R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, who doesn’t love pirates and mad AIs?—look like me-catnip.

There are so many books in the world, and so little time.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: The Weird West of Wynonna Earp

I didn’t know I needed a weird modern Western—complete with curses, demons, and complicated family dynamics—in my life. But apparently I didn’t know what I was missing! It turns out that this is exactly what I wanted, when it comes in the form of SEVEN24/IDW Entertainment’s Wynonna Earp, created by Emily Andras, based on the comic by Beau Smith, and starring Melanie Scrofano as the eponymous Wynonna.

I’d heard a great deal about Wynonna Earp—I’d first become aware of it through some entertaining episode recaps—so when I came across its first season on Netflix one recent Friday, it jumped to the head of the queue.

Then my girlfriend and I mainlined it over the next two days. It’s really satisfyingly entertaining television.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

World and Character in Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe

It’s long been a truism in science fiction and fantasy that the world is a character—sometimes, indeed, the central character, against which humans and other beings recede into insignificance. Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe—the trilogy comprising Updraft (2015), Cloudbound (2016), and this September’s Horizon—doesn’t make the humans insignificant, but thanks to the wild, weird scope of its world, the world looms large in the reader’s consciousness—as large as the giant bone spires, high above the clouds, that are home to Wilde’s characters.

In this world, people live in giant bone spires. They hollow them out and call them towers, so far above the ground that this society has even forgotten what the ground is. The towers are connected by bridges—some of them, at least—fragile things of rope and hide. But most people travel between the towers by unpowered flight. They use wings, constructs of leather and bone, and hunt beasts of the air—some of which are both dangerous and invisible. Their histories are oral, not written: they remember the past and their laws in songs, not in books.

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“Go Save Your Girlfriend, Let Me Save the World” — Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone has five books, two interactive fiction games, and two ongoing Serial Box serials under his belt. (To say nothing of short stories and other projects.) The Craft series was nominated for the experimental Best Series Hugo Award at the Helsinki Worldcon this year, and I, for one, can’t argue that it didn’t merit its inclusion.

Ruin of Angels is the sixth book in the Craft series, and—unusually for Gladstone, and marking, it seems, a new departure—the sixth in internal chronological order, too. There are many interesting arguments to be had about the themes of the first five Craft novels—the books have a lot to say about late-stage metastatic capitalism, reified and made manifest in Gladstone’s worldbuilding and his decidedly modern take on second-world fantasy. But none of them—not Two Serpents Rise, not Full Fathom Five, nor any of the rest—were as consciously and as explicitly about colonisation and memory as is Ruin of Angels.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Flying Beasts and Complicated, Amazing Worldbuilding

More and more, I’m aware of feeling like I need to justify loving imperfect books. Especially when the imperfections are slight and structural and the consequence of having been made by humans, and the reason that I love the book (or story) in question is because it normalises queerness in multiple directions, or decentres classic Western visions of fantasy and science fiction in favour of exploring other ways of being in the world. Or both at once. It makes me feel exposed in ways I’d rather avoid.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, the first two novellas in J.Y. Yang’s Tensorate universe, on the other hand, don’t need me to justify anything. They’re very different stories, and each is excellent in its own way.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Airships and Intrigue: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

As a reviewer, it’s easy to get jaded. You read a lot of books, and a lot of books by people at the beginning of their careers. Things that seem fresh and new to almost everyone else become as familiar as well-worn socks: threadbare, with holes, and frequently odiferous.

And then you come across a debut like Curtis Craddock’s An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, and it makes the effort worthwhile.

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