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Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: Celebrate Queer Pride by Reading Books

I have very mixed feelings about the idea of June as “Pride Month”, but there’s no escaping that in the usual run of things, this month would see a bunch of queer marches and parades, and a lot of queer discussion and celebration. In this year of our pandemic, though, it looks like my preferred version of celebration—stay home and read books—is the most appropriate thing to do.

But June is a good month to take stock of changes over time, and looking back over the last eight years I’ve been writing this column, one thing leaps out: I don’t have to make a special effort to seek out queer books and queer creators anymore. Not, at least, to the same extent as used to be the case—although books with trans and nonbinary main characters, or by trans and nonbinary creators, are still substantially rarer than their cisgender counterparts. So I can find myself reading half a dozen or even a dozen delightfully queer books in row, without specifically searching them out.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Undead Camels, Angry Spirits, and Prickly Protagonists: The Unconquered City by K.A. Doore

The Unconquered City marks the third—and so far final—novel in K.A. Doore’s Chronicles of Ghadid series. The Chronicles tell a set of loosely-connected stories centred on the desert city of Ghadid and the loosely-related family of assassins who correct injustice (for a fee) and who, over the course of the three novels, have evolved into a force dedicated to protecting the city from the dangerous guul that roam the desert sands below. From the start, the books in Chronicles of Ghadid series have combined elements of classic sword and sorcery with refreshingly queer romantic elements, and a delightful diversity of protagonists and interests. And The Unconquered City follows enthusiastically in its predecessors’ footsteps.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Spending Time With Physicians and Dragons

Well, it’s the middle (the end? what even is time) of May. As I write this, here in Ireland, we’ve been under movement restrictions for two months, and strict restrictions for one, and while the current government has a well-thought-out five-stage plan for (slowly, carefully, over the course of a minimum of fifteen weeks) lifting restrictions, I’m not really optimistic that the death toll won’t rise again as soon as we hit Stage Two. So it’s not really surprising that I’m among the many people having difficulty concentrating right now. How do we achieve the kind of equilibrium necessary to experience confidence, satisfaction, and/or some degree of pleasure in our work or in the rest of our lives under the conditions that presently obtain? I don’t rightly know.

In the meanwhile, I’ll tell you about three books that I did manage to concentrate on reading—even greatly enjoyed!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A Claustrophobic Space Thriller: Goldilocks by Laura Lam

Goldilocks is Laura Lam’s latest novel, a stylish science fiction story with all the flair one might expect from the author of False Hearts and Shattered Minds. Its premise—an all-female team of astronauts, led by a visionary billionaire inventor and titan of industry, steal the spacecraft for whose development they’ve been vital, and whose voyage they’ve been cut out of at the last minute, and head for a habitable planet with the intention of making a statement about who deserves to be saved from a dying Earth—has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, this tale of five women shut in unavoidably close proximity with each other for weeks and months on end bid fair to activate all my current not-very-latent claustrophobia, and that was before the novel developed an infectious plague.

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Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 6

It’s another beautiful day in the village. Are you a quarantined goose?

As I write this column, my wife is standing on the kitchen countertops and peeling the wall while singing a sea shanty, so we’re all fine here. No bubbling madness at all.

For those of you who want a distraction that doesn’t involve acrobatic DIY, I have some books to tell you about. Though I’m really feeling a lack of queer sword-and-sorcery style adventure stories in my life right now, which means that maybe I’m crankier about everything else because it’s not the fun I want to be having. Do you know how many novels involving plagues and quarantines I’ve encountered recently? (Maybe I’m just noticing them more.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A Claustrophobic Ending: Creatures of Charm and Hunger by Molly Tanzer

Creatures of Charm and Hunger is the third and final, novel in Molly Tanzer’s Diabolist’s Library trilogy. It came, I will confess, as something of a surprise to me as I read the acknowledgements at the end of the book, that the Diabolist books are not merely loosely-connected standalone novels sharing a universe, but a trilogy; and that Creatures of Charm and Hunger is a capstone conclusion rather itself the beginning of a longer story—out of the trio of Creatures of Will and Temper (set in Victorian England, and something of an adventure romp with really creepy underpinnings), Creatures of Want and Ruin (set in rural American Prohibition, and featuring a just-averted diabolic apocalypse), Creatures of Charm and Hunger is slowest in pace and least cohesive in its thematic arguments; and least, too, a novel with an ending rather than a stopping-place.

I wanted to like it a lot more than it turns out I actually did.

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Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 5

Hello, friends and readers! It’s been over thirty days since I spent time with a human who wasn’t my wife or (from a safe, two-metre distance) my mother. I expect I’ll be looking back another thirty days from now, and saying it’s been over sixty days. But it is what it is, and we all do needful and uncomfortable things to keep other people safe…

This time I have only two books to tell you about. Both of them are forthcoming (so they’re something to look forward to!), one of them is a novella. One of them I adored, while the other I enjoyed and appreciated while also wanting to have an argument with someone about the tendency to valourise certain historical periods and figures as special or in some way peerless… But more on this later.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 4

What even is time anymore? I went to look up the publication dates of some of the books I want to talk about today, and, well. Are you sure it isn’t June already? Because the last month has been a whole year long. So this week, rather than right-now reading recommendations, I’ve a short list of books that you can look forward to. (Are we sure it’s not June? Really?)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 3

Another week, another column with reading recommendations to hide under a rock with!

But first, some bad news. We’re living through the kind of disaster that hits hard at the publishing and bookselling industry. For one thing, the supply chain for paper and books is pretty screwed up right now. I’m normally not a fan of promoting capitalistic responses to disaster mitigation, but right now, if you can afford to buy or preorder books (from independent booksellers, or as ebooks)… think seriously about not putting it off. A lot of books that would’ve come out this summer and autumn are probably going to be delayed or come out in ebook-first versions.

And I don’t know about you, but on a very personal level, I dread running out of new entertainment before I’m allowed to go more than 2km from my house again.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 2

I’m writing this post before the middle of March, and I hope that by the time it sees publication the news of the day will contain rather less about quarantine and states of emergency than it does at the time of writing. (I wish I were an optimist by nature.) But if the news continues as I expect it to, we’ll all need a soothing distraction.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart

I wanted to make a joke about stocking up on your reading for when you’re under a two-week quarantine, but honestly, when 20% of people who contract COVID-19 require hospitalisation, it’s no joking matter. (Reminder: wash your hands! Wipe down your phones!) But I do have some recommendations for novels that might take your mind off the present, pressing, disaster. Delightful queer novels.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: K.B. Wagers Answers Six Questions

K.B. Wagers is the author of the amazing Indranan War (Behind the Throne, After the Crown, Beyond the Empire) trilogy, a story which continues in the dangerously tense There Before the Chaos and Down Among the Dead. Their latest novel marks a departure from the epic space-empire scale: A Pale Light in the Black (Harper Voyager, March) is set in a new universe and follows the hijinks of a crew in the Near Earth Orbital Guard, as they prepare for the annual competition of the Boarding Games while getting used to a new lieutenant—a young woman trying to get out from under the influence of her powerful family—and stumbling into a dangerous conspiracy.

They’re joining us today to answer a few questions, so let’s get to it!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Queer and Angry and Not Ashamed

“I can’t help but think of how rarely women in fiction get to be dangerous, vicious, broken with sharp edges that cut outwards not inwards—and be considered *more* compelling and attractive for it.” —Tasha Suri

I fell into a conversation on Twitter recently with Tasha Suri and A.K. Larkwood, inspired by Malinda Lo’s fantastic (and uncomfortable) essay on “The Invisible Lesbian in Young Adult Fiction.” It’s left me thinking about the aspects of human behaviour and the human experience that we seldom see represented in science fiction and fantasy, at least with respect to women: the aspects of human behaviour and human experience that aren’t comfortable, or easy, or even very palatable.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Looking Forward to the Books of 2020

Sometimes I wonder about how outdated the description of this column has become. It screws with my head to realise I’ve been writing here for going on eight years now, through what feels like a cultural sea-change. (The “death” of the blog. The rise of global right-wing extremism. The spread of equal marriage. The—outspoken, enthusiastic—queering of written SFF. The anti-racist work that people of colour have done to drag the SFF community kicking and screaming into being a more welcoming place.) Sleeps With Monsters, as a column/body-of-work hasn’t only been about women and their work for years, though the column description hasn’t changed.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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