Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Microreview [Book]: Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

A heartache-heavy Shakespearean rework that misses the energy of its progenitor

Cover art Larry Rostant; design by Jamie Stafford-Hill
I haven't engaged much with Shakespeare's history plays before last year, but that changed over the course of 2019 as I was able to take advantage of the Globe Theatre's entire "double Henriad" run: from Richard II to Richard III, with 3-6 Henries in the middle depending on whether you count by monarch or by play*. After seeing Richard II in a winter "standalone" production with all women of colour actors (Imperial Radch audiobook narrator Adjoa Andoh played Richard II! That's right, King Breq!), Henry IV was my reintroduction to the company's outdoor theatre, complete with £5 standing tickets, stylish branded ponchos, and - for the second two plays - a summer cold so bad it was all I could do to lean against the stage for 6 hours. All of that just added to the energy of a diversely cast ensemble production, complete with women playing Prince Hal, Hotspur, and Falstaff. My mind, therefore, already had very clear casting for Lady Hostpur's reimagining of Henry IV and was very ready to see how an explicitly female, romantic take on the characters would unfold.

Lady Hotspur opens at a moment covered in the Shakespeare originals by the close of Richard II. Hal has been raised in court as part of the retinue of King Rossavos, who banished her mother ten years ago and has since been dragging the Kingdom of Aremoria further into debt and ruin. When Mum (also known as Celada) returns to claim not just her lands but the throne itself, she makes short work of the King and wastes no time in re-securing her position, despite some lingering Hal finds herself thrown into life as the Crown Prince, while her friend and the former heir Banna Mora falls from favour. Hal's only consolation is her love affair with Hotspur, a noble soldier whose radiance and temper are renowned. Hotspur, however, had her own loyalties to her land and friends, and things come to a head when Mora is captured by neighbouring Innis Lear which readers of Gratton's previous book will probably be very familiar with. For everyone else, myself included, Innis Lear ends up as sort of a cross between Fairyland and Wales, and whose presence causes the increasing distance between the influence text and Lady Hotspur's reimagining. Celada's court and Hal's circle end up divided over Celada's refusal to pay a ransom for her return, separating Hal and Hotspur and ending their relationship but not their mutual attraction. Mora instead entrenches herself in Innis Lear, picking up a magical husband and some prophecies, and the stage is set for some epic politics and warfare.

Except, this is Henry IV Part 1, so the extent to which we get involved in heavy politics is deeply dependent on how Prince Hal is feeling - and, it turns out, she's chafing under her mother's rule, and particularly the expectation that she marry a man for childbearing purposes (Lady Hotspur could be clearer on queer acceptance in the various lands, but the dominant belief in Aremoria appears to be that Hal and Hotspur's relationship is not taboo but should not be flaunted, especially at the expense of political childbearing alliances, whereas Innis Lear appears to be more fluid with things). With the help of Lady Ianta Oldcastle (hey, I understood that reference!) Hal sets up a shadow Court of Rogues in which she can drink and womanise to her heart's content, and generally avoid responsibilities. In the Shakespearean version, Hal's adventures with Falstaff, Poins et al. are treated as fairly uncomplicated, if sometimes quite vindictive and unpleasant, fun; the conflict in the Prince's character only really shows up in scenes with the King, where the weight of expectations is most clearly set out. Because Hal is a viewpoint character for her scenes in Lady Hotspur, however, everything including the Court of Rogues takes on a more morose cast, as she laments the loss of Hotspur and the wider upheaval which her new position has brought, including her inability to continue a friendship with Banna Mora and the expectations her mother has put on her for the future of the Kingdom. Coupled with Ianta Oldcastle's far more gloomy cast as a character who lost her position as founder of the Lady Knights under the previous King and has fallen into alcoholism as a result, there's an air of desperation and falseness about Hal's rebellion which makes it distinctly less enjoyable to witness. And that's not a mood constrained to Hal: Hotspur divides her time between worrying about the warlike machinations of her Aunt and Mother, worrying and being heartbroken over Hal and her unwillingness to step up, and worrying about Banna Mora. And despite their potential to shake things up - and the apparent authorial intent to have it appear as a more positive political space -the scenes and characters in Innis Lear sometimes get lost in slow melancholy of the book, especially with the whole "weight of ancient prophecies and bloodlines" thing hanging over everyone. Basically, this is a long, slow, sad, meditative book, and it's not afraid to make its audience wait multiple chapters between reasons to root for any of its characters.

The problem is, with all this meditative heartbreak, it becomes difficult for Gratton to truly convey the potential dynamism of the three women at Lady Hotspur's heart, despite the textual insistence that they are all something special. This is especially an issue for Hotspur, who we are told burns as bright as the sun, but all we ever really see of her is her constant deflated disappointment in Hal's behaviour and her conflicted, awkward feelings about the slow political and romantic situations she spends 95% of the book responding to. Hal and Banna Mora's respective positions and reputations are generally pretty well-deserved, but play out in a way which really stretches audience sympathy for them both in different ways, and ultimately neither Hal's redemption or Mora's arc into magical uniter of both countries really brought me around to them. The only character who really brings a genuine ray of sunshine into proceedings is Echarmet of Kurake Queen, a scion of one of Celeda's foreign allies (from a matriarchal society which I would definitely read about if the opportunity arose) and potential political match for Hal: and yes, I'm well aware of the irony of picking out one of the very few male characters in Lady Hotspur as a highlight, but Charm is great and deserves justice and nice things forever, OK? In fairness, part of Charm's, uh, charm, is his bringing a non-heteropatriarchal take into Aremoria's court, and essentially becoming one of Hal's lifelines from a direction that she's not expecting, and that's one of the elements that brings things to a still-slow but eventually pretty satisfying (and unexpected!) conclusion.

Ultimately, I suspect my main problem with much of Lady Hotspur is that it sits in the uncanny valley between the production I've watched and internalised as "Henry IV", and a completely standalone text. There's nothing at all wrong with slow, meditative queer medieval politics books, but if you are going to transform your title character from the fast-talking, fast-acting centre of a rebellion, who would literally move entire rivers for the sake of their own power and sense of what is right, into a woman whose only real character decisions are deciding whether or not to be with her feckless true love in the hope of changing her, and subsequently whether to stand behind another character (incidentally, I had to look up who Banna Mora's source character was - either Edmund Mortimer was cut from the version of the play that I watched, or just not interesting enough to remember) is one that's inevitably going to create a lot of "wait, what, why?" over those decisions. I'm not sure if this problem would be solved by lack of familiarity with the play, as well, as the disconnect between what we're shown and what we're told about Hotspur would still be there within the text itself. What I'm left with is something I really wish I'd enjoyed more than I did - a book that took a lot of work for a frankly very modest payoff. I'm still intrigued by what Gratton does next (especially if it involves some of Echarmet's Mothers) but, alas, Lady Hotspur isn't quite the knockout I'd hoped.

*If you're counting by monarch, there are also two uncredited Edwards in there. History is fun!

The Math
Baseline Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 It's genderbent queer Shakespeare, and we need more of this sort of thing forever

Penalties: -1 Struggles to portray the dynamism of its leads over their slow heartbreak; -1 I would have preferred a commitment either to being very different or more similar to the source text

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10 "still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore". Read about our scoring system here.

Posted by: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

Reference: Gratton, Tessa. Lady Hotspur [Tor Books, 2020]

Monday, February 17, 2020

Nanoreviews: Moontangled, Into Bones like Oil, Silver in the Wood

Silver in the Wood cover art and design by David Curtis; Moontangled Cover Design by Ravven; Into Bones Like Oil Cover Art by S. Hadi Hasan
Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis [Five Fathoms Press, 2020]

Moontangled marks the fourth novella in total, and the second "side" novella, of Burgis' Harwood Spellbook series, an alt-historical regency in which women have political power, men can train as magicians, and everyone in the orbit of one Cassandra Harwood is learning there's plenty more they can do outside of those rules, even if it's not always the future they originally had in mind. Even more so than its predecessors, Moontangled is best consumed once you're familiar with the rest of the series: this is a tale that benefits from prior knowledge of Burgis' version of the fae, and of the specific history and bargains struck with the supernatural entities here. It also helps to already be familiar with Miss Fennell and Miss Banks, the recurring characters whose secret romance takes centre stage here. For Juliana Banks, self-fulfilment has always been a challenging prospect, with her interest in learning magic stymied by the lack of training available for women. For Catherine Fennell, the career that she wants had previously felt more in reach, with an Aunt grooming her to take over her seat in the ruling Bouddicate on her retirement, but part of the requirements for a political career is a marriage to a powerful magic user and, because only men have previously been trained in magic, a heterosexual marriage is still expected as the only path for advancement. Now that Juliana is being trained at the Harwood Academy, things should ideally be looking up for our queer lady protagonists, but events at the end of Thornbound have left Catherine in a significantly more precarious political position, once again throwing their future as a lesbian power couple into doubt. Throw a grand party into the mix, and an reunion for Catherine and Juliana which ticks every box for hopeless miscommunication, and you have all the ingredients for a single magical night of relationship magic, as the pair figure out what's important to them while also trying not to be kidnapped forever by the barely-tolerant fae guardian of the neighbouring forest.

All of Burgis' characters exist in some degree of opposition with the more egalitarian but restrictive roles set out for them, and the spaces in which the novellas play out underscore that sense of distance from the establishment, while playing up the close presence of various supernatural threats that rather overshadow the characters' initial concerns about their status and political futures. That the protagonists of these books remain believable in their desires, interests and motivations, even as the machinations of that side are kept at arm's length, is one of the big successes of the series, and the fae interference in Moontangled offers an unexpected angle of support to Juliana and Catherine's activities (and, eventually, reconciliation). I would love to know a little bit more about the Bouddicates one day, particularly as the quirks in the series' setup means we spend a lot more time watching women overcoming societal gender imbalances without seeing much about the restrictions and assumptions made about men as a result of this matriarchal system, but I'm equally happy to follow this series wherever it unfolds.


Into Bones like Oil by Kaaron Warren [Meerkat Press, 2019]

Content Warning: Child Death, Implied Child Abuse

Dana is the latest in a long line of washed up, damaged and out-of-luck residents who have moved into The Angelsea, a grim beachside boarding house, following the dissolution of her marriage and the loss of her two daughters. Grief stricken and unable to sleep due to her fear of being haunted by her daughters and blamed for their deaths, Dana quickly discovers that the house isn't quite what it first seems: there's rather a lot of ghosts around, for one thing, and the owner accepts payment not just in cash but in drug-induced sleep that allows the ghosts to speak through the residents. Dana's complex past unfolds alongside her first week at the Angelsea, as she becomes involved in the hunt for lost treasure, gets to know some of the residents and the circumstances that brought them to the place, and eventually begins to challenge and confront her own ghosts, even as it becomes clear that it won't be the ones she expects to hear from.

This is the second work I've read from Warren after her deeply unsettling contribution to the Creatures anthology, and while Into Bones Like Oil certainly maintains the creepiness and claustrophobia of that novelette, it feels like there's more to grip onto here, as the narrative weaves through the different facets of Angelsea's past and present, and Dana's own somewhat unreliable perspective on her own past. The gothic atmosphere here is pitch perfect, down to Dana's location in the house's old foyer (now partially sunk and in the back of the house) from which the ghosts come and go, but she cannot; and the grounding of what could quickly become a too-stereotypical otherworldly space by providing mundane details on the bathroom signs and breakfast menus, all of which make it clear that this is somewhere that people make the best of. Its main narrative is, as you'd expect from the content, pretty unpleasant and hard to read at points, but there's a sense of hope and connection that finds its way through even the awfulness of some of the Angelsea's personalities. A difficult novella, but one that's worth engaging with.

Rating: 8/10

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh [Tor.com Publishing, 2019]

Fun fact: I read this almost back to back with Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree, and now I constantly struggle to remember which title belongs to the culmination of the 5-book children's series and which is the first in Emily Tesh's SCKA-nominated novella duology about ancient wood magic, love, and redemption. It's definitely the latter I'm interested in talking about today: the story of Tobias Finch, once an ordinary man in love with a scoundrel, but now, hundreds of years later, a spirit magically attached to his forest, who spends his days maintaining the peace, hanging out with dryads, and maintaining a rustic lifestyle with his cat in a forgotten cottage in the middle of the wood. All is quietly boring and lowkey terrible until Henry Silver, the new owner of the land on which the forest sits, comes across Tobias' cottage in the middle of a rainstorm, and (with a narrowly avoided "only one bed" scene) starts a connection between the two that is fuelled by Silver's interest in the supernatural elements of the wood, and the darker parts of its history. Tobias, of course, has a personal connection, being hundreds of years old and a supernatural entity, and as Silver gets drawn in beyond what he expected, some old scores emerge to be resettled.

It's a fun novella, especially when it takes a turn in the second part and we meet Henry Silver's disapproving battleaxe of an aunt, who turns out to be a far more competent monster hunter than Henry himself, and while it felt like there was more to explore in the wood itself than we ultimately got to see, the relationships - especially the central connection between Silver and Tobias, which avoids any outright creepiness that might be brought on by their rather significant age gap - are entertaining and the climax, while slightly confusing and bittersweet, definitely held my interest. The sequel to this one is out later this year and I'm intrigued to see where my new favourite forest couple end up next.

Rating: 7/10

Posted by: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Microreview [book]: Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

In Steel Crow Saga, Paul Krueger constructs a one volume epic fantasy with strong inspirations from Pokemon, deconstruction of colonial narratives, and much more.

Gotta Catch em All.

Since the 1990’s, the phrase has come in the English speaking world to be the catch phrase for the Pokemon universe. A universe where esoteric beings, sometimes with startling powers, are used as allies, weapons, surrogates by human trainers in competition with each other. It needs little more introduction from me. Now, as it has been such a fixture in anime, in gaming and in genre culture, it is inevitable that it starts to be inspiration for fantasy writers and their own universes.

In Paul Krueger’s second novel, Steel Crow Saga, he takes the idea of Pokemon and looks at how they might work in a secondary world fantasy setting, specifically one that has just gone through an early 20th century tech level  war and revolution.

Krueger’s world feels a lot like an East Asia that has just been convulsed by war, conquest, revolution, and then revanchism. The Tomodanese, whose culture and general lines feel a lot like Imperial Japan (or perhaps the Fire Nation for Avatar fans) have the ability to manipulate metal. Being a metal poor set of islands, they have gone on a rampaging war of colonial conquest, and conquered large portions of their neighbors. The Shang feel very much like an Imperial China, the Sanbu Islands feel something like the Philippines . The Jeongsonese feel like an oppressed ethnic minority within Shang, of a Korean bent, especially since they have been battered around by various larger powers. The Dahal (with whom we sadly do not get a viewpoint character) feel like a more distant, mercantile focused Indian nation). After years of conquest, revolutions in all of these lands have overthrown the Tomodanese and their metalpacting army, and, reversing the tide of battle and war, carried the war to the home islands of Tomoda themselves as occupiers.

The story of Steel Crow Saga revolves around one of the viewpoint characters, Jimuro. He is to be the Steel Lord, the head of the aforementioned aggressor in the wars. Tomoda. After years growing up, both as Tomoda strode across the world, and then as a captive of the risen up Shang, he never expected to rise to the throne for years and years. The death of his mother, however, has propelled him into the position to take his mother’s place. However, the trip back to Tomoda’s capital, in a world where the Tomodonese have been humbled and continue to be humbled by the powers they once dominated, is a fraught one. Not everyone wants to see Jimuro to make it to his coronation, or have their own agendas for him before he gets there. His journey to that throne and the other characters around them, and the conflicts they engender with each other, and outside forces (including the novel’s main antagonist, the less said about the better for spoilery reasons) is the meat and drink of the novel.

And so the other characters in the novel, viewpoint and non viewpoint alike are arrayed in relationships with him and his quest.  Jimuro’s quest touches them all, affects them all, and as he even strives to figure out what is right and good to do, his fellow characters struggle with conflict, self doubt, growth, change, and painful truths.

So this novel, for all of its high concept with Pokemon in a secondary world fantasy war torn world, this novel is all about relationships, and even more sharply, all about complex sibling relationships. Take Sergeant Tala, for instance. Sergeant Tala is part of the unit that is escorting Jimuro back to Tomoda. She is indeed a shadepacter  but she is unusual, transgressive in two respects. Almost unprecedented in such pacting, she has managed to pact to two separate “animals.”. The really transgressive part, however, is the fact that one of them is her own brother. The Tala-Dimangan (or Mang) relationship is well developed, poignant, and has a touching arc from a flashback to how this occurred, through the meat of the novel. While regular pact creatures like her Beaky are characters with opinions, even if they don’t talk explicitly, Mang is a very different relationship. He has thoughts, opinions, and is not afraid to use them.

Or take Xiulan, 28th Princess of the House of Shang. Certainly, her relationship with Lee, a thief she rescues from death at the beginning of the book so as to employ her talents to find Jimuro (fearing he is in danger), is a fascinating one, especially as we see it develop and change and grow from both points of view (since Lee is also a viewpoint character, too). Too, Xiulan is fascinating on her own, having modeled her Li Quan job (an agent of the throne not unlike an Imperial Auditor) on a favorite novel inspector character. I found this endearing, how Xiulan modeled herself in this way. But but it is Xiulan’s relationship with her half sister Ruomei, the Second Princess, that really drives a lot of Xiulan’s actions, and it turns out, more plot of the novel that one might originally suspect. It’s an adversarial relationship, to be certain, but it is much more complicated a relationship than Xiulan herself might realize.

As far as promising what is on the gorgeous cover, the novel does deliver. Shadepacting is indeed something inspired by Pokemon, but has its own rules, guidelines and quirks all of its own. Aside from rare people like Tala, shadepacting is a one person to one animal affair, and it is an intimate and very personal bond not understood by cultures that do not engage in it (The Tomodanese, particularly, who deem it to be slavery). The nuances of shadepacting come most strongly in Lee’s arc, since she is the one character at the start of the novel without any such ability, and one of the prices she names to Xiulan to help her is to gain a shadepact of her own. That journey to her shadepacting, and how it ultimately influences the narrative, further binds the characters and their relationships together.

Fear not, though, the novel does give us the shade on shade and shade versus human conflict that you might expect and want from a Pokemon influenced novel. Shadepacted creatures are larger, tougher and stronger versions of their original selves, which means that Xiulan’s rat is much larger than a handful, and Dimangan, after his pacting, is the size of a giant. Shades are relatively hard to take down, with strong regenerative abilities, stopping the person they are bonded to, if possible, is often the most effective way to end a combat. The various shades we see throughout the novel also do have non-combat capabilities that come to the fore at various points in the narrative.

Metalpacting, the ability to manipulate metal, gets far less play in the novel, since Jimuro is the only practitioner we see in much of the narrative and he is in not much of a position to use it. There are some very neat worldbuilding bits, though, as the author explores what a world where most people could manipulate metal might mean for construction of things like doors, and automobiles. We do see some military applications, such as in the use of firearms and guns, in a way reminiscent to me of Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage universe. Shadepacting feels more like an intimate, duel like approach to warfare, something feudal, ancient and pre-modern. Contests of champions, for conflict on a one on one scale. (And in fact formal challenges are still permitted in Shang). Metalpacting feels more industrial and more oriented to war on the scale of armies.

There are a couple of nits I have in the novel. One secondary (non viewpoint) character, Kosuke, who has ties to Jimuro isn’t as fleshed out as much as he might be and there are incompletely developed or utilized aspects of that character as well, which is a bit disappointing. The quartet of four main characters are so strong that oftentimes characters around them do not feel as well fleshed out as they might. Kosuke is the weakest in this regard.

Most of all, though, it is highly entertaining novel. It’s a complete story that while I could see further novels set in the world, the story here is tied off relatively neatly and the reader gets a complete reading experience in one volume.  Steel Crow Saga is a secondary world fantasy novel influenced by Pokemon novel that alternates its strong characters beats with shade combats, it alternates its cultural explorations of food, and societies with thoughts on war, the aftermath of war, colonial and post colonial narratives. There is much here not to say about the novel, to invite the reader to discover for themselves the richness of the narrative and the characters. I heartily recommend readers at all interested in secondary world fantasies to do so.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for really well thought out worldbuilding, +1 for an interesting quartet of viewpoint characters

Penalties: -1 for some secondary character problems. 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 
well worth your time and attention

Reference: Krueger, Paul. Steel Crow Saga [Del Rey, 2019]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Interview: Jess Nevins, author of Horror Fiction in the 20th Century

I first heard about Jess Nevins from  his Big Idea post at Scalzi's Whatever.   If you are interested in the modern history of horror and how the genre has evolved over the decades, if you're interested in exploring horror from all corners of the world, and discovering new-to-you horror authors, his newest non-fiction reference book,  Horror Fiction in the 20th Century: Exploring Literature's Most Chilling Genre is the book for you.

The more I researched Nevins, the more fascinated I became.  This is a guy who has published 19 non-fiction reference books on genre since 2003, including The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, The Fables Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Pulp Adventures, The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger, and Horror Needs No Passport, among many others.  The knowledge this guy must have!  The memory! The passion for genre fiction! Also, how in the world does he find the time?

Of course I had to ask him if I could interview him!

I am thrilled to say that yes,  I did get to interview him.  And yes, you will be just as fascinated as I am with his work and his abilities.   Jess was kind enough to talk with me about his adventures with Interlibrary Loan, doing his own foreign language translations, scope creep,  surprising things (and sad things) he found while researching Horror Fiction in the 20th Century, his bucket list of dream projects,  the secret behind how he publishes so many books, his newest project, and more!

If that isn't enough, Jess Nevins' short fiction has appeared in Shimmer Magazine, Skelos, and elsewhere, he has also published three novels.  You can find him online at JessNevins.com, and on twitter at @jessnevins .

Let's get to the interview!

 Nerds of a Feather: Congratulations on Horror Fiction in the 20th Century: Exploring Literature's Most Chilling Genre! This type of reference book has been sorely needed for a long time. Up until now, your work mostly focused on superheroes, long running comic series, and pulp fiction. What made you interested in doing a Horror reference book?

Jess Nevins: Thanks very much! What sparked the idea for the book was my doing research on various topics in encyclopedias of horror fiction and horror authors, and being dissatisfied with what I kept finding. I’ve been reading horror fiction all my life, but the more I learned about the genre the more stories and authors I discovered weren’t covered in the standard reference books on horror fiction. And I kept finding that my own critical judgments were at odds with a lot of the critical judgments in those books.

It finally occurred to me that perhaps I could write a book about horror fiction—as Benjamin Disraeli wrote, when I want to read a book, I write it. So I started doing research for the book, and comparing what I wanted to research and what I wanted the book to have to what was in the standard reference works, and I realized what the book could be  and should be. That’s how I got interested in doing this particular horror reference book: I wanted a horror book that included all the stuff the standard horror reference books left out.

NOAF: What was your research process like?

JN: First I went through the standard reference books and made a list of authors they covered who I felt I should include in my book. Then I started reading anthologies and collections of horror stories by women, books like Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s What Did Miss Darrington See? and Lynette Carpenter and Wendy Kolmar’s Ghost Stories by British and American Women—women have traditionally been slighted or ignored or overlooked in discussions of horror authors, something that is regrettably true about the standard horror reference books as well. I knew I wanted to include a lot of female authors, whose work was just as good (albeit often in different ways) as their male counterparts, so I found as many books and research articles on women horror writers.

Then I read books of criticism about the authors on my list, and took note of the authors those critics mentioned, who were occasionally not in the standard reference works. I spent a lot of time in college and university libraries and special collections—the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center has an excellent collection of horror, and I passed many an hour in the Center’s Reading Room. I spent a lot of time reading articles and electronic books and dissertations online in various research databases and places like Google Scholar and the Core (core.ac.uk ). And I spent a long time going through the bibliographies and footnotes of everything I read and consulting those books and articles which the authors I was reading had used in their research.

NOAF: This reference features incredible coverage of international horror literature. How did you go about finding these horror stories and learning about these authors?

JN: Nearly all of the standard reference books on horror include at least one or two authors who aren’t American or from the United Kingdom—what I call the “Anglophone countries.” Almost as soon as I began writing the book it occurred to me that, as with female horror authors, there must be more horror authors from outside the Anglophone countries than were included in the standard reference books. So I began using all of the databases I had access to via work (I’m a college librarian) to find books on non-Anglophone horror fiction and authors. That gave me a basic list to begin researching. Then I began reading books of criticism and history about regional literatures and the popular literature of various regions and countries. Doing that I found books like O.R. Dathorne’s The Black Mind: A History of African Literature and Albert Gérard’s European Language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa and Muireann Maguire’s Stalin’s Ghosts: Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature, which pointed the way toward authors and stories/novels I didn’t know about and books of history and criticism which might be useful.

I spent a lot of time in college and university libraries and special collections, as I said, and I requested, through my library’s Interlibrary Loan service, an enormous number of books, most collections and anthologies of non-Anglophone authors’ work. Then I began to translate particular stories—which was the most labor-intensive part of the research process. I can get by in French and German, but when it comes to languages like Finnish and Hungarian and Croatian, well, it was word by word, dictionary in hand. Which is not the ideal way to translate anything, but was the best I could manage, since I couldn’t afford to pay for a translator.

NOAF: How has the horror genre changed over the last 100 years?  What types of patterns (if any) did you notice the most?

JN: As you might expect, the horror genre has become much more welcoming to different voices over the past century—different voices, and different characters. The all-white-cis-hetero-male parade of authors and characters is over, thank heavens. With this change in voices and characters has come a similar change in the types of stories told; horror fiction by and about characters who aren’t white-cis-hetero males often (not always, but often) addresses different concerns and anxieties and beliefs than what is found in horror fiction by white-cis-hetero males.

Horror fiction is generally more explicit about what’s going on in the story now, less elliptical and more detailed, whether it’s the violence, the threatening human or monster, the emotions, or even sex. A lot of the old(er) stories would allude to violence and sex and what the monster looked like; most horror fiction now is direct about these things.

In general, changes in horror fiction reflect the changes in society of the author(s) of a horror story. The decline of religion in the West is reflected in the near-disappearance of religious horror in Western horror fiction. The end of colonialist empires in Africa meant that African horror writers could write horror fiction about their former colonizers and about the horrors of colonialism; a generation later, African horror writers began writing horror stories about anything and everything.

Metaphorically, horror fiction a century ago was classical music (including the experimental branch of classical music); by the end of the century, horror fiction could be anything from John Cage’s “4’33”” to Pusha T’s “What Would Meek Do” to Vampire Weekend’s “Harmony Hall.” Anything can be horror fiction now. Anyone can write it. It’s great!

NOAF: What were some of the surprising things you learned, while you were working on this book?

JN: Just how dominant women horror writers were in the 19th century. (Up to 70% of the horror fiction in the 19th century was written by women). Just how widespread horror fiction was, globally, before the 1970s. (The colonial print networks brought 19th century horror fiction to the colonies of the world, so that Edgar Allan Poe could be equally influential on Indonesian and Brazilian horror authors early in the 20th century, and execrable Western authors could dominate local tastes in horror, as Dennis Wheatley did in the former British colonies in Africa up through the 1970s). How effective, and frightening, even the oldest story could be, if I just cleared my mind of expectations and accepted the story on its own terms. (W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” has become a cliché, but if you try to approach it as if you didn’t know the story it becomes a taut, scary little story. The comfortable, Oxford world of M.R. James’ stories is an alien one to most of us, and his protagonists share little in common with us today, but damn if James isn’t a master of horror despite that.

Less happily, how wide-spread and long-lasting the bigotries were in horror fiction: racism, misogyny and sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, nativism, etc. etc. etc., were all too common in horror fiction through the 1960s and kept appearing even into the 1990s, when authors should have known better.

On a happier note, how pleasingly transgressive pre-1970s horror fiction could be. It’s commonly-accepted wisdom that the horror genre is innately conservative, but I don’t believe that’s accurate. Pre-1970s horror fiction can be politically transgressive, can transgress sexual mores, can feature shocking body horror and body violations, can deliver the unhappiest of endings to characters who don’t deserve it—can do, in other words, anything post-1970s horror fiction does, and even more shockingly, because it’s unexpected.

Lastly, just how good the best horror writers from outside the Anglophone world could be. So many of them have never been translated into English, but if and when they are, readers of English are in for some outstanding horror experiences. The Belgian writer Jehanne Jean-Charles is in the tradition of Saki but is, if anything, his superior. The Cuban writer Esther Díaz Llanillo’s stories are superb mergings of M.R. James and Franz Kafka. And the Japanese writer Ryo Hanmura’s novels are a gonzo mix of Marxism and every pop culture horror trope one could hope to find. Someday, I hope, we’ll get these and many other authors in English, and then all of our minds will be blown.

NOAF: You've put out nearly 20 books since 2003, so I've got to ask - what are your time management secrets? How do you work so efficiently?

JN: I cheat. I’ve been an academic librarian since 2001, and every job I’ve had at a college or university has had a scholarly publishing component to the job requirements. All of my bosses, when they read my work, have decided that what I write meets the requirement for scholarly publishing. So I get to write my books as part of my day job.

I’ve been able to write as much as I do are that I write every day, without exception, for as long as I can—I am not the most talented writer in the world, but I will outwork anybody. My wife understands how important writing is to me and is willing to support me in any way she can, from proofing my manuscripts to not blinking an eye when I tell her I need to go to London for two weeks to do research at the British Library. And when I started seriously writing books I decided that I’d have to give up a lot of pleasure time activities. So I don’t watch much tv or see many movies or do a lot of pleasure reading. I spend the time I used to spend on those things doing research and writing and rewriting books. I miss out on a lot that way, but I’m more productive as a writer.

NOAF: How did you first get started with writing Annotated Guides and Encyclopedias for comics, pulp fiction, superheroes, and Victoriana?

JN:  I got started writing because there were things I wanted to read—at first, scholarly annotations to comic books—that didn’t exist. After I’d written a few of those, I had the confidence to start thinking of myself as an actual writer, and to begin thinking about books I wanted to read that didn’t exist and that I thought I could write, like my Victorian literature encyclopedia. After a while I had more ideas for books than I’d ever have the time to write, and since then the books I write are the ones whose ideas won’t leave me, like the history of horror. I’d like to write a history of the Kansas City underworld, and a history of the British comic industry, and a history of how popular literature evolved after the end of every American war; but for the past couple of years I’ve been obsessed with writing a history of horror fiction, and now I’m obsessed with a novel idea. I have to follow the obsessions.

NOAF: I know projects can often grow larger that we expect, and often in directions we didn't expect. Any funny stories about scope creep?

JN: OMG. Nearly all of my books have suffered from scope creep, sometimes ridiculously so! If my publisher for the horror book hadn’t instituted a hard word limit of 110,000 words, I’d probably have written a book that was twice as long. My pulp encyclopedia really suffered from that, because I started out thinking I’d only do recurring heroes from pulp magazines—and surely that would be a small number—and then I said, “Why not include recurring heroes from radio shows?” and then “Why not include recurring heroes from detective novel series?” and then “Why not include heroes from movie serials and comic strips?” and then “Why not include recurring heroes from international pulps and dime novels and movie serials and comic strips?” and before I knew it the pulp encyclopedia was about 800,000 words long! (The manuscript is almost 1800 pages long).

NOAF: If I'm not mistaken, your next project is the second volume of your Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana. What can you tell us about it?

JN: The first edition of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana came out in 2005. It was an encyclopedia of genre fiction published in the 19th century, although I included Gothic fiction from as early as the 1760s—can’t write about the Victorians without including the Gothics—and I included a story published in 1905, because the character was more Victorian than Edwardian. The encyclopedia was a success—a finalist for a literary award, sold out its print run, won me some fans—but it was too expensive to reprint, and so it went out of print.

Last summer, it occurred to me that maybe the time was right to do a second edition of Victoriana. There were certain things about the original that had irritated me for a long time: the lack of a good index, the lack of scholarly apparatus like footnotes and a proper bibliography, the lack of certain authors and stories or novels. The first edition had been written from 2001-2004, which is about six generations in Internet time; the amount of critical and historical material available online now is staggering compared to what was online in 2001. Most of all, what bugged me and even embarrassed me about the first edition was that I’d written it when I was in my early thirties, when my personal politics were sometimes less than woke and when my literary/critical judgments could sometimes be callow. Now, in my early fifties, I’ve got better personal politics and a better set of critical judgments.

So I rewrote Victoriana. I rewrote most of the entries and incorporated new information into all of the entries—all the criticism and histories that had been written in the past twenty years. I removed some entries and added a number of others. I made the book scholarly, so everything’s footnoted now. I included a proper index. I corrected the mistakes of the first edition, cleaned up the embarrassingly wrong statements, and refined my judgments and criticism.

The resulting manuscript is over 2200 pages long, and will only be available as an ebook, but it’s finally the book that the first edition should have been, and anyone interested in the popular literature of the 19th century should find it very useful. (I’ve put the list of entries in the second edition here,  and put a sample entry online here:)

NOAF:  Thanks Jess!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Dragon Prince Re-Read: Skybowl

Welcome back to my Dragon Prince re-read! We've come to the end. Skybowl is the concluding volume to Melanie Rawn's Dragon Star trilogy, which is ultimately the culmination of six novels worth of worldbuilding and storytelling. As always, I maintain the story arcs across all six novels more accurately complete a single trilogy with a much more unified story than one might otherwise expect. I go into a little bit more detail about that in my write-up of Stronghold, if anyone is inclined for a refresher.

When I wrote about The Dragon Token, I noted that it was the one entry in this reading series where I've moved from a re-read to a straight up first time reading because nothing in that novel was familiar. We are back on familiar ground with Skybowl as this is a novel I've actually read - though not nearly as many times as the three Dragon Prince novels or even Stronghold.

For previous essays I have included a disclaimer that each essay will contain spoilers of the story so far, though I attempted to limit those for the books we had not yet gotten to. Now that we've reached the end of the series, all restrictions are off. This essay will contain spoilers of the full series. You have been warned.

I had forgotten how Skybowl ends. I remembered the death of Meiglan and that of the High Warlord, but I did not remember the aftermath. I didn't remember that Andry died, and definitely did not remember that he died from putting too much of himself into a major weaving of sunlight and, in the end, lost himself to that sunlight.

I never thought I'd cry for Andry. He was never my favorite character. When I wrote about Sunrunner's Fire I remembered "the sweet boy who loved his brothers so much it hurt in The Star Scroll" and somewhat lamented how that boy was gone, buried under the pressure of being the new Lord of Goddess Keep and consumed by his unwavering belief that his visions of the future were absolutely correct and justified any course of action he might undertake, no matter how murderous. It was so very sad to watch and his growth into Pol's main antagonist has been difficult. He's not the most pleasant of characters to read - though his visions have ultimately been proven correct, as noted by the existence of the Dragon Star trilogy (this does not mean that all of his murder or tightening up the religious aspects of Goddess Keep were even remotely correct, of course).

Andy is a difficult character to love and even though I can't remember his death the first time I read Skybowl, I feel reasonably certain I never cried for him. The thing is, and this is the thing about so much in literature these days, I'm the father of two small children and any sort of parental grief is a novel is just too damned difficult for me. Watching Tobin have to let another son go, her third - another child, no matter how grown Andry was, no matter how powerful - it's too much. I had to look away from the book. Seeing Chay there at the end, when Andy finally lets go into the sunlight...I'm glad that I finished Skybowl at home because I ugly cried as Tobin and Chay lost another son. It's not Rohan. It's not Sioned.  It's watching a parent lose a child. I just can't.

There is a song from Tori Amos on her To Venus and Back double album, "Cooling". It's a live track, and it must have been one of the songs she used to close shows with because she introduces the song by saying "and this is sort of my goodbye to you". There's not even an indirect link that I can make between Skybowl and "Cooling", except that the song (and that intro) ran through my head a number of times reading Skybowl. It was the knowledge that this was the end of Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince. Rohan was dead. Sioned was soon to be dead. The war was going to end and it was going to be time to say goodbye and even though this re-read has reminded me that I don't love the Dragon Star novels nearly as much as I do the Dragon Prince books (three volumes of near ceaseless brutal war which costs the lives of so many and breaks the rest, can't imagine why), it's bittersweet. Rawn offers tantalizing hints as to the futures of various characters (Sionell's son Meig, for one) and even though I'm not done with this world, Melanie Rawn is. So this is goodbye.

So much of Skybowl feels like a chase to rescue Meiglan from the High Warlord and the Vellant'im. He wants her, we only half understand why until it is clear that he plans to sacrifice her to crush the High Prince and break the power of the dragons. It's a little convoluted, but it becomes clear that the reason for this plan is superstition and the altered dragon books Sioned had left behind to confuse the Vellant'im and to not let them know the secrets of the land. Unfortunately, one of those alterations had to do with virgin sacrifice and even though Meiglan is a) married and b) a mother - she's a mother of girls and apparently that doesn't count for the Vellant'im, so sacrifice it is.

Rawn wraps the story in her usual multi-pronged storytelling, but there is a relentless drive to get back to Meiglan - for Pol to save her somehow (when he's not obsessing over Sionell, being an ass,  and feeling guilty about it) - she's the centerpiece of this story. It doesn't end well.

As much as I love Dragon Prince, I think what I most loved about these novels is the early interplay of Rohan and Sioned and building the dream of peace. Skybowl, perhaps more than Stronghold or The Dragon Token, was more of a slog (though at least Sioned here is an active character again). I'm generally a fast reader and I was a long time reading Skybowl, and not because I didn't want it to end or to truly say goodbye - though there was a certain element to that. Even though I don't love Pol and Andry, reading the Dragon Prince novels is like slipping into comfortable socks and reading under a blanket. Despite the war with the Vellant'im, this is a pure comfort read for me. These are old friends and most of my old friends are dying - and maybe that's my biggest "problem". I'm left with the children of my friends and even though they're related, they're not the same people. I'm stretching that analogy a little farther than it can realistically go. Pol and Sionell at each others throats is not Rohan and Sioned and it's not Chay with Tobin. It's not supposed to be, and I take Dragon Star on its own merits - but one trilogy I love and the other I like.

Skybowl is the culmination of the Dragon Star trilogy, three books where Melanie Rawn seemingly set herself the goal of breaking every beautiful thing she built in Dragon Prince novels. It's rough and it is unrelenting, even granting the moments of levity and the standard statements of all the great things a Prince can do for his friends and vassals when they come through in the clutch. There was darkness and nasty moments in Dragon Prince a plenty, but Dragon Star sees that and raises it once more.

Thank you very much for coming on this journey of re-reading one of my all time favorite fantasy series with me. It was a delight to revisit some old friends and meet a few new ones along the way.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Adri and Joe talk about books: 2019 Locus Recommended Reading List

Joe: It’s not that I consider the publication of the Locus Recommended Reading List to be the start of any particular awards season (because, as we all know, Hugo Awards Season is eternal) - but perhaps moreso than any other publication releasing their Best of the Year list at the end of 2019 or even putting together my own list in January, the Locus Recommended list is really the impetus for a wider conversation about the shape of the genre. As such, I am very glad you are able to join me again this year for that wider conversation.

What are your initial impressions about this list?

Adri: it's long! Was it this long last year? And once again there are so many great things that I can confirm, and even more that I've been eyeing up and haven't made it to.

But yeah, it feels long. Particularly the number of novella choices. So many books!

Joe: The overall list feels about right compared to previous years, but novella is about twice as long as last year with perhaps a wider range than in recent years past.

My count might be slightly off, but I read a smidge more than 60 books published in 2019 - a number which does include novellas, nonfiction, and non-genre works - and I generally consider myself reasonably well read in the genre, but the Locus Recommended list reminds me just how much I haven’t read. I’ve owned the book since publication early in the year, but I still haven’t read Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night and Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a major gap in my reading.

Adri: Ancestral Night is excellent and will probably be on my Hugo ballot! My own likely-shocking-to-you omission is Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, which I’m very unlikely to read before nominations close. Storm of Locusts and The City in the Middle of the Night are on my physical TBR and I am going to do my best to make those happen.

This year I had some preparation for discovering how much brilliant stuff I haven’t read through my participation in developing a niche awards shortlist - but this is still the moment that really drives it home. I’m proud, though, that this year I can spot my occasional experiences and favourites through more of the list (aside from art books, non-fiction and reprint anthologies), instead of being concentrated in the longer fiction. All that short fiction I stuffed in my eyeballs in 2019 seems to have paid off! That said, paying more attention to those lists means looking at more things I want to read and haven’t, including Aliette de Bodard’s Of Wars, And Memories, and Starlight, and Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, as well as oversights in our own longlist picking process - i.e. how did I miss that Sarah Pinsker’s amazing novelette “The Narwhal” is a 2019 original?

Joe: There’s only so much time to read everything. I didn’t read The Future of Another Timeline until after our longlists went up and it absolutely would have made the list. I am, of course, naturally distressed that you have not read Middlegame. My love and appreciation for Seanan McGuire’s fiction is well established the last few years, but Middlegame is a major level up for McGuire. It’s impressive.

The Locus lists are fairly robust, I’m still a little surprised not to see The Dragon Republic from R.F. Kuang on the fantasy list. The Poppy War was a monster debut and The Dragon Republic is just as good. I haven’t read either of the next two, but The Rage of Dragons from Evan Winter was a very buzzy debut, as was Megan O’Keefe’s Velocity Weapon (buzzy, but not a debut). It’s hard to find real fault with the breadth of the list, but the omission of those three are somewhat surprising.

Adri: I agree that The Dragon Republic felt like a very strong continuation of Kuang’s series, so I’m also a bit surprised that it’s not included. The same goes for Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan, which is an absolutely delightful continuation of the Lady Trent universe with a great new protagonist. Frances Hardinge’s new novel Deeplight surprisingly doesn’t make the young adult list.

An omission that I’m perhaps less surprised about, but that maybe indicates the US bias of the list, is the lack of Jen Williams’ The Poison Song: this is the close of her Winnowing Flame Trilogy, which has already won British Fantasy Awards for books one and two despite the fact neither of those made it onto the list in their respective years either. I’ve only read the first in the series but it’s one a lot of UK people love (I know, because I’m being compelled to read it for SCKA), and given that the Hugo nominators are going to have a higher-than-usual Brit contingent thanks to Dublin I wouldn’t be surprised if it broke the Hugo Best Series longlist, at the very least.

Joe: I’m not sure I’ve heard of Jen Williams or her series. If I had, the books just rolled right past me. I’m not saying I’m representative, because Elizabeth Bear’s lack of Best Novel Hugo nominations proves that I’m not - but usually I think I’m at least aware of what’s out there. I found a blindspot.

Adri: It’s one that’s well worth checking out, international availability notwithstanding.

We did this last year but I’m almost afraid to ask this year, with so many amazing books out there. What do you see making the awards shortlists this year?

Joe: I’ve thought about this more than I’d like to admit, so I put together a Build-a-Ballot for the Hugo Awards this year.

Start with Gideon the Ninth, The City in the Middle of the Night, The Light Brigade, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January. Select between two and four of these novels. I would be shocked if only one of them hit the Hugo ballot.

Next, consider The Future of Another Timeline, A Memory Called Empire, Middlegame, A Song for a New Day, The Raven Tower, and Magic for Liars. Pick one to two of these, depending on how many you picked from the first category.

Then - look at the final list and if you still have an empty spot on your ballot, pick one: The Testaments, Ancestral Night, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, The Dragon Republic, The Empress of Forever, Gods of Jade and Shadow, The Rage of Dragons, Storm of Locusts, Wanderers, and Velocity Weapon. I would consider these longer shots at the ballot, but they are reasonable long shots.

I don’t have a lot of opinions of the shorter fiction categories, but I fully expect The Deep and This is How You Lose the Time War to be on the ballot for Novella and something from Sarah Pinsker in a shorter category. A Song for a New Day might be a bit of a stretch in the second category above, but Pinsker has been so popular at shorter lengths with Hugo voters that I can’t discount the novel (also, I adored A Song for a New Day, but history tells me that appreciation is not enough to get my favorite on the ballot.)

Adri: I… can’t argue with much of this. I would rate A Memory Called Empire at a higher probability than The City in the Middle of the Night, but that may be me only paying attention to buzz from books that I’ve read.

Song for a New Day is a magnificent novel (and it’s so much fun to catch up with Luce Cannon in her younger days!) but I think it’s got a stronger chance at the Nebula ballot than the Hugo one, for nebulous (ha) “it just feels like a Nebula book” sorts of reasons. I feel similarly about The Future of Another Timeline, although since reading that last week it’s shot up my consideration. I haven’t read The Testaments in order to make sweeping comparative statements about the future of feminist SF, but I’ll make a sweeping objective one: The Future of Another Timeline is where I want it to be going.

In short fiction, I think To Be Taught, if Fortunate is also very likely to break into novella, and I’m also keeping a curious eye on two “tie-ins” whose respective series have been represented in short fiction before: “Glass Cannon” by Yoon Ha Lee (in Hexarchate Stories) and “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness” by Aliette de Bodard (in Of War, and Memories, and Starlight). Both would have an uphill battle given the novella category is so dominated by standalone works these days - and the de Bodard collection is a Subterranean Press book with limited physical availability - but I’m interested in how it plays out nonetheless.

Joe: I could be wrong about The City in the Middle of the Night, but Charlie Jane Anders was on the ballot in 2017 for All the Birds in the Sky (an admittedly buzzier book, I think), but as good as that book was, I think The City in the Middle of the Night is better. It might even be more appealing across the board for nominators, but as mentioned before, what the heck do I know.

I completely agree with you on A Song for a New Day. It’s not the perfect Nebula book the way Blackfish City was last year, but it may well be far more of a Nebula book. And I also just checked Pinsker’s previous nominations and even though she’s been a three-time Hugo Award finalist, it was her Nebula nominations I was thinking about - she’s a seven-time Nebula finalist, including a win for “Our Lady of the Open Road”, the story Pinsker expanded into the novel. Well that’s interesting and if I had a do-over, I’d move it down into the long shot category.

The Future of Another Timeline is so good! It’s another novel I feel the author leveled up to write.

Adri: Yes, let’s pretend that there’s no way you can edit that prediction list now. It’s set in stone! Your future in genre punditry now hangs in the balance!

One thing I noted in last year’s list was that representation of Black authors was concentrated in YA (which is just as important but has different barriers to entry to adult SFF) and short fiction. This was not fully accurate on my part, as there were several Black authors in the first novel category for adult books who I didn’t pick up on (C.L. Polk, Bethany C. Morrow and Rebecca Roanhorse) - but I’m still happy to see progress this year with Black authors represented across the novel categories. Drayden is back in Science Fiction alongside Tade Thompson; Karen Lord and Helen Oyeyemi’s books are in fantasy; Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James is, somewhat bizarrely, in horror (I note that the horror list is otherwise all white, and hope that this book wasn’t moved in there just to prevent that from being the case); and Namwali Serpell, Cadwell Turnbull (whose debut, The Lesson, comes very highly recommended by the Skiffy and Fanty team and has been on my TBR for a while) and Ta-Nehisi Coates in First Novel. And, of course, there’s another very strong showing in YA, including LL McKinney, Akwaeke Emezi and Tochi Onyebuchi.

Of course, a skim through for one author demographic is no substitute for a full assessment of the diversity of a recommendation list, especially one as extensive and influential as the Locus List. But it is good to see.

Joe: YA does still seem to have the widest range of representation, but you’re right - there is a range of representation across all of the categories, to the point at least that we don’t have to say #LocusSoWhite - so that’s a good thing. It would be interesting to do a deeper dive in the numbers for each category of the Locus list, but that might be beyond the scope of this conversation though I’d love to see that report.

I am a bit surprised at the inclusion of Black Leopard, Red Wolf in Horror. That’s a straight up fantasy novel and while James is working with different traditions and it’s fairly bleak and you can make arguments about its literary merits compared to, say, Joe Abercrombie - it’s no more horror than any other grimdark fantasy (to the point that I care about *that* label). At least not that I was thinking about while I was reading it. Black Leopard, Red Wolf was certainly marketed as fantasy, which is really where we come up with most of these categories anyway.

I think we’ve come to the end of another episode of Adri and Joe Talk About Books. Do you have any final thoughts to wrap up this year’s Locus Recommended Reading List?

Adri: Well, as ever there’s a lot of reading to be done! My main takeaway from this year that we haven’t discussed yet is how wide a net this list casts: there’s a significant overlap between literary fiction with speculative elements and the “core” SFF scene and I’m glad this list offers a broad tent which incorporates the literary works whose SFF is worth celebrating (even as I smirk behind my hand at the non-inclusion of the likes of Ian McEwan). The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell, Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi and The Testaments are all sitting in my library pile right now and I’m grateful for the extra nudge to read them.

Likewise, there are a couple of really cool pieces in the short fiction section with unusual publication histories: “I (28M) created a deepfake girlfriend and now my parents think we’re getting married” by Fonda Lee originally appeared in the MIT Technology Review, and Ted Chiang’s piece “It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids are Still Winning” from the New York Times’ series of editorials from the future. Alongside entries from Slate’s Future Tense series and the Ocean Stories anthology by sustainable technology foundation XPrize, I appreciate that speculative short fiction by excellent authors is out in these more “non traditional” sources, and that those who compile the Locus list make it easier for the likes of me to know a little more about what’s going on.

What are your takeaways from this year’s list?

Joe: I don’t read enough nonfiction within the genre, though to be fair I don’t read quite enough nonfiction in general, and to be even more even after reading more than 60 books published last year and 150 books overall I still don’t feel like I’ve read quite enough. I want to read all the books.

What was I talking about? Oh, right. Nonfiction books.Or, as we like to say when talking about the Hugo Awards: Related Work.

I had to double check the Locus list to see if there was another Ursula K. Le Guin book from last year to see if I can make an assumption about one of the slots on the Hugo ballot, but there is not.

What is on the Locus Recommended list for nonfiction is a number of very interesting works - Modern Masters of Science Fiction volumes on Joanna Russ and Kim Stanley Robinson, a Heinlein biography (reviewed by Paul here), Nnedi Okorafor has a short memoir, and a couple of books on the pioneering women of science fiction (Monster She Wrote, and The Lady of the Black Lagoon). I don’t know where I’ll find the time, but I want to read at least half of the nonfiction books on that list. It is also selfishly worth noting that we also recommended a number of those same works in our own Hugo Awards Recommended Reading List.

After all of that, if we’re still feeling the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin on the Hugo Awards ballot don’t worry, the Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin documentary is eligible for inclusion in Related Work (nonfiction films are generally considered Related Work rather than Dramatic Presentations). So there’s still hope that we won’t have a year without Le Guin being recognized at the Hugo Awards.

Adri: Stand by for the Ted Chiang sequel editorial: “It’s 2059, and Ursula K. Le Guin is still winning Hugos”...

That's all for this time! I look forward to talking again once the shortlists start dropping...

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

Monday, February 10, 2020

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 new and forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about? Is there something we should consider spotlighting in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Hurley, Kameron. The Broken Heavens [Angry Robot]
Publisher's Description
The Tai Mora – invaders from a parallel universe – have vanquished their counterparts and assumed control of the world called Raisa. The Saiduan are wiped out. The Dhai nation has broken apart. The remaining countries are in chaos. While the Dhai retreat and regroup, led by the recklessly headstrong Lilia, the Tai Mora begin to unravel the mystery of how to use the ancient Dhai holy places to harness the power of the stars and cement their tyrannical rule for another two thousand years.

With more refugees from ravaged lands passing through the soft seams between worlds every day, time is running out for the Tai Mora and the last of the Dhai. Only one ruler, one nation, one world can survive. Who will be saved, and who will be sacrificed, when the heavens finally break?

Back with a vengeance – and fearless, unapologetic writing – Hurley’s visceral masterpiece finally reaches its world-shattering end… 
Why We Want It: Hurley stepped away from her Worldbreaker series to write and publish both The Stars Are Legion and The Light Brigade. Both are among the best novels of the last ten years and have served to whet the appetite for The Broken Heavens – though I’ll need a small refresher of what came before in the previous two books. This is Hurley’s return to straight up epic fantasy, though nothing Kameron Hurley does is straight up. The first two books were absolutely top notch and we can’t wait to see how Hurley concludes the series.

Kerr, Katharine. Sword of Fire [DAW]
Publisher's Description
This first novel of an epic fantasy trilogy reintroduces readers to the beloved and bestselling world of Deverry, blending magic, politics, and adventure in an unforgettable setting. 

The bards are the people’s voice–and their sword.

All over the kingdom of Deverry, the common people are demanding reform of the corrupt law courts. In Aberwyn, the situation catches fire when Gwerbret Ladoic, second in authority only to the High King, allows a bard to starve to death rather than hear their grievances.

Guildwoman Alyssa, a student at the local scholars’ collegium, and Lady Dovina, the gwerbret’s own daughter, know that evidence exists to overthrow the so-called traditional legal system, if they can only get it into the right hands. The powerful lords will kill anyone who threatens their privileges.

To retrieve the proof, Alyssa must make a dangerous journey that will either change her life forever–or end it. 
Why We Want It: The 16th Deverry novel and the first to be published in 11 years. I’m not sure where and how this fits into the timeline and the braided narrative of the first fifteen books of a series most thought was already complete. I’m only halfway through my first read through of the series (check out my Deverry Read: Part One, Part Two) and I am certainly not going to catch up before Sword of Fire is published, but this is a fantastic series and I am so glad there is going to be at least one more. I just need to confirm if there is a barrier to entry or if I am safe to pick up here while I continue with the series. Either way, major fantasy release right here!

Larkwood, A.K. The Unspoken Name [Tor]
Publisher's Description
A. K. Larkwood's The Unspoken Name is a stunning debut fantasy about an orc priestess turned wizard's assassin. 

What if you knew how and when you will die? 

Csorwe does—she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard's loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn—gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due. 
Why We Want It: Without knowing anything about the novel, The Unspoken Name has been one of the more buzzed about novels of early 2020.  Plus, check out Adri's review.

McGuire, Seanan. Imaginary Numbers [DAW]
Publisher's Description
The ninth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans. 

Sarah Zellaby has always been in an interesting position. Adopted into the Price family at a young age, she’s never been able to escape the biological reality of her origins: she’s a cuckoo, a telepathic ambush predator closer akin to a parasitic wasp than a human being. Friend, cousin, mathematician; it’s never been enough to dispel the fear that one day, nature will win out over nurture, and everything will change.

Maybe that time has finally come.

After spending the last several years recuperating in Ohio with her adoptive parents, Sarah is ready to return to the world–and most importantly, to her cousin Artie, with whom she has been head-over-heels in love since childhood. But there are cuckoos everywhere, and when the question of her own survival is weighed against the survival of her family, Sarah’s choices all add up to one inescapable conclusion.

This is war. Cuckoo vs. Price, human vs. cryptid…and not all of them are going to walk away. 
Why We Want It: Since April 2018 I've read all eight previous Incryptid novels and, as is the case with all of McGuire's novels - they are absolutely delightful and fun and dangerous and straight up excellent. Imaginary Numbers focuses on Sarah Zellaby (the Price cousin and cuckoo / parasitic wasp) and that's a story I've been waiting for.

Polk, C.L. Stormsong [Tor.com Publishing]
Publisher's Description
After spinning an enthralling world in Witchmark, the winner of the World Fantasy Award for best novel that was praised as a “can't-miss debut” by Booklist, and as “thoroughly charming and deftly paced” by the New York Times, C. L. Polk continues the story in Stormsong. Magical cabals, otherworldly avengers, and impossible love affairs conspire to create a book that refuses to be put down. 

Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There's revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What's worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace's heart.

Can Aeland be saved without bloodshed? Or will Kingston die in flames, and Grace along with it? 
Why We Want It: Witchmark was fantastic, the winner of the 2019 World Fantasy Award, and was a stunningly good story that I was curious how it might continue. Adri also had some things to say about it. Stormsong is an intriguing book for February.

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Race to the Sun [Rick Riordan]
Publisher's Description
Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he’s Mr. Charles, her dad’s new boss at the oil and gas company, and he’s alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he’s a threat, but her father won’t believe her. When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says “Run!”, the siblings and Nizhoni’s best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters. Their aid will come at a price: the kids must pass a series of trials in which it seems like nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the House of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. But it will take more than weapons for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be . . . Timeless themes such as the importance of family and respect for the land resonate in this funny, fast-paced, and exciting quest adventure set in the American Southwest. 
Why We Want It: New Rebecca Roanhorse! Roanhorse has been a fascinating writer to follow - from her first short story to her two Sixth World novels to Star Wars and now her first YA novel. I'm here for whatever she writes.

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.