book reviews: alaya gets weepy

Reviews! I don’t think I can call them weekly anymore, huh? But I’ve finished a lot of books of late, so here you go. Tomes brimming with romantic girl-cooties (sorry, fellas). Two of them made me cry! In this edition:

The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase
Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Deed of Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon

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Oh my god. This photo is from the 1930s. The man depicted is a slave. In the 1930s.

From the 1930s

From a book (Slavery By Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon) about a chapter in history I’d never heard of before: slavery after the civil war, continuing until WWII. From the description:

Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.

Read about the rest here.

blind men’s bluff

For those of you who have not heard, anthology editor Jonathan Strahan recently announced his final TOC for the upcoming Eclipse Two anthology, published by Night Shade Books. Now, you might have thought that given the brou-ha-ha surrounding the cover of Eclipse One, those associated with the project would now be very sensitive to gender issues and disinclined to repeat the spectacle. Well, apparently not.

The TOC is (as far as I can tell) entirely made up of white men, with one white woman. I’m with ktempest: I find this sort of thing wholly unacceptable. And no, I refuse to look at some sort of long-term trend to confirm bias when it comes to an anthology. Anthologies are books, meant to be consumed as single projects. It’s not like a magazine, with subscribers, a regular production schedule and an expectation of future issues.

I’m re-posting here what I just wrote in the comments section of the original SF Signal announcement:


So, you have created an anthology of white men and one white woman. The publisher’s copy for Eclipse One reads:

“Set to become a major event on the science fiction and fantasy calendar,Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy gathers together new science fiction and fantasy stories by the best writers working today.”

This is a general interest anthology. It’s being promoted as some sort of compilation of exciting new talent. And yet, that talent is as race and gender limited as anything that would have been published 30 or 40 years ago. I bet those editors thought they were gender/color blind, too. 13 white men and 1 white woman represent the best writers working today?

Honestly, when the women dropped out, did it occur to you to cast a wider net and ask more women for stories? To open a few more slots from the open call or extend it? To recruit a few of the dramatically underrepresented pool of writers of color (especially female writers of color), very few of whom ever seem to break through to the relative mainstream of our genre?

No one is saying you should accept a story by a woman or a writer of color just because you need to fill a quota. But a solicited anthology is only as good as the writers whose stories you solicit, and judging by this TOC (no matter what unfortunate first-round dropouts you had), you need to broaden your list. Any editor of a magazine or anthology not only considers the internal quality of each story but ALSO their relationship with each other. I hear all the time that a story might get rejected not because it was bad, but because, say, Peter S. Beagle beat you to the unicorn story slot. If you have a preponderance of AI stories, you might reject one you would otherwise have accepted. This type of “not just the quality of the story, but the quality of the market” balancing is an accepted and, indeed, *expected* part of the job of the editor. When Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put out their fairy tale anthologies, no one wanted to read six sleeping beauty re-tellings, no matter how good they might individually be.

So HOW is it any different to consider another “not just the story quality” valence when weighing the effect of the balance of an anthology? How is it “affirmative action” or “quotas” or any of those other bogeymen to look at your TOC and think, “gee, I seem to have stuffed this with a lot of white guys. My readership might not like that anymore than an anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories, so let me try to balance things a little.”

There are so many excellent women and writers of color working in the field today that I find it astonishing that (when the first round of women dropped out) you could not have solicited several other excellent stories from them to help round out your anthology in all the ways people clearly care about.

Because I’m with Stephanie: I’ve seen enough of these all-male anthologies to last my lifetime.

I’d really appreciate thoughts/comments about this. This sort of thing frustrates me so much I never quite know what to do, but interaction is always good.

tant que je vive

And if you know exactly what I’m going to talk about already, I’m either your friend or need to become so immediately!

I spent about six hours last night re-reading choice bits of the end of The Ringed Castle (‘I reserve the right,’ said Lymond, ‘to change the metre.’) and Checkmate (‘Don’t be surprised: your sire loved me also?’) and have come away with an even deeper appreciation of just how seriously. fucking. good. Dorothy Dunnett was.

In a hundred years, if we haven’t destroyed ourselves in some nuclear apocalypse or global warming induced natural disaster, the Lymond chronicles will still be read by generations of precocious readers and writers of certain romantic sensibility. And a fraction of them will go on to a lifetime of admiration and informed, coy, clever emulation. The fact that I can read a book now and predict with what seems (anecdotally, at least) to be an uncanny degree of accuracy if the author has read the Lymond chronicles speaks to just how much of a nerve those books hit with people. And what I mean is, they change lives.

Sometimes I think of Lymond as the literary version of the Velvet Underground…not many people bought the record, but everyone who did started a band.

I have some vague ideas about how to turn this secret cabal of Lymond-lovers into a more public (and surely fascinating) discussion at a con, but I first need to figure out how many of them are going to be traipsing around Calgary come November.

In the meantime, as an all-too-brief illustration of the many, many layers of meaning that Dunnett was capable of infusing into every word, I give you this from Checkmate:


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