mexican holiday

I have discovered that the Speculative Literature Foundation has taken leave of their senses and decided to give me $800 to travel around Mexico. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic.

The press release is here. I’m going there to research a novel I’ve been planning and researching for at least four years. The working title is Revolution and Desire in the Mushroom Kingdom (I know, I’ll have to change it). Once I finish the second book of my trilogy, I think I’m going to work on this until something comes up. Like, the fifty other novels/short stories/work for hire projects I seem to have taken on.


in which I engage in self-promotion

A short story of mine (hard SF, would you believe?) that I had thought would be going up in September, is actually up this week at Strange Horizons. Read it! If any of you met me at readercon, I used an excerpt from this story for my “meet the prose” quote. The thing about Dante’s first ring and demons who have hox genes. My friend Kris really loves the part about the lip-creature. Now you have to be curious, right?

In other news, RWA was a very interesting and different experience from the average SF con. I really enjoyed it– especially the fancy dresses and free books. I went to the St. Martin’s Press party and it was swanky! Also, RWA is so much better organized and more useful than SFWA it’s sort of sad and pathetic. I think I’m going to join this week.

neato stuff

Want to point out the upcoming KGB Fantastic Fiction Raffle, in case any of you haven’t heard of it. There are some really awesome prizes up there: you can win a story critique from Nancy Kress, Rick Bowes, Gardner Dozois, Shawna McCarthy and a few others. You can get Jeffrey Ford or Lucius Shepard to “Tuckerize” your name in a short story (this means they’ll name a character after you). Tom Canty has donated an original drawing (eek!). AND there’s lots of reading material, including subscriptions to some awesome magazines like Paradox and Sybil’s Garage. The raffle tickets are only $1 each, though obviously buying more will improve your chances.

Best of all, you get to support the ongoing KGB Fantastic Fiction reading, which happens the third Wednesday of every month. I’m going to be reading there in December, so of course this is a very worthy cause!

EDIT: Starts on July 14th, but you can browse the items before then.

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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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.

on the condescension of adults

I will never understand how it is that perfectly reasonable, intelligent, precocious and curious children can grow up into timid, hidebound, ideologically paranoid adults who feel the need to police every errant word that might pass their precious babies’ dewy eyes. And by this I mean: by what reasonable standard can an eleven year old child not be allowed to understand what the word “scrotum” means (especially in reference to a dog’s genitals, and in the most clinical manner possible)? Why is it that sexually curious (and possibly active) fifteen and sixteen year olds shouldn’t be able to read about teenage homosexual relationships (Boy Meets Boy)? What on earth are we trying to “save” these children from? Reading, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, is an act of discovery, one that in some way uncovers some heretofore unknown aspect of our world. Writing is humanity’s best method of conveying all sorts of knowledge, including the bewildering complexity of our human interactions. And reading is perhaps any person’s best chance of entering another person’s head, and really experiencing the world from their perspective. So, to me, it seems like it should be a crime for some wrong-headed adult to restrict any child capable of understanding the material from reading anything they wish to. Yes, I am opposed to censorship of any kind because I at least remember the joy of reading as a young teenager. I know that if my parents had decided to vet my choices before I was allowed to enjoy them, many of my fondest reading experiences would never have happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to read the Alanna series when I was twelve because she gets her period and falls in love with a much older man.

By book four, in fact, the Alanna series is rather singular among YA fantasy novels, which tend to be dramatically more conservative than their “realistic fiction” YA shelf mates. Judy Blume was telling young girls about their periods and (possibly ill-advised) sex with boys while YA fantasy authors were cleaning up after dragons and vain wizards. Now, I adore Patricia C. Wrede and Diana Wynne Jones (ask anyone), but at a certain point in my youth I had to wonder: where on earth was the sex? The periods? The sexual uncertainty? Why was it that these issues never seemed to make it into YA fantasy, but were staples of many realistic YA novels? And I think the reason goes straight back to these self-imposed gatekeepers of Young People’s Pristine Minds: librarians, parents and editors. For some reason, fantasy was always seen as skewing younger than more realistic YA, and thus much less adult content was tolerated. (I wrote an essay for Beatrice about the amorphous distinctions between YA and adult fantasy, but those distinctions of qualitative focus are, I think, a little separate from the sex, etc. I’m discussing here.)

But this is all ridiculous. Tweens and teens are perfectly capable of understanding and appreciating the subject matter of Boy Meets Boy or The Higher Power of Lucky. I treasured every morsel of truly adult content I gleaned form my reading in middle and high school. Every serious (not titillating) explanation of a sexual act or interaction was to me a valuable window into a world I wanted to know more about. And when I see adults struggling to board up these windows for kids far more isolated than I ever was, I get furious. Not every child is willing to rebel. Some willingly go along with their parents’ or librarian’s well-meaning (I suppose) damming of their intellectual outlets.

And even when the parents and librarians don’t censor, I sometimes feel like there is far too much self-censorship on the part of authors and editors, especially in fantasy. I mean, why is it that twenty years after Alanna had some decently explicit sex with Jonathon and George do we still see so little in YA fantasy? Why do we have to turn to realistic YA for some decent homosexual relationships? Why are we so afraid of “polluting” young minds with information that we all know, and could benefit ourselves from exploring further? What amazing condescension to these people we were, not so very long ago.

Yes, teenagers know about sex. Yes, they’d like to read about it. Yes, they know what prostitutes are, what drugs are, what death is, what war is, what disease is…THEY ALL KNOW. It isn’t some big fucking secret. Authors should write what they feel compelled to write, without the pinpricks of self-censorship, about subjects they feel are interesting to the people they want to reach, and that audience should in turn be able to read whatever the fuck they want. Does something make you feel uncomfortable? Then stop reading it. Or, even better, keep going. But for god’s sake, don’t you dare tell me or anyone else, no matter how young or impressionable you think they are, what you think they should read.


Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately. Scrambling to write a few short stories and finish editing a novel. Something more regular should resume soon. But in the meantime, I thought I’d direct you to particularly moving post about the intersection of a very personal loss and the more abstract knowledge of the loss several orders of magnitude larger occurring right now in Iraq. It’s a much noted facet of the human condition that while we are capable of profound empathy for those close to us and with whom we share certain in-group bonds, we are also adept at distancing and dehumanising those with whom we don’t share ties. Thus, the million-plus Iraqi deaths are disputed and trivialized and the death of the 4,000th American soldier is met with appropriate solemnity and mourning.

But before you think humans are hard-wired into this destructive combination of in-group empathy/out-group demonization, read IOZ’s post. We’re capable of overcoming the tendency with enough self-examination.

I once had an idea for a (dys/u)topian science fictional society where the Great Overlords simply enforced empathy on the population, thereby ensuring that they’d be reluctant to fight bloody, tragic, costly things like wars. A little like in Buffy, actually, when Spike’s chip zaps him every time he feels predatory. Would that be a free or fair society (terms of arguable use, but fine)? If every time you hurt somebody you felt that same hurt, would the choice to abstain be your own? But maybe I’m being too Puritan. What does Personal Responsibility matter when countless millions are dying in wars across the world, and billions are starving and suffering in the kind of extremity I can only imagine? If most humans can’t extrapolate their own pain onto others, then maybe it’s to the greater good to make them.

But then, I’ve always had this thing for benevolent tyranny.

(Semi)Weekly Reviews: The Course of True Love

A large review installment to make up for missing the last two weeks. I’ve been on the road and so didn’t have much time to sit down and read. But now I’ve had a chance to catch up, and for some reason all of these books made me loquacious. Perhaps because the theme of this batch (excepting Lord of Light) seems to be the ever-frustrating Disappointing Romance. Well-done romance reads effortlessly, but it’s incredibly hard to write. Brandon and Dianora in Tigana, Mating by Norman Rush, The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee…maybe I should create a big list of my favorites. And I’d adore any suggestions, of course.

Inside this issue:

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
To Feel Stuff by Andrea Seigel
A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcombe
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
The Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Lord o’ the Ladies

I’m reading Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which I’m actually enjoying quite a lot so far. However, I plowed to a stop when I came across this:

(For context, Sam has just ascertained that the person reincarnated into an aggressively male body of the god Brahma was originally female. You’d think these distinctions would cease to matter after getting dumped into dozens of bodies over the course of centuries but, hey, what else were the sixties for?)

“Yes, Madeleine,” said Sam, “and did anyone ever tell you how lovely you are when you’re angry?”

Brahma sprang forward off th throne. “How could you? How could you tell?” screamed the god.

“I couldn’t, really,” said Sam. It was just a guess, based upon some of your mannerisms of speech and gesture which I remembered. So you’ve finally achieved your lifelong ambition, eh? I’ll bet you’ve got a harem, too. What’s it feel like, madam, to be a real stud after having been a gal to start out with? Bet every Lizzie in the world would envy you if she knew. Congratulations.”

[Skipping the bit where he’s angry and about to curse Sam for mocking him.]

“Nay, my Lord. I did but jest with you as any one man might with another when discussing these matters. I am sorry if you took it amiss. I’ll warrant you’ve a harem I’d envy and which I’ll doubtless try to sneak into some night. If you’d curse me for being surprised, then curse away.” He drew upon his pipe and wreathed his grin in smoke.

Finally, Brahma chuckled. “I’m a bit quick-tempered, ’tis true,” he explained, “and perhaps too touchy about my past. Of course, I’ve often jested so with other men. You are forgiven. I withdraw my beginning curse.”

This passage features such breathlessly backwards gender politics, that the only thing I can give Zelazny credit for is the courtesy of at least using a masculine pronoun in his reference to Brahma.

So, apparently, you’re only a real man when you can bandy about sexist jokes and compare harems along with penis size. Oh, and such desires are of course the innermost wish of every man-hating “Lizzie.”

I guess that’s golden age fiction for you. I can only hope that Zelazny got out a bit more after he wrote this.