Review Repost: Stephen King’s It (from @tordotcom)

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Posted on December 8, 2016 by

A number of years ago I decided it would be fun to have a look at some of the classic horror novels from the 1980s: to revisit Dean Koontz, Clive Barker Peter Straub, V.C. Andrews and, inevitably, Stephen King. I loved King as a teen, and I chose this particular book because It has the hallmarks of a master work while, simultaneously, being deeply problematic. My difficulties with It are the same ones every other feminist critic, pretty much, has voiced. Here’s a bit of my take on this novel.

With a huge ensemble cast and overlapping 1958/1985 storyline, It is very nearly seven full novels in one. King’s 1986 bestseller is just about 1400 pages long… and more than once I was almost sorry I hadn’t done the expedient thing and read Christine instead. The themes of the two books are similar: they’re both about adulthood and growing into an acceptance of mortality. In Christine it’s put thusly: “If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being an adult is about learning how to die.”

What We Inherited: Bo Balder on Heiresses of Russ

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Posted on December 7, 2016 by

What We Inherited opens today with a quote from author Bo Balder: I think lesbian-themed fiction would have been a tiny corner of the market in the past, and now it’s much more out there, much more mainstream. Women in fiction are stronger, more diverse in every possible aspect than they’ve ever been before. We’re not talking Bechdel anymore, or Rayne Hall, it’s WOMAN across the board.

I’ve asked Bo here, naturally, to share some thoughts on the Heiresses of Russ 2016 anthology and her story, “A House of Her Own,” which originally appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of  The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

What do you think we achieve by categorizing stories, tagging them with qualities that highlight sexuality (or gender, ability, and race) ? Is it a desired end point? A necessary stage on some collective journey humanity is taking?

I think it’s a step forward. Before we can say sexuality or gender or ability are sliding scales, first you need to draw awareness to the fact that differences exist and temporarily tag them to separate them out. But I’m looking forward to a future where these aspects are just part of the whole landscape of human variety, no more remarkable than frizzy hair or flat feet or sharp eyes.

Would you say your story in the collection is typical or emblematic of your work, or an outlier?

I’d say emblematic. I tend to write issues involving women, or at the very least strong women, and I do love an alien. Because it’s so much fun to have aliens that embody both the surface more action-adventure part of the story and also many layers of symbolism underneath. I try to get the whole package.

If you were to pick stories for a historical overview–Best Heiresses of Russ of the Previous Century, that sort of thing–what would be the first story you’d seek out?

James Tiptree, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” or Ursula LeGuin, “Winter’s King”

One of my previous interview series, The Heroine Question, generated some interesting discussion of the gendered term Heroine. What do you think of Heiresses of Russ as a title for this project? Should it be Inheritors or Heirs?

No, I like Heiresses a lot. Because even when we’ve been trying to move away from gendered profession nouns, like actress, the default is usually the male version. Let’s do an Ann Leckie and use only female pronouns and nouns. Doctoress. Presidentess.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a near future thriller, with, shockingly, a male protagonist, I don’t know what came over me. Also a novella in the world of another (unpublished) novel, where the people are marsupial and children can be nursed by both sexes. And always more short stories with aliens, of course.

Bo Balder is the first Dutch author to have published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Clarkesworld. Her short fiction has also appeared in Nature Futures, Futuristica: Volume 1 and other places. Her sf novel The Wan, by Pink Narcissus Press, was published in January 2016. Visit her website: www.boukjebalder.nl.


About this interview: 2016 marked my debut as an editor, with the Lethe Press anthology Heiresses of Russ. I co-edited with the capable and lovely Steve Berman; our Table of Contents announcement is here. At that time I asked some of my contributors if they’d be interested in talking a little about the ideas behind their stories, about the idea of lesbian-themed genre fiction, or anything else that seemed interesting and relevant. These are their replies.

This is your Origin Story: Giveaway and Interview

Posted on December 6, 2016 by

Today is the The Nature of a Pirate book birthday and you get the presents! Here’s a giveaway of all three Hidden Sea Tales books, along with an interview containing a proposition I’ve been wanting to share:

There’s a story we tell here in the west. We tell it over and over. In it, you are sleeping in your pit in the castle kitchen, your only reward a crust of bread and the faint hope that Chef won’t cuff you hard enough to concuss you again. Then some grizzled old dude turns up with a sword, and says you have to go fight a dragon. If you don’t he’ll eat all your villager friends, starting with the brown ones and the queers.

Book birthdays bring many things, and contests, blog posts and interviews are just a few of them. Not-at-all veiled political rants, on the other hand… well. I wrote this essay a couple weeks ago, when I was sick as hell and, along with many of you, was reeling at current events. It’s cousin to the letter I wrote to Canada’s Prime Minister, and like that letter, I hope it’ll speak to some of you.

I am very grateful to the (perhaps aptly named!) Book Wars blog for giving me the space to talk about fantasy worlds and real ones, about good and evil, about fighting and winning. You all have a week to enter that contest!

Where I’m going, where I’m at, where I’ve been

Posted on December 3, 2016 by

As I write these word I am sitting on a VIA train bound from Toronto to Ottawa; Kelly and I are going just for the night, to hang out with friends and bask in the wonders of an emerging arty phenomenon known as The Timberhouse. I had a terrific time in Ottawa when I went to CanCon in August, and am looking forward to getting to know the city better. Our nation’s capital moved up the bucket list as soon as Kelly and I arrived in Ontario, but it took us until this year to get there. I am predisposed to fall head over heels.

The train runs along the shore of Lake Ontario for a good portion of the route; it’s more of the same track I take to Scarborough when I am teaching there. The simple act of riding east fills me with happiness. I thrive on having a once-a-week gig at UTSC, commute and all. I undertand it would be a tiring slog if I was headed out there Monday to Friday, term in and term out. But so much of my incredible 2016 is caught up in memories of taking the Go Train out to campus, of starting and ending my teaching day with solitude, scenic beauty and comfort.

Like many people I had a difficult November: like many people, the heart of it was the turn in U.S. politics, but there were other things, too, like an old friend announcing bad diagnosis on Facebook, like a particularly feisty round of flu germs taking out me and Kelly simultaneously, like the unfortunate chance of my having forgotten that I always struggle with fiction writing in this eleventh month specifically. Usually when I see November coming, I try to plan around that drop in productivity, but this year I was wrapped up in other things, like you, and I only figured out the seasonal angle on about the 28th, when someone else spoke up.

Now it’s December, and my new book will be out on Tuesday, and meanwhile my agent and I have agreed on a schedule for finishing the next novel. I’m trusting that my natural creative rhythms will assert themselves. I want to draft about 1500 words a day between now and mid-February, starting Monday. That means I have this last weekend to fritter: Kelly and I went to see one of our favorite bands, The Weepies, last night at the Drake Hotel. It was a singularly delightful experience: we were eight feet from the stage, in a pack of people who just wanted to hear, and enjoy, and sing along.

Naturally, I’m excited too about seeing how this boho weekend at Timberhouse will unfold.

There have been good things, these last two weeks. Every moment of calm, every joy-inducing sight, every breath of warmth and comfort, every well-written sentence (whether inhaled as a reader or exhaled into my own manuscripts) has had a certain intensity, the fine-cut edges of a rare, faceted opal, flashing ethereal fire against the darkness, spark by spark. I am talking to strangers more, now that I can draw breath without coughing, reaching out. I see that desire to talk, connect, to just be damnwell be nice, mirrored in their reactions. The energy I have at hand for being kind and prosocial seems more abundant. And every moment with my family and friends seems a gentle sort of victory.

Science fiction writers are very good at worst case scenarios, and the part of me that has extrapolated our current circumstances to an exceedingly miserable and bitter end has, at least temporarily, overriden the part assigned to petty worries about the future. Different parts of the brain are chewing different stressors, I know, and while I’m not appreciating the things generated by the newly active neurons, the absence of certain habitual gnawing mind-loops has been a source of both relief and navel-gazy intellectual interest.

I have been dreaming more, and most of the dreams have been unexpectedly good.

I have also experimented with posting the occasional political thing on my social media. I try to be choosy, and in particular to talk about Canadian racism, Canadian responses to oppression. I’m not sure yet what I think of the response. There’s usually a sea of likes and good comments–naturally, I like those–along with one or two wanky pushbacks. These seem to be angry dudes with thin arguments–and I haven’t quite sorted out how much of that I want in my Facebook feed, particularly. I need to get the hang of ignoring them, probably. I don’t need to give everyone who posts a snarky comment a breakdown on why the CBC article didn’t actually say some thing being ascribed to me. The problem is a nagging sense that I owe them an argument, somehow, and that if I’m not willing to have it I should shut up.

What else? I read a book about DDOS actions and activism by Molly Sauter, THE COMING SWARM which talks (among many other things) a present-day tendency to measure all civil rights and other protest movements against a rose-colored-glasses view of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. It talks about how we are tempted to devalue civil resistance when it doesn’t look like Johnson-era marches led by Martin Luther King. This interests me, a lot, and I’m thinking about what I see as effective protest. (I think the book’s interesting and useful, and I hope to get some other recs from her soon.)

In the book I’m writing now (whose working title is WIN CONDITIONS) I’ve imagined a near future society where humanity has a light but geniune grip on a host of climate change problems, where people are laboring mightily to terraform the Earth to make it fit for long-term human habitation. I started this book early in the year, and it ties into some things I said in my SpecFic Colloquium talk: that we cannot simply offer visions of apocalypse, that SF writers have to imagine workable optimistic futures, scenarios where we get out of the political and ecological jams we’ve created.

People can more easily believe in a happy ending if we create it. They can grab onto possible solutions to our current cluster of crises if we imagine the solves, show them in place, and inpire our audiences to tweak and implement them here in the real.

By the time WIN CONDITIONS takes place, the Millenials have long since endured a period called the Setback. Their children barely survived the Clawback. Now there’s a cohort of grandkids who refer to themselves as the Bounceback generation. Bouncers believe humankind will save the earth, one ton of carbon and one reclaimed suburb at a time.

In one of the early chapters I make a passing comment about the first Setback presidency. I was envisioning our present situation, while hoping it wouldn’t come to pass quite so soon.

Still, I choose to believe the Setback will end, and not through some passive stroke of luck. Activism, courage, creativity and compassion will end it. People will end it. It’s easy to say, and much much harder to do, and I know that very well. Do keep me posted on how I can help.

Review Repost: Peter Straub’s Shadowland (from @tordotcom)

Posted on December 1, 2016 by

A number of years ago I decided it would be fun to have a look at some of the classic horror novels from the 1980s: something by Stephen King, a Dean Koontz novel, a taste of Clive Barker and, of course, a novel by Peter Straub. Ghost Story was published in 1979, and I was adhering strictly to the idea of an Eighties horror rewatch, so I went with Shadowland, which was less overtly horrific, in many ways. It was, though, the first Straub book I read.

Here’s a snippet of the essay:

Shadowland isn’t metafiction, either, but it skirts its furthest border, containing stories within stories: fairy tales that turn into guest appearances by the Brothers Grimm, creepy parables offered by the Carson School teachers to the traumatized student body, numerous references to the story of Jesus, and a long narrative Coleman Collins calls his “unburdening,” about how he discovered the magic within him—and made it monstrous—during his days as a doctor in the First World War. The novel’s frame story, where Tom reveals his past to his writer classmate, thus becomes a parallel unburdening, a necessary part, perhaps, of the true magician’s life cycle.

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