The guest editor for this year’s Best American Science and Nature Writing was Deborah Blum and her picks were outstanding. I particularly loved Barbara Kingsolver’s “Where it Begins,” which is about knitting and the turn of the seasons and many other lovely things. I had some great conversations sparked by Maryn McKenna’s “Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future.”
“TV as Birth Control,” by Fred Pearce blew my mind… but, really, so did most of Blum’s choices. It’s an outstanding collection. Here’s the table of contents.
As the links show, a lot of the articles can be found online. If you’re feeling inclined to sample, go for it.
Science reporters are close cousins to SF writers. Both professions involve looking at the state of the world today and extrapolating, from the data, to where we may be headed. This is an anthology about ocean rise and plagues of fire ants, about genetically engineered oranges, about our right to die with dignity, whether we’re entitled to privacy protection from potential genetic relatives who may find us using commercially available DNA tests, and what we lose and gain by reading on screens instead of paper.
Inspiration for stories, cause for alarm and the seeds of intense, chewy discussions fair jump off every single page. Pick it up – you won’t be sorry.
Way back when I asked all of you to assign me some blog topics, Erica Redshift asked what I thought of the generally accepted wisdom that men read fewer books written by women. She’s at the beginning of her writing journey, and is, understandably, outraged to think that putting a woman’s name on her book might trim her potential audience.
I had her send me a few of the things she’s been reading on the subject, for context:
Want to be a Successful Writer? Be a Man! (from Jezebel).
Poetactics on women using male pseudonyms.
From Me, You and Books, an attempt to explain why. And Hannah, on W&N, on the same subject.
I’ve struggled for an embarrassingly long time with the question of how to reply. Preferential sexism among my readership is not something I give a lot of thought to in my day to day, or when I’m actually writing something. And yet… I can’t pretend I’ve never given it any thought. I have an idea that I have more female readers than male, but some of my most vocal and enthusiastic fans are guys. (You know who you are, I hope. I treasure you bigtime.)
I can certainly remember my first editor at Tor saying Indigo Springs was, unequivocally, “a girl book.”
It was only at my most recent appearance, in Bellevue Washington, that a number of twenty-something women–people I didn’t know, that is–turned out because they already knew who I was and loved my books.
When I chose to go with my initials as a byline, it was the Eighties. Part of my thinking was definitely about having a gender-neutral name. But some of that ties into my own gender identity, which isn’t exactly cisgendered female. There’s no James Tiptree, though, hiding behind that mysterious A.M.: I’m out and about on the Internet. Everyone who cares to knows who I am: it’s all there, probably, except my blood type.
Maybe I don’t think about it much, but I was on the founding Motherboard of Broad Universe, an organization that describes itself thusly:
We are a nonprofit international organization of women and men dedicated to celebrating and promoting the work of women writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror.
I don’t have a great problem with publishers identifying the target audience for my fiction and trying to market to the marketing at the people most likely to buy it. My publisher does a pretty great job of this, in my opinion. As for who reads my books, who loves my books… that’s entirely out of my hands. I write them. I certainly try to make them cool and lovable.
If someone isn’t into my stuff, I’m great with that. Everyone should seek out fiction they love, right?
So the real question, for a female writer starting out, I think, is “Will this tell against me? If so, what can I do about it?”
I think the answers are the same as they’ve ever been: a) write the best stuff you can; b) Represent. Whether it’s by joining Broad Universe, blogging to support the writers you love, or even just telling someone at a party that Ilana C. Myer has a novel coming out next year and it’s amazing, OMG. Or mentoring talented younger writers, and maybe keeping an eye peeled for people who might fall through the cracks because of gender, or race, or physical ability, or abundant social awkwardness, or whatever, y’know?
Celebrate the good guys. If you take on bad guys, pick your fights carefully, and avoid sticking knives, metaphorical or literal, into your peers’ backs.
Basic human stuff, in other words.
(Erica, I’m sorry this took so long. I kept thinking if I revisited the draft of this essay every week or so, I’d come to some profound insight or another. It did spark some things, but nothing that quite fit into this essay.)
So, everyone, what are you reading these days?
Christopher Buehlman’s The Lesser Dead has been out for about a month now, and if you like your horror horrible (as opposed to romantic, edgy, or cuddlesome) I cannot recommend it enough. Here’s my review at Tor.com, in which I try to say more than “oohh, oooh, squee, squee!”
This week I am reading fourteen student novel openings and a book that won’t be out until 2015. Sneak peeks are one of the perks of the job, and I’m looking forward to telling you about this one closer to its release date.
I reviewed The Golden Princess for Bookworm Blues on On September 23rd. This is the latest in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse, and is set several generations after the Change. (The Emberverse has its own Wiki, so if you’re looking to study up, go here.)
The Golden Princess focuses on a new generation of Montival movers and shakers: Princess Orlaith, her brother and their various friends and followers. In the former category is the Empress of Japan, Reiko, a young ruler far from home. Like Orlaith, she’s grieving the sudden loss of her father even as she takes on new responsibilities.
Reiko is on a quest much like the one that brought the magical Sword of the Lady to Orlaith’s royal dad, Rudi MacKenzie. I won’t rerun the review here, but two weeks later a couple other things about the book have come to mind as the story settles into my consciousness:
First, this is a book about two young women forming the kind of friendship that might, given their respective political roles, be truly world-altering.
Second, the Change is starting to be seen by this new generation of younger characters as the way things have always been. This is not to say they don’t know about the Industrial world and information age–all of which came to a crashing halt a few years before Y2K. That history’s very much available to them, but the advanced technological period of human history is, more and more, being perceived as the blip. We are a aberration, a brief interruption in a feudal way of living that is seen, by its citizens, as more “natural.”
It’s a believable evolution in mindset. You can see it in action yourself if you try to tell a nine year old about life before TV (No! It really happened!) But what intrigues me about this paradigm-shift in these books is that the remarkable young women dotted through the narrative don’t have much sense that the weird industrial period coincided with a whole lot of feminist activism. Without it, few of them would be queens, royal couriers or knights-at-arm.
This is emphatically not to say that Stirling is ignoring the same history of activism, or downplaying the challenges faced by women in his brave new world. The big baddies in this world make a gruesome art of oppressing women, and The Golden Princess
contains, among other things, one character’s brush with sexual assault and an intriguing reference to a female-dominated Japanese civil service.
Sexual politics aren’t the point of this book, but they’re there, and they’re both subtle and intriguing. It wouldn’t be right or desirable to watch Orlaith and Reiko sit around jawing about the advances their great-great-grandmothers made, battling glass ceilings their descendants couldn’t even imagine. But that blip–us, and our values–are part of what makes this particular fictional revival of the medieval lifestyle so interesting.
Meanwhile, the spectacle of two mighty queens becoming besties is one of the most enjoyable elements of the story.
Last night, as Kelly and I were falling into a not-very-deep literary conversation, I decided I’d expand the conversation by posting the following question on Facebook:
Alyx Dellamonica -15 hrs · Toronto ·
Assuming we all agree that Mr. Darcy is Jane Austen’s most desirable hero/dudebro/prospective mate, who is second in the pecking order? Is it Knightley? Bingley? Henry Crawford?
(Of course, I was kidding about Henry Crawford.)Now, as I write this post, the unofficial poll results are:3 people say “What? Darcy? No way!”
Edward Ferrars and Henry Tilney are getting no love at all, and Mr. Knightly, from Emma, gets one hat-tip. There’s some quiet praise for Edmund Bertram.
The two contenders are: Colonel Brandon and Frederick Wentworth… and it looks like Brandon’s pulling ahead.
There’s been some talk about whether the fire of fannish love, in each case, was sparked by the literary characters or by their portrayals in film and TV. Is Darcy the undisputed cock of the Austen walk solely because of Colin Firth? Will Alan Rickman lock the number two spot for Colonel Brandon? Even Edmund Bertram’s supporters mention Johnny Lee Miller in a yum-yum favorable context.
Speaking of delicious Darcy goodness, have you all seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?
Your thoughts on this burning issue are always welcome.
Over on Facebook, several people tagged me in the “list ten books that have stayed with you” meme. It has taken me awhile to get to it, in part because the moment I started, I realized I needed a list for childhood faves and a second one for books that had an impact since I’ve been an adult. Here’s the latter list, in no especial order:
Lincoln’s Dreams, by Connie Willis. When we were first married, Kelly and I took turns reading each other novels that were important to us. She got to the crisis in this book one evening, shortly before I had to head off to work at an all-night answering service. I phoned her as soon as things got slow and begged her to finish it over the phone. It took her until 1:00 in the morning. I started rereading it the next day.
How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove. This was my first real introduction to long-form alternate history, and the first scene whereby a not-assassinated Abraham Lincoln is talking to trade unionists about their rights blew my brain right out of its skull. (I keep tchotchkes and TTC tokens there now.)
Mystery, by Peter Straub. This could just about go on the childhood list. It’s a book I’ve returned to, every couple years, since I was in my teen.
I have a love-hate relationship with Straub’s work, and with the Blue Rose novels particularly. This is the one I love beyond reason: it’s perfect, in terms of its writing and the story it tells, and the fact that he ret-conned the story later causes me actual physical pain.
Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson. Early Stephenson often makes me happier than later Stephenson, though I have mad love for Snow Crash, too. This one, with its poisoned lobsters and anti-pollution activists, goes straight to my enviro-geek heart.
The Shape of Snakes, by Minette Walters, absolutely fascinates me. I reread it just about yearly. The ending gets me every time.
In the Woods, by Tana French. I’ve gone on at length about this one, and its gorgeous prose and unreliable narrator, before.
The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith. And its sequels. Lesbian noir, with a point of view so convincing it makes you feel as though someone’s reached inside your brain and rewired you.
The Rift, by Walter Jon Williams, a man who has written so many brilliant novels. And yet this is the one I love: a retelling of Huck Finn as a modern U.S. disaster novel. Heart, heart, heart.
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. An alternate world where people care about literature the way people here care about football. With time travel to boot. Oh Emm Effin’ Gee!
The Closer, by Donn Cortez. Another book whose final line just kills. This was written prior to Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but the concept is similar. Is it darker? Less dark? You decide.
I will not tag others–I’m coming late to this meme and figure everyone who wants to play has done so–but I will note for anyone who’s interested that I plan to post the childhood books list in the not too distant, so even if you did the above exercise, you can jump on that wagon too.
Here’s Moxy Fruvous to play us out:
I’ve been reading and revisiting the fiction of Peter Watts this month. I knew I’d be doing a review of Echopraxia, see, so I decided to take a look back at Starfish via the Tor.com “That Was Awesome” series. Peter and I are friends now, and we’ve even been published in the same Polish magazine. But I didn’t know him back in 2000 or so, when his first book came out and I reviewed it for Locus. The look back tells about how my not-entirely-positive review sparked our friendship. I won’t cover the same ground here. Instead, I give you the Cliff’s Notes: both books are excellent, but the newer one is better. Both will reward every second you spend on them. And if you want a taste first, try this Tor.com free short, which is a tie-in to Echopraxia. It’s called The Colonel.
Guesting today on the site is D.B. Jackson, also known as David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.
I come from a family of readers, and so, perhaps not too surprisingly, I also come from a family of writers. But the thing is, neither my father nor my mother was a writer; on the other hand all four of us kids have written professionally in some capacity, which is pretty remarkable. The common denominator for all of us was books. My parents’ house was filled with them; every shelf overflowed with paperbacks and hardcovers, novels and biographies. When I reached a certain age — maybe I was eight — my father set up my own set of bookshelves in my room, fixing brackets to the wall so that I could adjust the shelves as I needed. He had done the same thing for my three older siblings before me. It was a rite of passage in our house.
My parents instilled in all of us a reverence for the written word. They didn’t spoil us; they limited gifts of candy or toys to our birthdays and Christmas. But they were always willing to buy us books. Always. And the truth is, I’m much the same way with my kids.
I didn’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction early on, though eventually, with the help of a camp counsellor, I stumbled upon my first novel in the genre that would dominate my adult life. And I’ll get to that in a moment. But the first reading influences I remember were pretty standard kid fare. There were a series of books that I absolutely loved titled _____ Do the Strangest Things. Birds Do the Strangest Things, Fish Do the Strangest Things, Insects Do the Strangest Things, etc. They were essentially the written, kid-friendly equivalent of a David Attenborough nature special. I couldn’t get enough of them. I read every one of them, and then read them again. And again.
Though I remain a dedicated nature enthusiast, I don’t write natural history, and so it would be easy to assume that these books had little influence on my writing career. But I believe they had a much greater impact on me than one might imagine. They fed a deeply rooted intellectual curiosity and taught me — as my parents hoped they would — that books held answers, not only to all the questions swirling around in my young brain, but also to those questions I hadn’t yet thought to ask. I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to say that these books, and others like them, started me down the path to academia, which, in turn, steered me toward my writing career.
The other books that I remember gobbling up in my youth were the Hardy Boys mysteries written under the name Franklin W. Dixon. These were the Grosset and Dunlap re-imaginings of the series published initially in 1959 and popular through the 1960s and 1970s (which is when I was reading them). They weren’t great literature, they weren’t terribly challenging as kids’ reading went. But they were enormously fun. If Birds Do the Strangest Things, satisfied my burgeoning curiosity, these books fed my craving for adventure, danger, thrills — all the things my comfortable suburban childhood lacked.
And so, by the time I went off to sleep away camp for the summer as an eleven year-old, I was primed for a new kind of book that would be both engaging and exciting enough to allow me to move on from the Hardy Boys, which I was already starting to outgrow. Enter The Hobbit.
I didn’t actually encounter the book that summer. Instead, I tried out for a dramatized version of Tolkien’s novel. I had already discovered early in the summer that I had a flair for drama (no one who knows me now will be at all surprised) and when the opportunity came to audition for this newest production, I took full advantage. Yes, I was cast as Bilbo Baggins. It helped that I was short for my age . . .
I fell in love with the story, and more I was fascinated by the world revealed to me by the script. Elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons — what was not to love. It had never occurred to me that there were books like this waiting to be read; I certainly never dreamed that there were similar books written for adults that would allow me to pursue my new-found fascination with magical stories well past my childhood. But when the summer was over, I found the novel version of The Hobbit and devoured it. Then I read The Lord of the Rings, and after that Ursula LeGuin’s EarthSea Trilogy. By then, I was hooked on fantasy, and I have been ever since.
But I think it bears repeating that I’m not an author because of Tolkien. I wrote my first “book” when I was six; writing stories was always my favorite school activity. My early experiences with fantasy didn’t set me on the road to a career as a fantasy author; the sheer act of reading had taken care of that long before. The environment created by my parents and their exuberant love of all things book were the most formative forces in my childhood.
It would be pretty easy to imagine my own kids rebelling against my love of reading, which my wife shares. “Dad’s an author? Great. Hand me the remote.” But early on they discovered the same thing I did: Books are treasure boxes; they just beg to be opened. Their favorites have been the Magic Tree House and the Magic School Bus, Harry Potter and most recently the Hunger Games books. To be honest, I don’t care what titles they’re drawn to — as long as they’re reading, I’m happy. Sounds like something my Mom and Dad would have said.
David blogs, is active on Facebook and Goodreads, and Tweets. Give him some love here in comments or go forth and beard him in his lairs.