On Monday I posted a rundown on all of my 2016 reading except new-to-me books: the student projects, rereads, short fiction, first chapters, you name it. Today, I give you the things I read from cover to cover.
One of the great things about being a writer is that you sometimes get to see advance copies of books, and I got to look at a few such things, some of which are out now, some of which are coming soon.
They were amazing, and you will love them!
Crossroads of Canopy: Book One in the Titan’s Forest Trilogy, by Thoraiya Dyer
And Carry a Big Stick, by S.M. Stirling (March 2018)
Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, by James Alan Gardner
Just as wonderful, but slightly less hot off the presses…
The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World
, by Dan Jaher
, by Madeline Ashby
Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection
, by Kate Beaton
The City of Falling Angels
, by John Berendt
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
, by John Vaillant
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
, by John Vaillant
, by Michael Rowe
, by Connie Willis (read my Tor.com review here!
Mystery on the Isles of Shoals: Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873
, by J. Dennis Robinson
, by Fran Wilde
A Feast of Sorrows
, by Angela Slatter (read my Tor.com review here! Also, check out this cover.
This was my reading year! And 2016 being in the rear view, perhaps I’ll ask: How has yours been so far?
Laura Anne Gilman is the Nebula- and Endeavor-award nominated author of Silver on the Road and The Cold Eye(novels of The Devil’s West), and the short story collection Darkly Human, as well as the long-running
Cosa Nostradamus series, and the “Vineart War” trilogy.
Under the name L.A. Kornetsky, she also wrote the “Gin & Tonic” mysteries.
A former New Yorker, Laura Anne currently lives outside of Seattle, WA with two cats and many deadlines. More information and updates can be found at www.lauraannegilman.net, or follow her on Twitter as @LAGilman
When I was younger, I thought I’d never have a tattoo. Not because I didn’t like them – I saw some beautiful examples of ink work (as well as some terrible ones, let’s be honest) and I’d done enough reading to understand that they were deeply meaningful in many cultures-not-mine.
But I was also Jewish, and even if you were willing to overlook the proscription against altering your body (I have pierced ears and have an organ donor card, so obviously I am), tattoos had a very different meaning after the Holocaust.
So yeah. I admired them on other people, but didn’t seriously consider them for myself. Especially when my then-husband commented on his distaste for them.
But somewhere around my 35th birthday (not entirely coincidentally around the time of my divorce), I started to think that maybe I did want one. Something deeply personal, something meaningful. But I had to be sure. This wasn’t a haircut that could grow out, this was a permanent addition to my body, one that would not be easy to erase.
So I waited. And contemplated. And gathered notes. Because my idea of “on a whim” usually takes several weeks, at a minimum.
This took several years. In fact, it took almost a decade. And along the way, I considered and rejected a number of designs, including the Zen Buddhist ensō, before finally settling on the lemniscate, a geometrical representation better known to most of us as “the infinity symbol.”
It’s not coincidence that this occurred at the same time I was writing the first Devil’s West novel, Silver on the Road, wherein the sigil for the protector of the Territory was a lemniscate set within a world-circle. There was something about the multiple ideas of the image that appealed to me, the sense of something that never ended, never began, could never be counted, and was forever complete. It connected to the issues I was writing about, but also to how I see my life, and the world around me.
In terms of spirituality, that’s pretty much all I’ve got. The sense that we’re all part of something far more than we can see, not so much swept along in it as part of it. We can’t extract, we can’t step away.
So yeah, finally. I had a visual I could see keeping on my body for the rest of my life.
So then I started considering where it should go. With the aid of some henna artists, I tried it out on several different locations, starting with the shoulder. But none of them felt quite right to me.
During all of this, I moved across-country, Silver on the Road and its sequels sold to a publisher, and my father, who had been battling Parkinsons’ for many years, was diagnosed with stage 4 osteosarcoma, and died less than two months later.
And I finally knew where my tattoo would go.
Not on the shoulder. Not on my leg, or my back. But on my arm. Just above where the Nazis once tattooed serial numbers on the bodies of my relatives, to turn them from people into things. A personal “fuck you” to those who try to erase us from the universe.
A memorial to my father, and all those lost over lifetimes.
I am not a thing. I am not alone. We are greater than we know. We are infinite.
I also don’t have the urge to get another tattoo. Yet. Check in again next decade…
About this post: Inksplanations (and variations thereon) is the name for a series of short interviews with a number of genre writers about their tattoos. Why they got them, what they mean, how getting ink did or didn’t change them–any and all of these topics are fair game. What drives a literary artist to literally become canvas for an image or epigram? Did they get what they were seeking? I wanted to know, especially after I got my 2016 poppies from Toronto artist Lorena Lorenzo at Blackline Studio, and so I did what any curious writer would do. I asked.
I have been intermittently absent from social media of late, and blogging even less. I’m not alone, I know. Finding ways to keep an eye on the headlines without being caught by undertows of despair is a challenge I know many of us are facing.
I’m going to marches and writing to politicians and contributing, intermittently, to political signal boost efforts. I’m thinking about best practices for activists. I’m thinking about what I’m writing and how to make it current and useful and diverting and aspirational… and also, always, still entertaining, still good art.
I am making a concentrated effort to appreciate all the good things: my wife, cats, friends, and students. To savor good food, the shiny high-tech world we live in, and all its toys, the plays and other cultural delights at my fingertips. And, soon, travel: we’re headed to Europe for Reading Week and I cannot wait.
I may have dialed down the volume on the world, a bit, but I’m around; I can be found. If you need me, reach out.
Faith Mudge is a writer from Queensland, Australia, with a passion for fantasy, folk tales and mythology from all over the world – in fact, for almost anything with a glimmer of the fantastical. Her stories have appeared in various anthologies, including Kaleidoscope, Cranky Ladies of History, Hear Me Roar and Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists. She posts reviews and articles at beyondthedreamline.wordpress.com, and can also be found at beyondthedreamline.tumblr.com.
Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess?
I can’t remember how old I was when I first read Jane Eyre, but I’m pretty sure it was in my early teens, around the point when I was devouring so many other classic novels that my written vocabulary started to sound like a teenage Victorian, the kind of prose that’s less purple and more a really annoying shade of magenta. I do not now like a lot of those books, but I’m always going to have a certain residual fondness. They were what I needed at the time.
Jane Eyre was different. It’s a favourite of my mother’s, so the copy I read was hers. These days I have two of my own, just to be safe. I’m lucky – mine was a childhood filled with stories and I had a small army of heroines to look up to, all of whom have contributed to who I am in different ways. It’s hard to pick just one! But Jane Eyre is one of those books that leaves a strong impression every time I re-read it, reminding me of just how good it is. The writing is decisive and elegant, the plot is strong. And most of all, I love Jane. She remains one of my favourite characters in anything ever.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
Oh, that’s easy. Jane is indomitable. She starts out as this fierce, desperate little girl who craves love more than anything and grows into a woman with a quiet, cool exterior who is an absolute force of nature underneath, a woman who is strong enough to walk away from love when it isn’t good for her. She is an extraordinary balance of calm head and passionate heart, with a rich inner life that she doesn’t share with people who don’t deserve it. In the depths of her despair, she decides that she will care for herself – which is a tremendously powerful statement that has always stuck with me. How many heroines, even now, are allowed to say that? The prickly edges of Jane and Rochester’s personalities mostly work together very well, but she’s only ever in his life on her terms and he’s very much aware of that. I detest St John, not just for being the unrelentingly unpleasant person that he is, but for getting at Jane’s weak point, which is a strong sense of duty that can be turned against her. She’s also a very loving person, amazingly non-judgemental given the times when she lived, and she doesn’t need to be pretty or socially important to have a story worth telling – or to be worth loving in return.
How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?
All my characters are very different people, of course, but that indomitability, that strength of will, is definitely a trait carried throughout my work. I like writing about women who say no. The complexity of duty and how to define your own moral compass, what we owe the people in our lives and what we owe ourselves, are big themes in Jane Eyre and often weave themselves into my stories as well. Jane is a complicated woman making difficult decisions and she’s never dismissed or punished by the narrative for being the person that she is. I love that. I try to treat my protagonists with the same respect.
How do you feel about the word heroine? Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served equally well by hero?
There does seem to be a trend towards the disuse of feminised words and that really bothers me. As a society, we need gender-neutral terminology. That’s very important. But it’s a big language! There is enough space for gendered terms as well, if they are useful, and I think the word ‘heroine’ is very useful. What’s wrong with a word that says, unequivocally, ‘I am a woman and I am amazing’? There are plenty of specifically feminine insults. Why not build up a lexicon of strength?
About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Linda Nagata, Kay Kenyon, and S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.
What We Inherited opens today with author Eugene Fischer‘s answer to my question about categorizing stories–tagging them with qualities that highlight sexual preference, gender, ability, or race: I think that the purpose of this kind of categorization is to tell marginalized people, “Hey, you know that thing that’s really personally important to you but broadly culturally ignored? It’s important too! Here’s a cultural artifact the very existence of which implies your lived experience matters!”
That’s hopefully, at the very least, psychologically empowering. Empowering the marginalized is a virtuous pursuit. Any knock-on benefits of artistic work increasing the perceived humanity of the marginalized are nice too.
I have asked Eugene here as part of my series of interviews about the Heiresses of Russ 2016 anthology and his story, “The New Mother,” which originally appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction.
Is categorizing stories in this way, then, a desired end point? A necessary stage on some collective journey humanity is taking?
Between desired end point or necessary stage on a collective journey, it’s definitely not the former. I’d certainly like to believe in the latter, but I’m uncomfortable thinking too teleologically about cultural development. One would hope for a society where polyphony, diversity, and individual dignity are celebrated on a level more fundamental than distastes and disagreements, and marginalization of any people seen to be abhorrent. (And, given the topic at hand, for that to be reflected in the way art is marketed and consumed.) But just at the moment I feel pretty pessimistic. It seems to me that cultural trends are, on the average, pointing in an infuriatingly regressive direction.
So: “Necessary?” Yes. “Stage?” Sigh. I hope so.
Would you say your story in the collection is typical or emblematic of your work, or an outlier?
My body of published work is still fairly small, but if I’ve been successful, it will be typical in the sense of being thorough and humane. Those are qualities I value in fiction. I like stories that take their aesthetic conceits seriously, and dislike stories that are reductive in their portrayal of individuals, cultures, science. My story in this collection is the longest I’ve published so far, and has been the most well-received, so there’s certainly a lot of positive reinforcement to continue working in the same mode.
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?
I don’t think there’s any good reason for gender to be encoded in language, so in the abstract I’m all for ceasing to use the feminine forms of words. An actor is an actor is an actor; you’re only inviting biased expectations if you make some of them actresses instead. But, that said, we don’t get to live in the abstract, we live with the momentum of our very specific history. Part of that history–a part that Joanna Russ worked to combat–is the erasure of the contributions of women. So if ever there is a case where it makes sense to use the gendered artifacts of the language our culture has evolved, doing so in service of highlighting experiences that same culture has historically marginalized seems like the one.
Speaking personally as a man who enjoys being gender-nonconformist, I’m thrilled to have been designated an Heiress of Russ. But the world I want to live in is the one where it would be Heirs or Inheritors trivially, because a gendered expectation of what it means to inherit is so distant as to be quaint.
What’s next for you, publication-wise?
My upcoming publication is a short story in an anthology that I’m not sure has even has a set title. So I can’t talk too much about that, except to say that it will be my first pure fantasy publication, and, influenced by the pessimism I mentioned above, is probably my darkest story yet. Right now I’m working on my next piece of overly ambitious science fiction, which I can barely make out the narrative shape of and am unsure I can pull off–just how “The New Mother
” felt when I started it. Currently, working on it means struggling through a lot of LaTeX compiled papers and highlighting bits that seem narratively exploitable. If it ever turns into something readable, I think it’ll be a story about different ways that people make decisions.
Eugene Fischer grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and currently lives in Austin. His most recent publication, “The New Mother”, is included in Heiresses of Russ, and has won James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, come in 2nd place for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and been a finalist for the Nebula Award. For forthcoming work, see his website, www.eugenefischer.com.
About this interview: 2016 marked my debut as an editor, with the Lethe Press anthology Heiresses of Russ 2016. 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.