I have been loving Lightspeed Magazine’s special issues (Women Destroy Science Fiction!, Women Destroy Fantasy!, and Women Destroy Horror!) over the last year, so I’m very much looking forward to digging in to Queers Destroy Science Fiction! In addition to their importance from a representational standpoint, they’re helping me to relearn my early love of magazines and short fiction (Little Professor Books used to be the only place around when I was a kid that carried a good selection of SFF magazines, and they went out of business here about twenty years ago). Mostly, though, Lightspeed just puts together damn good work, and with Seanan McGuire guest editing, I have high hopes for this issue.
We’ll also be getting Queers Destroy Horror! and Queers Destroy Fantasy! by the end of this year. For more on the Queers Destroy Kickstarter and projects, click here.
Nick Offerman was the toastmaster for this year’s Nebula Awards, which was excellent and his songs and his Three-Body Problem joke made it well worth it to deal with livestreaming the show on a shaky internet connection. Even though I about choked on my drink when he made a Left Hand of Darkness joke as well.
The Solstice Awards went to feminist author and critic Joanna Russ (posthumously) and Analog Magazine Editor Stanley Schmidt.
The biggest winner of the night is probably Alaya Dawn Johnson, who won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy for her novel, Love is the Drug (alas, still on my to-read list), as well as the Nebula Award for Best Novelette for “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i.”
None of my picks for Best Novel won. I’d read three of the six nominees so far this year, and I was envisioning the award as a sort of Sophie’s choice between The Three-Body Problem and Ancillary Sword, which are both superb. The other nominee I’d read, The Goblin Emperor, was also excellent but such a love it or hate it sort of book that I didn’t think it had a real chance. However, the award went, in the end, to Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, which I’ve been planning to read this summer, but which has now definitely increased in priority. Probably will get started on the Southern Reach trilogy in the next few days.
Ursula K. LeGuin on How Amazon is Ruining Everything – I don’t entirely agree with her, as there are many obscure books and authors I would never have discovered if it wasn’t for Amazon’s recommendations and the ease of online ordering. While LeGuin makes good points about Amazon’s tendency to focus on promoting big titles, I’ve been using Amazon for almost fifteen years to get books that places like Borders and B&N never carried.
I read Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine a couple of years ago after enjoying some of her short work in the anthologies After (ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) and Unnatural Creatures (ed. by Neil Gaiman), but I’ve just never quite managed to get around to reading more of her novels. When I saw that she had a new collection of short fiction coming out this year, though, I was ecstatic.
Falling in Love With Hominids doesn’t disappoint. It opens with “The Easthound,” which was originally published in After and is the first story I ever read by Nalo Hopkinson, and even though I was anxious to move along to some stuff I hadn’t read it was nice to reread something I liked so well the first time I read it. Besides this first story, though, everything else in the collection was new to me.
As with any story collection, especially this type of story collection, where the stories are simply a selection of the author’s work in recent years rather than written on purpose with a theme in mind, not every story speaks to everyone, which is the case for me here. However, there are several standouts that I look forward to rereading in the future:
“Message in a Bottle” – a charming and surprising time travel story
“Left Foot, Right” – twins and shoes and a fairy tale sensibility
“Old Habits” – a ghost story
“Delicious Monster” – orchids and Garuda
“Blushing” – a retold fairy tale that I won’t spoil for you
While I didn’t love the longer piece, “Ours is the Prettiest,” I do think it’s inspired me to check out the Bordertown books. I’m not always into that sort of modern faerie stuff, but I feel like I would have loved this story if I was more familiar with the shared world it was written in.
Overall, Falling in Love With Hominids is, I think, a great introduction to Nalo Hopkinson. There’s a nice variety of stories here both in subject matter and length, and I actually found some of the shorter stories to be the strongest pieces in the lot. Hopkinson’s introduction is nice, and I like the little paragraphs at the start of each piece. It’s a common thing in story collections, but I always feel like these bits of extra info give better context for the stories and let me get to know the author a little. Here, it helps that Nalo Hopkinson seems to be someone eminently worth knowing.
This review is based on an ARC received through NetGalley.
George R.R. Martin spoke with EW the other day to answer some questions about Game of Thrones in the wake of several weeks of outrage and disappointment over the show’s constant depictions of violence against women.
Most recently, the show has been criticized for orchestrating the rape of Sansa Stark by Ramsay Bolton (in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”) and for the attempted rape of Gilly (in “The Gift”) by members of the Night’s Watch. Both of these scenes are departures from the source material. Although Sansa’s scene is based on events from Theon’s chapters in the books, it means that all of Sansa’s book storyline has been abandoned in favor of sacrificing show!Sansa on the altar of Theon’s development. The attempted rape of Gilly has no analogue in the books at all; in A Feast for Crows Sam and Gilly are finally driven together mostly by their shared grief of Maester Aemon’s death.
The thing is, both the books and the show have always been full of violence, and violence against women in particular. There’s seldom any female character in the books who isn’t raped or under near-constant threat of rape. Although it can be much more viscerally upsetting to see this kind of violence on screen as opposed to reading about it, the show is really not significantly more rape-filled than the books. However, while GRRM makes some mistakes in his handling of gendered violence in ASOIAF, the show manages to do a pretty disastrous job of portraying it responsibly and sensitively on television.
An argument that is constantly trotted out in defense of the show’s (and books’) heavy reliance on gendered violence is that, well, things were just like that back then. You know. Back then. When the Seven Kingdoms were at war and dragons were hatching for the first time in centuries and ice zombies were threatening from north of the Wall.
While GRRM’s EW statement isn’t quite as disingenuous as all that, it’s basically a more sophisticated, slightly better thought out version of it, and he even addresses this particular criticism:
“Now there are people who will say to that, ‘Well, he’s not writing history, he’s writing fantasy—he put in dragons, he should have made an egalitarian society.’ Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want. If pigs could fly, then that’s your book. But that doesn’t mean you also want people walking on their hands instead of their feet. If you’re going to do [a fantasy element], it’s best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.”
Well, and all this is mostly true. I love ASOIAF, and one of the things I love about it is how real the world is. However, it’s not the violence that makes it feel real.
On rape in particular, GRRM had this to say:
“And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Again, true, as far as it goes. But that’s not actually very far. I feel like GRRM is defending himself and his work very well against a straw man here.
Most of the problems people have with Game of Thrones and ASOIAF are not out of some squeamish objection to seeing reality. Most people are not altogether opposed to the portrayal of rape in fiction. What people object to is the show’s history of turning consensual sex scenes in the books into rape on the show (Dany’s wedding night in season one, Cersei and Jaime in the Sept in season four). People object to the addition of nonsensical scenes of not just sexual violence, but disgustingly sexualized sexual violence (Ros’s murder in season three, Craster’s Keep in season four). People object to a beloved major character (Sansa) having her entire story cut from the show so she can be inserted into the place of a minor character (Jeyne Poole) whose suffering is used in the books to further the story of a man (Theon). People object to the use of sexual violence as an aphrodisiac (Sam and Gilly in season five). People especially object to the cavalier and tone deaf responses of the show’s writers, actors, and directors regarding these criticisms, and people object to the show continuing to make the same mistakes over and over and over again.
Right now, I object to GRRM’s failure to own his own authorial decisions. I object to his seeming reluctance to take responsibility for his own work and his apparent inability to even understand the complaints being levied against him. He ends his remarks at EW with this:
“I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.”
As if there are only two options here: rape or boredom. Because, goodness knows, writing about rape responsibly, thoughtfully, and with sensitivity is just out of the question.
In Chapters 51-54, Jonathan Strange spends some time with the Greysteels, but mostly he spends his time obsessing over his quest to summon a fairy servant. He’s become fixated on the idea that fairies are attracted to madness, and so his primary goal at this point is to find a way to become mad himself.
I love epistolary works, and I think a complex pastiche like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell would be incomplete without some homage to that form. Fortunately, we don’t have to do without. Chapter 51 consists, in part, of several letters from Jonathan Strange to his friends in England in which Strange describes his travels. It’s an excellent way to reveal a bit more of Strange’s character, which is where the epistolary form really shines. Through these letters, we get some sense of Jonathan Strange’s feelings about the Greysteels, we see his remarkably philosophical response to Norrell’s response to The History and Practice of English Magic, and we learn how Norrell’s act of censorship leads to Strange’s reconciliation with Lord Byron.
All in all, these short letters make for an amusing read without the author overdoing it. Especially this late in the book, I think it would have been a mistake to do a lengthy epistolary section. This small bit feels just right to me, though.
Right at the end of Chapter 51, Jonathan Strange has his first success in summoning a fairy, although he doesn’t know it. The gentleman with the thistledown hair shows up, Stephen Black in tow, only to remain stubbornly invisible to Strange. The gentleman, once so eager to “assist” Norrell, is positively abusive now towards Strange, and absolutely not inclined to work with any magician now.
The Cat Lady
While Jonathan Strange is consumed with his work, the Greysteels pay a charitable visit to an old woman living in a Jewish neighborhood in Venice. Her name is Mrs. Delgado, and the Greysteels find her entirely alone, unresponsive, and surrounded by a great many cats. Mrs. Delgado seems to barely eat, having more in common with her cats than with any human visitors she may have.
The old woman is quite mad, as Flora Greysteel later communicates to Jonathan Strange. She wants to know if he could cure Mrs. Delgado by magic. Unfortunately, he cannot, but he soon comes up with a new plan on how he might finally ensnare a fairy.
Tincture of Madness
Strange goes to visit Mrs. Delgado, who remains nearly as unresponsive to him as she was to the Greysteels. He wants her to teach him to be mad, and he’s willing to give her something she wants in exchange. Shortly, Mrs. Delgado has been turned into a cat and Jonathan Strange has obtained a dead mouse, which he grinds up and makes into drops which he can take in order to induce insanity.
The Color of Heartache
While his tincture works quite well in giving Strange the experience of madness, it takes a few days before he achieves his end goal. Finally, though, Strange manages to not just summon a fairy, but see and speak to one. Unfortunately, what with the effects of the tincture, he’s not in particularly good shape to deal with the gentleman with the thistledown hair very well.
Strange’s second meeting with the fairy goes somewhat better. The gentleman, for his part, has determined that in order to get the magician to leave him alone he will just make Strange some gift of something that will sate his desire for fairy assistance. Rather than asking for anything material or monetary, however, Strange requests that the fairy bring him something that was gotten in the fairy’s last dealing with an English magician.
What Strange receives, that very evening, is a small box “the color of heartache” (a phrase that I love because it’s both incredibly non-descriptive and amazingly evocative at once) that contains a small, severed finger that the reader knows belongs to Lady Pole but which is baffling to Jonathan Strange:
“I thought that if I had a fairy to explain everything to me, then all the mysteries would become clear. But all that has happened is that I have acquired another mystery!”