Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis

Cover of Otherbound

Corinne Duyvis
387 pages
published in 2014

It was thanks to The SKiffy and Fanty Show that I got to know about Dutch author Corinne Duyvis and her début novel Otherbound, when they had an interview with her about her book. This interview intrigued me enough to buy the ebook and start reading it immediately, because Duyvis was saying smart things about diversity and disability; it also helped that in the Dutch SF round table was raving about this book. And they were right to. This is a smart, well written fantasy novel with a clever, original idea at the heart of it that deserves to be a huge success.

Nolan would be just a normal high school kid, where it not for his crippling epileptic seizures. Amara is a servant girl, her only job to keep the fugitive princess Cilla safe, functioning as the lightning rod for the princess’ curse. Any drop of her blood spilled will attract the world’s vengeance on her, so instead Amara has to draw the curse to her, because she has a healing power that will allow the curse to do its worst and still leave her alive. As a side effect of her “gift”, Nolan was dragged into her world, her mind, seeing and experiencing Amara’s life every time he closes his eyes, every time he blinks. So when Cilla’s protector and Amara’s overseer, Jorn, punishes Amara for her neglicence by thrusting her arms into a fire, Nolan feels the pain alongside her. It’s this what’s really behind his epilepsy, this loss of control as he’s sucked into Amara’s world and can’t pay attention to his own.

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The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley

Cover of The Mirror Empire

The Mirror Empire
Kameron Hurley
540 pages
published in 2014

Kameron Hurley’s debut novel Gods War had an impact many other writers would envy her for, only equalled by the buzz generated by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice last year. It wasn’t just an accomplished debut novel, it also helped revitalise science fiction at a time when it started to grow a bit stale again. Expectations are therefore high for Hurley’s new novel, The Mirror Empire, the first in a new series and the first fantasy novel she has published. Would it be as good and inventive as her previous series, would she be as good at writing fantasy as science fiction?

Halfway through Mirror Empire I finally realised what it reminded me off: Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. Not so much in setting or plot, but rather in complexity and willingness of both authors to throw all sorts of interesting ideas into their novels, ideas you may not expect in what at first glance seems to be a standard epic fantasy series. Where they differ is that Hurley is much better at inclueing the reader about who all these people are and how everything fits together, where Erikson had a magnificent disdain for the reading, leaving them to sink or swim on their own. Hurley is … more forgiving but still requires you to pay attention. This is not a novel to read with your brain in standby.

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Why not have a Eurovision Science Fiction Contest?

Over at Europa SF, Dutch writer and critic Peter Kaptein explores the possibility of a pan-European organisation/movement for the fantastic in its broadest form:

We are not just writers

I do not believe in an European Writers Association. I don’t believe in a movement that focuses on only one aspect of our branch of art.

I do believe in an European Speculative Arts Association (or European Fantastika Creators or European Creators of Fantastika Association as it might be called).

Because we are more than just writers. We are also scholars, movie makers, animators, comic book artists, illustrators, sculptors, street artists, musicians, theatre makers and festival organizers.

We should not cut off the many possibilities for collaboration that can propel European SF, Fantasy and Horror to creative heights far beyond what the American and British market have reached until now.

What Kaptein is proposing is a way to structure and strengthen the ties between the various national science fiction/fantasy scenes throughout Europe without necessarily assimilating them into the Anglo-American juggernaut. What we have currently is that each country is influenced by what happens in English language science fiction, be it movies, novels, computer games or whatever, that a few writers and other creators get translated and assimilated, but that cross pollination between local European scenes is rare: both Belgian and Bulgarian writers are influenced by the American or British writers they read, but they don’t influence each other.

At the same time, while the Anglo-American science fiction world is becoming more open to outside influences, it’s still a process in which selected writers “break through” and become part of that world, but there isn’t yet a systemic interchange of ideas and influences, certainly not on any basis of equality. Projects like Clarkesworld’s Chinese science fiction translation project help a bit, but aren’t nearly enough to redress the balance.

So it makes sense to look for ways in which we can create a truly international, pan-European form of science fiction, where Polish writers are read in France and are inspired by the work of artists from Spain who in turn admire the radical works of Croatian film makers. How to go about this though? Do we need some sort of international organisation, something akin to an European SFWA but broader, as Kaptein is looking for?

Perhaps. There’s already the European Science Fiction Society, which organises Eurocons and the European science fiction awards, but that’s more rooted in fandom; it’s mission could be extended if the will is there. Perhaps we need a more European way of recognising worthwhile authors and other creators in foreign languages, perhaps we need a Eurovision Science Fiction Contest instead. Imagine having e.g. short stories from every country in Europe compete with each other, voted on by fans all over the continent. Wouldn’t it be great to discover Polish or Romanian authors that way?

Ironically, in whatever way we want to strengthen and create a truly pan-European science fiction scene, we will remain dependent on English in order for Dutch fans to be able to communicate with e.g. Greek ones (or indeed, considering both Kaptein and I are Dutch, each other). Like it or not, English is and will remain the lingua franca of the speculative fiction community. Not there’s anything wrong with that, as long as we non-native speakers also get a chance to have our say…

Should the WFA use Butler instead of Lovecraft?

I understand the impulse behind this petition, but I don’t understand the need to replace H. P. Lovecraft with Octavia Butler:

Octavia Butler contributed a rich, nuanced, complex body of work during her lifetime. Her novels, essays and short stories changed the entire genre of speculative fiction by complicating our notions of power, race and gender. Her characters were vivid and deeply human and her prose was sharp. She wrote masterfully across the imaginative genres, from science fiction to historical fantasy to horror.

While HP Lovecraft, whose head the current award is modeled after, did leave a lasting mark on speculative fiction, he was also an avowed racist and a terrible wordsmith. Many writers have spoken out about their discomfort with winning an award that lauds someone with such hideous opinions, most notably Nnedi Okorafor. It’s time to stop co-signing his bigotry and move sci-fi/fantasy out of the past.

What strikes me here, as it did Nick Mamatas, who spent some time refuting it, is the gratitious dig at Lovecraft’s writing, which is irrelevant to the purpose of the petition. That Lovecraft was a racist and that his racism was often integral to his stories should be enough; his writing qualities do not enter into it.

It also strikes me as odd to propose Octavia Butler as a replacement. She was a science fiction writer, not a fantasy writer. Just because she’s about the only deceased, prominent black science fiction or fantasy writer people actually know doesn’t make her suitable as figurehead for this particular award. It’s not as if science fiction has no awards named after horrible racists that could do with a bit of a cleanup, frex both the Campbell awards, named after an editior whose racism shaped science fiction far more and for far longer than Lovecraft’s ever did.

Blood Trail — Tanya Huff

Cover of Blood Trail

Blood Trail
Tanya Huff
304 pages
published in 1992

What do you call urban fantasy when it moves to the countryside? Because that’s what happens in Blood Trail as Vicky Nelson, ex police officer turned private dick and her vampire partner Henry Fitzroy trade the familiarity of Toronto for the charming wonders of the Canadian countryside. Vicky had met Fitzroy in the first novel of the Blood series, Blood Price, now in the second — as seems to be de rigeour in urban fantasy — she gets involved with werewolves. But these aren’t your average, shirt ripping, feauding with vampires werewolves: these are sheepfarmer werewolves, leading a quiet existence near London, Ontario, just another Dutch-Canadian family. Until somebody starts killing them, somebody who seems to know that they’re werewolves.

Which is when they call Henry Fitzroy, who first met the Heerkens wolf clan during WWII, when he was a member of the British secret service and they were in the Dutch resistance. Because the wer could obviously not involve the police without their secret getting known and since they’re mistrustful of outsiders anyway, Henry was their only option. And Henry of course in turn wanted Vicky to come along and use her investigative talents. Meanwhile, back in Toronto detective Mike Celluci, Vicky’s ex-colleague and still occasional love interest is convinced Henry is hiding something. Of course not knowning he’s a vampire, it may just be jealousy that’s driving his investigation…

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Hugo Awards: Best Fan Writer

Oh boy this is a hard category. Some very deserving people have been nominated this year, many of whom I’d already been following. This is another category in which whoever it wins will have deserved it, though I still have opinions. One of which is that we shouldn’t be surprised to see that the ballot is 4/5ths female, as in my experience most of the interesting voices last year were female, some of which, but by no means all, represented here. At least two of the nominees (Hurley and Meadows) have been involved in driving the debate about gender, harassment and feminism in science fiction fandom and it’s good to see this rewarded.

  1. Kameron Hurley is one of those wretched pros slumming in fandom and some nitwit will surely raise an outcry if she’s nominated, but she deserves to win this category if only for we have always fought.
  2. Abigail Nussbaum is perhaps the best, most incisive critic and reviewer in science fiction today.
  3. Foz Meadows, like Kameron Hurley, has written a lot about feminism and sexism in fandom as well as reviewing all sorts of science fiction, written or otherwise. It’s telling of how serious an issue sexism in fandom was and still is that top ten posts of 2013 are devoted to it.
  4. Liz Bourke is another great critic/reviewer for Tor.com and Strange Horizons; I tend to run across her reviews when writing my own.
  5. Mark Oshiro does readings/reviews of sf and fantasy books. What he does, he does very well, but I still think he’s the weakest of the nominees, though it’s a tight race

So yeah, all of these are people worth following.

Hugo Awards: Best Short Story

The next Hugo Awards category is the short story because, well, those take the least time to read. This year the category has only four candidates, as none of the other nominees cleared the five percent of total ballots threshold. Which either speaks to the health of the short story market, that apparantly there were so many good stories to nominate, or its splintering, as no clear consensus exists about the top stories, depending on your outlook.

As I think I set before, I personally don’t pay much attention to short stories (or any non-novel length stories to be honest). I do read the occasional short story anthology or author collection, but don’t seek them out on their own. The Hugo Voters Package therefore was a godsend, as it enabled me to at least make an informed choice from amongst the nominees. (Though of course I have no idea how they compare to all the non-nominated stories).

Interestingly, all the nominated stories are fantasy and all were published online, two at Tor.com. None of these are traditional fantasy stories, though “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” has the structure of a fable or fairy tale; the other three are more on the magic realistic end of the fantasy spectrum, where you could take the fantastic as metaphor rather than something real.

What’s more, each of “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” and “The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere” are grownup stories about relationships and family. grief and loss. It’s interesting to see Hugo voters, of all groups in fandom, go for such mature stories.

Below are my choices in order. There’s little difference in quality between the first three, with “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” somewhat disappointing. That story was somewhat too smug for my tastes. But read all of them if you haven’t yet.

  1. Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
  2. If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
  3. The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
  4. The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)

The Hugo Awards: things I won’t consider (II): categories

For Loncon3 there are sixteen Hugo Award categories, plus the not a Hugo John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, to vote in. That’s a lot to be knowledgeable about. They reflect the history of the award, as categories came and went:

  • Best Novel
  • Best Novella
  • Best Novelette
  • Best Short Story
  • Best Related Work
  • Best Graphic Story
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
  • Best Editor – Short form
  • Best Editor – Long form
  • Best Professional Artist

Those are all what you might call the professional awards, the ones most like other literary awards. The first four are perhaps the core Hugos, though the distinction between novella and especially the novelette and short story is more of historic than actual importance and nobody outside fandom pays attention to anything but the novel award anyway. Best professional artist in one way or another has been around since the beginning as well; illustrations, especially cover paintings have of course always been important in science fiction.

Meanwhile the editor and dynamic presentation –basically anything that isn’t written science fiction– awards are split up the way they are because voters over time thought that e.g. writing a single episode of a tv series is slightly different from writing a movie and the same for editing short stories vs novels. Best graphic story is for comics.

The next category is sort of a transition category, where the smaller commercial magazines mix with the bigger fanzines, always a bit of a mess. Beyond that there are the fan awards, awarded for work inside of fandom. It’s always a bit of a surprise for newcomers to discover that yes, professional writers too can be eligible for these awards, as long as they are active in fandom in some way or another. That I think is the real charm of the Hugos: they’re for all of us, not just fans voting for their favourite “celebrities”.

  • Best Semiprozine
  • Best Fanzine
  • Best Fancast
  • Best Fan Writer
  • Best Fan Artist

In short, there’s a split in awards categories that deal in the business of science fiction and awards that deal in the business of science fiction fandom, but pros can be nominated and win in fan categories and vice versa. It’s one of those things that are utterly charming about sf fandom even if it made a lot more sense back in 1953 when every other fan was a pro writer and the rest were aspiring pro writers. There is still much less of a pro-fan distinction than there is in related fandoms like media sf or comics.

Now, if I’m completely honest, the only two Hugo categories I’m truly interested in are the Best Novel and the Best Fan Writer ones; these are the only ones I can form opinions about without the help of the Hugo Voter Package. But thanks to the voter package I can at least make a stab at rating the candidates for the other categories too. Which I’m going to do with the following exceptions: I won’t vote in either of the dramatic presentation categories, nor in the graphic story one, because I don’t believe the Hugo is suited for them. These are not where this fandom’s strengths and interests lie and they always default to already well known, well established works.

The two other categories I’m wavering about are the editorial categories. It’s not the awards themselves so much that are the problem, but rather my ability to judge them. Editing is a largely invisible art to me as a reader, not helped by the lack of editorial acknowledgement in most sf books. And since I don’t read sf magazines, where the role of the editor is much greater in shaping the magazine as a whole, it’s hard to judge those kind of editors too. Some editors have been thoughtful enough to include samples of the stories/books they’ve edited, but just because I like a story doesn’t mean the editing was any good, nor the other way around. Therefore I probably will take a look at these categories and decide later if to vote on them.

All other categories I will be voting on, which means a lot of reading and thanks again for the Hugo Voters Package for making this so easy. I think I’ll be blogging about the various awards throughout July and aim to have made my choices by August. For some that will be easy; for others, not so much.

The Dark Griffin — K. J. Taylor

Cover of The Dark Griffin

The Dark Griffin
K. J. Taylor
369 pages
published in 2009

One of the things I’ve been trying to do more of these past five years or so has been to try out more new to me authors. K. J. Taylor is one of these authors, an Australian fantasy writer whose Black Griffin looked interesting when I was browsing the Amsterdam library shelves. I had no choice but to like a writer who said of herself: “a lot of fantasy authors take their inspiration from Tolkien. I take mine from G. R. R. Martin and Finnish metal”. A bit of research online discovered that she isn’t even thirty years old, published her first book at twenty in 2006 and has had seven books published since. Which makes her on a par with Elizabeth Bear with regards to productivity (and here I have trouble writing a blogpost sometimes…)

The Dark Griffin is the first in a fantasy trilogy, which in turn was followed by another trilogy. You may suspect therefore that this is pretty much a setup book and you may be right. What this is, is an origin story, both of the titular dark griffin (literally, as the book starts with his birth) and his ride, Arren Cardockson. As the story starts Arren is the only Northerner griffin rider in the city of Eagleholm, of far humbler origins than his fellow griffineers. His parents are freedmen, ex-slaves, while all other griffin riders are aristocrats. Nevertheless and despite the occassional tension, he feels well supported by the city’s elite. Even more so when lord Rannagon, one of the leaders of the griffiners and master of law, suggest a way for Arren to get out of his money problems.

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Blood Price — Tanya Huff

Cover of Blood Price

Blood Price
Tanya Huff
272 pages
published in 1991

Tanya Huff has quickly has become one of my favourite authors, ever since I first read Valor’s Choice two years ago. Which is why when the local secondhand bookstore turned out to have her entire Blood… urban fantasy series, I bought them all. Urban fantasy is a subgenre I can take or leave, but Huff is one of those writers of who I’ll read anything she writes. So far her novels have always been at least entertaining; Blood Price is no exception.

Vicky “Victory” Nelson is, retired from the Toronto police for health reasons, now turned private eye, is taking the subway home one night when she hears a terrible scream coming from the other platform and sees a man slumbed to the floor, dead. Taking a gamble as a train arrives, she sprints over the track to the other side to see that he’s had his throat ripped out and a shadowy figure disappearing down the underground. What Vicky witnessed is the first in what would become known as the Toronto vampire murders, as in quick succession several more people are killed this way, throat slashed and drained of blood. Though interested in the murders out of old police instincts, Vicky knows it’s not her problem anymore, not until the lover of the first victim hires her to find the vampire, as the police “insist on looking for a man”.

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