Your Happening World (September 10th through September 16th)

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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Fly along in my beautiful balloon

So a couple of weeks ago my brother and his family went on holiday to the Belgian Ardennes and took my mother with them for a long weekend, during which they went to a ballooning festival. That got my mum to talk about how she wanted to do that someday, which my sister in law (more or less; it’s complicated) remembered. So when she found somebody offering a ticket for such a balloon flight cheap online, she didn’t hesitate but talk that guy into giving the ticket to her for just a bouquet of flowers and some pictures from the flight. She’s awesome like that; her skill at social enginering would be scary if used for evil.

To cut a long story short, mum wanted somebody to go along with her, nobody else in the family wanted to or dared to, so I got to go along. Having to buy my own ticket even. But it was worth it and it was brilliant flying over the Dutch countryside on a perfect evening, live tweeting the whole thing.

ImagiCon revisited

A couple of days ago I blogged about ImagiCon and their payment system. Now the chairwoman has responded:

We’re sorry to hear that you’d rather not make use of Paylogic. We’ve opted for this system, because, as a starting convention, it’s downright impossible (not to mention quite expensive) to create and maintain our own system for digital tickets. We chose Paylogic because it’s one of the most reliable systems and even though people have to register/log in to buy a ticket, we can assure you that you will NOT receive any unwanted mailings from Paylogic or from our convention. The data they ask is used by us so we have a statistical overview of the public that attends our convention. It serves no other purpose.

I could quibble with this explenation — other cons have managed to handle their own registration– but I like and appreciate that the con took the time to respond to my complaint. It’s a fair point and though I’m still likely to buy my own ticket at the door, even if it’s slightly more expensive (16 vs 20 euros), it has put most of my fears at rest. The only real point that remains is the obligatory reporting of gender in the form, with neither the possibility to opt out nor an option other than male or female. There should at least have been an option for unknown/undeclared/other.

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…

ImagiCon 2015 has Alastair Reynolds as guest of honour

ImagiCon is a new, one day Dutch science fiction convention first held this year. For next year’s edition (march 21, 2015) they’ve announced Alastair Reynolds as guest of honour:

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a warm welcome to our first guest of honor for Imagicon 2015: The world-renowned British writer Alastair Reynolds! SF readers probably know him as the author of heavy books filled with exciting space opera like Revelation Space, House of Suns and Blue Remembered Earth, but also as the author of many short stories. Whovians may know of him from his Doctor Who book The Harvest of Time. On Imagicon you get can get to know everything about him, and of course you can ask for his autograph!

Of course under Dutch appelstroop rules –if an author is born in the Netherlands, has lived there for a significant time or has ever tasted appelstroop– Alastair Reynolds is Holland’s most renowned science fiction author, as he lived here from 1991 to 2008. He’s one of my favourite science fiction writers and although I’d already decided to go to ImagiCon next year, this only makes it easier.

UPDATE: a point of criticism. I actually went over to buy my ticket (only 16 euros! Reasonable!) but saw I had to register first for a horrible Paylogic system. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but it asks for all sorts of information, name, address, gender undsoweiter all to be able to use a system in all likelyhood I’ll only use for this con. Why not provide Paypal or Ideal, payment systems where the risks and safety is known off, rather than saddle your members up with an unneeded new system to keep track off?

The Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein

Cover of The Steerswoman

The Steerswoman
Rosemary Kirstein
279 pages
published in 1989

As long as I’ve been online and talking to other fans I’ve been hearing about The Steerswoman, how it’s one of those great lost books of science fiction and how sad it was that it had fallen out of print, how everybody who read it loved it; I never heard anybody say anything bad about it. Now, finally, after twenty years of hearing this I had the chance to judge for myself and you know what? Everybody was right. And if you want the chance to see for yourself why this book is so highly rated, the ebook is very reasonably priced.

But reading The Steerswoman, after having heard so much about, brings on a strange tension. As with any such book, you come into it with a certain knowledge about it, an expectation about how the plot would roughly develop, somewhat of an idea of the central gimmick of the novel, of what makes it special. It makes me wonder how I would’ve read The Steerswoman had I stumbled over it in 1989, before I had that knowledge. So erm, for any reader who doesn’t know about it, do me a favour and read it before you read the rest of this post and tell me what you think? Don’t read on, just go out and buy it from the link above.

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Clarkesworld’s secret project

Clarkesworld has announced a new, no longer secret project:

I am pleased to announce that Clarkesworld has entered into an agreement with Storycom International Culture Communication Co., Ltd. to showcase a short story originally published in Chinese in every issue. Each month, an all-star team of professionals intricately familiar with Chinese short fiction will be recommending stories for this special feature and I’ll select which ones get translated and published in each issue. This team includes:

  • Liu Cixin—the most-famous science fiction writer in China and author of the THREE BODY TRILOGY
  • Yao Haijun—Editor-in-Chief of Science Fiction World
  • Zhang Zhilu—Scriptwriter at the China Film Group Corporation and one of the pioneering scriptwriters of science fiction movies in China
  • Wu Yan—a Doctoral Supervisor for the Science Fiction Literature major at Beijing Normal University and President of World Chinese Science Fiction Association
  • Ken Liu—Award-winning American science fiction writer

This is such a good idea I immediately subscribed. If we as a science fiction community want to see more diversity, more attention paid to non-English language science fiction, we need initiatives like this. If this is successfull I hope Clarkesworld also looks at other parts of the world: I’d love to see selections of Brazilian or Indian or Nigerian science fiction or …

I also hope this initiative inspires other magazines to up their game and pay more attention to science fiction written in other languages than English.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating and a lot will depend on the stories chosen and the quality of the translation, but just having a well established magazine like Clarkesworld take on this project is a good thing.

The Honor of the Queen — David Weber

Cover of The Honor of the Queen

The Honor of the Queen
David Weber
384 pages
published in 1993

The Honor of the Queen is the second novel in the Honor Harrington series, which finds Honor promoted after the events of On Basilik Station and off to command a small flottila escorting a diplomatic and trade mission to the Grayson Republic, which the Manticoran Kingdom hopes to gain as an ally. The thing is, Grayson is a system settled by American fundamentalist Christians who lived in isolation for centuries on a planet that was literally poisonous to them due to the amount of heavy metals in its soil. They have a bit of a problem therefore with women serving in the military, which complicates things for Honor. Meanwhile, on the planet of even more fundamentalist Christians, Manticore’s ancient rival the Haven Republic is busy meddling…

The Honor Harrington books are purely escapist mind candy for me, books I grab when I really don’t want to make an effort but still want to read something. Weber is a good enough author that he keeps your attention throughout, that he keeps you wanting to read on to find out the rest of the story no matter how often you’ve read it, which is why I’ve read his Harrington novels more often than many much better novels. They just give me something other books can’t. Even if objectively speaking they’re not very good.

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