Sunday nights tend to be when I catch up on reading email. It’s a way of putting off Monday as long as I can. Tidbits get posted to Facebook as I read along, but it occurred to me that my very own blog would be a better place for such ponderings. So here’s the first of what’s sure to be a randomly timed post about things I found to be interesting.
“So maybe this is a good way of figuring out that you’ve finally ‘made it’- suddenly everything is terribly dull and tedious.
“Be grateful that you’re still struggling…”
If the conversations you’re having about ideas are still interesting, and you’re wrestling with your own approach to creativity, be grateful. It seems counter-intuitive, but there is satisfaction in the struggle even when you’re tired of everything and just don’t want to anymore. Keep on.
Tor.com posted Carmen Maria Machado‘s intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019. Reading it thrilled me because the ages old #LitFic vs. genre argument is heated, old and tired. The combatants don’t care to read each other’s work, they just want to hurl bullying insults over an arbitrary line. Reading good work is enjoyable and doesn’t need to be labelled.
“Why waste time drawing boundaries and performing ancient arguments and erecting dead horses and beating straw men and enacting coldness and smugness when you could be reading and salivating and standing and yelling and crying and learning and experiencing narrative pleasure and wonder and joy? Why, when you can do those things, would you do anything else?”
In other words, just read damn it!
H/t to Austin Kleon for pointing out Jeff Bridges does photography:
Title: The Killing Light
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Publisher’s Blurb: Heloise and her allies are marching on the Imperial Capital. The villagers, the Kipti, and the Red Lords are united only in their loyalty to Heloise, though dissenting voices are many and they are loud.
The unstable alliance faces internal conflicts and external strife, yet they’re united in their common goal. But when the first of the devils start pouring through a rent in the veil between worlds, Heloise must strike a bargain with an unlikely ally, or doom her people to death and her world to ruin.
I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
“But I am thine Emperor, and the harder the step, the closer it taketh thou unto me. –Writ. Lea. IV.2.” (p. 167)
In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “The primary subject of fiction is and always has been human emotion, values, and beliefs.” (p. 14) and “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel …” (p. 44)
Any writer who can make the reader feel great anxiety for his characters and drive them to tears in relief has most definitely met the criteria set forth by Gardner. That Myke Cole’s writing kept me fully engaged and emotionally involved says something about the great talent he has for telling a story.
There’s a thread running through The Killing Light about men and how they must be treated by women. Repeatedly a female will say something like, “Everything with men is a great care.” (p. 46)
Heloise was never meant to be and do all the things she does in The Sacred Throne trilogy. She was meant to be a young woman who marries the man her parents have chosen for her and to settle into the role of home keeper, as women in her village have always done.
But we don’t always get to choose the shape our life takes and who we fall in love with. The best we can hope is to be gentle with ourselves when we are tested. This is part of the story Myke Cole tells with Heloise, how she must accept and come to terms with herself, and her evolving beliefs and leadership skills.
Her world is one in which only hetero normative standards are accepted. In Book 1, The Armored Saint, she finds herself in love with her best friend who not only doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, but is horrified by Heloise’s feelings. Shortly after this reveal, Basina is killed and that death haunts Heloise more than anything else through the series.
Cole portrays her struggle with tenderness, and introduces Xilyka from one of the Traveling People clans who join Heloise’s army. Xilyka becomes one of Heloise’s bodyguards, never leaving her side. It is in the most tender moments we see Heloise began to overcome her fear of being a lesbian, and of driving Xilyka away.
In one such scene, Heloise’s father, Samson, has arranged a private place with hot water so Heloise can bathe after many weeks on the battlefield, stuck in the war machine. At this point, the agoraphobic leader trembles in abject terror at leaving the machine which has protected her and allowed her to become the leader she is. Samson the loving father tries to coax her out. Xylika literally rides to the rescue, leading Heloise in her machine behind the screen and bathes her tenderly. Cole does not ignore the sexual tension such a situation would create, but neither does he dwell on it. His deft writing shows us the normality of two people getting to know each other, carefully exploring the beginnings of a physical relationship.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is Onas, a 16-year-old boy from a different Traveling People clan who also becomes bodyguard, and tries to assert his authority over Heloise as potential husband. This does not go well. Heloise is exhausted, she doubts her moral imperative to be leading this fight, is grieving for the many deaths caused in this war, and is in despair over having to re-evaluate the values she was taught about the Emperor and the Order. She literally has no energy to put into this boy’s demands for romance.
Onas keeps pushing. Heloise side steps, telling him when the war is over, she will think about it. He sees what’s going on with Xilyka, which infuriates him and makes him push even harder. Then, the unthinkable happens and Onas’ mother, the leader of his clan, dies in battle. Onas blames Heloise for his mother’s death.
It becomes too much for him to bear when they stumble upon a band of the Order whose leader has killed so many, and Heloise refuses to let anyone kill Brother Tone. She recognizes Tone can provide entrance and information into the Emperor’s city and palace that will prove useful. Onas throws a teenaged temper tantrum and runs off taking other disgruntled fighters with him.
This is not unusual behavior. Boys have been conditioned to believe that their wants and needs take precedence over a girl’s. So it is with Onas and Heloise. Despite the many stupid reasons he throws at her as he storms away, the one he cannot voice is he expected her to fall into his arms and she did not. All logic does not penetrate.
Onas is not the only male in this story who treats her as less than because of her gender. Sir Steven, leader of the Red Army which falls in with Heloise and her villagers, treats her with great disdain both because she is young and, more to the point, a woman. During a council at which he has commanded Heloise attend, she questions him. Obliviously he says, “This is my punishment for taking a council of war with a girl.” That word, that attitude, meant to demean her in the presence of other leaders has exactly the opposite effect. She draws herself up and asserts her authority as the one who has killed a devil and therefore, has more expertise on this subject than Sir Steven.
When they reach the capital city, Steven’s attitude has changed and he treats her as equal. He has seen her leadership grow, witnessed her wisdom. It is her determination to get through, and her insistence on continuing to fight when too many have died and others have given up, which leads Steven to fight more equitably alongside her.
Even Brother Tone who for two books did everything he could to kill Heloise and her village because of her questions regarding the Emperor’s governance comes to accept, and follow, her leadership.
In one of the pivotal scenes of The Killing Light, the reveal literally drives Tone to his knees, and makes him question everything he has ever believed. He becomes vacant and only continues the fight at Heloise’s insistence. His knowledge is the key which will lead to stopping the war between Devils and humankind.
Tone goes from murderous devotee to thoughtful follower, all due to Heloise’s mission to settle things once and for all. Most of the characters, male and female evolve, becoming more self-aware and thoughtful about their actions and the effects those have on the bigger picture.
Teenaged Onas is not completely immune to this, but his maturity will come only through time. Myke Cole’s writing shows he’s attentive to what makes the most sense for the entire cast, including keeping Onas true to his male teenaged arrogance.
The Killing Light is the satisfactory and logical ending to this trilogy. Heloise becomes what she’s destined to become after all the pain and death she’s been witness to. Heloise remains the hero we need for today.
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner- Theory ~ read They’d Rather be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley – Hugo ~read A Case of Conscience by James Blish – Hugo The Iliad and the Odyssey by Alberto Manguel The Big Time by Fritz Lieber – Hugo Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak – Feminism What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton – Genre
Title: Binti, Binti: Home & Binti: Night Masquerade
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: 2015, 2017 & 2017
ISBN-13: 9780765385253, 9780765393111, & 9780765393135
Publisher’s Blurb: Binti is a story about a brilliant young woman, and the responsibilities she bears: to her society, her family, and to herself. While travelling through space for the first time in her life, Binti must survive and adapt to an encounter with fascinating and deadly aliens.
“We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otijize is red land.” (p. 13)
There’s no way anyone could prepare themselves for the times their self-identity bumps up against bigotry. This is one of the things I admire most about Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy. In choosing the incidents which would populate Binti’s life, Okorafor chose to include the prejudices her traveler would encounter, both from outside and within herself.
It’s hard to write about this without cliches. Pain of all types makes us stronger, we hate when people say that to us, but there it is. The most incredible part of reading these books was the honesty with which Okorafor writes; of war, prejudice, outright hatred, ignorance, and fear. And that she managed to wrap it all up in 462 pages, while flinging us through the stars and back again is amazing to me.
I think what I want to say is no one is safe from prejudice or bigotry. It’s a part of the very fabric of being sentient (human). We are all different, we are all insecure about something and we all compare ourselves to others hoping to make ourselves feel better. This comparing and contrasting can make us even harder on ourselves for not having the life we imagine someone else has.
Binti is brilliant, and as self-aware as she can be at the age of 16. It’s frequently difficult to remember she is still a teenager, and lacks the maturity that only experience can proffer.
Along the way, she literally becomes a part of unlikely families. Some, like the Meduse, are another species altogether. Others, like the Desert People, turn out to have been family all along. They all play a part in her evolution, taking her on a journey which is more than just a university education. What she is taught along the way is she must be careful of her own prejudices, making sure they don’t keep her blind to the work she is destined for.
The story is almost magical, and nearly breathless, in some places. Nnedi Okorafor’s tight writing tells a big story which deals with complex issues. The character Binti studies the lessons we should all study. Learn to accept yourself, and others, as they are. Don’t force your set of rules onto someone else. Hesitate before you say or do something you’ll regret.
Most importantly, I think, is the lesson to face our fears and look deeply into the hard truths we don’t want to know. That way lies the harmony we all struggle to find.
This slender trilogy is a big story about an adolescent Himba girl who learns to stay grounded, fly among the rings of Saturn, fall in love, and forgive herself for the imagined pain she’s caused herself. Okorafor’s writing is splendid, and I’m looking forward to exploring her other books.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion How literature saved my life by David Shields Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete ~ read Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell spook country by William Gibson Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw – DNF Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole ~ read The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner – DNF Invaders from Earth by Robert Silverberg Music of the Common Tongue by Christopher Small Self-Consciousness by John Updike
Title: The Queen of Crows
Author: Myke Cole
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb: In this epic fantasy sequel, Heloise stands tall against overwhelming odds—crippling injuries, religious tyrants—and continues her journey from obscurity to greatness with the help of alchemically-empowered armor and an unbreakable spirit. No longer just a shell-shocked girl, she is now a figure of revolution whose cause grows ever stronger. But the time for hiding underground is over. Heloise must face the tyrannical Order and win freedom for her people.
I’m just a woman who has been hard done, who has lost those who she loved. I am angry, and I am tired, and I am through making deals. (p. 245)
Let’s first acknowledge author Myke Cole’s feminism. Heloise is a hero for all times, but it also important to note that Heloise is a young woman leading the battle against the totalitarian religious government. In The Armored Saint, she literally had greatness thrust upon her. In The Queen of Crows she begins to accept the leadership role she finds herself in and works to be the leader her people need her to be.
Cole does not make a big deal out of making his protagonist a young woman, and I’d like to say neither should his readers. But it is a big deal because so much genre writing is overwhelming men fighting to save the day. Cole shows us a woman who is up to the task of leadership and fighting against the dangers of the oppressive regime called the Order.
Brother Tone, on the other hand, not only wants to put the village in its place as devoted to the Order, he wants to put Heloise in her place as woman. At every turn, he sneers and belittles her, and those who she has sworn to protect.
Heloise is imperfect. Stubborn, insecure, paranoid, with a narrow world view. At one point, she has gone through so much she refuses to leave her alchemy powered suit of armor for any reason. The armor has become talisman, protecting her emotionally from all the horrors she’s survived in service to both her village and the bands of Kipti they encounter.
The Kipti are led by the wisdom of women who have a few magical tricks in their toolbox to be used against the Order. And while the Kipti are nomadic, and suspicious of people who want to settle into a village, they recognize the mutual enemy and combine resources.
Reluctantly recognizing Heloise as leader, the two bands of Kipti come to realize that she in her armor, who killed a devil in The Armored Saint, is the best hope for a victory against the Order.
Victory doesn’t come in The Queen of Crows. It is an agonizing, brutal story which deals both with the realities of war and of going against a regime whose demand of loyalty to the Emperor grates against everything Heloise has come to question.
It is also a story of hope against tyranny as word spreads across the land that a Palantine, an Armored Saint has gone to war against the Order. That a young woman is delivering all from the hell that is totalitarianism.
“You are Heloise the Armored Saint, who turns back the tide, who delivers the wretched from misfortune, who will save us all.” (p. 250)
Heloise is no Joan d’Arc who believed in her God given leadership to support Charles VII, reclaiming France from England. Heloise doubts herself, and her role in her war. She is a reluctant leader, herself questioning her wisdom, her ability, even her gender to lead. But as people gather to follow her, she knows she must and follows her instincts.
Heloise has her detractors. They don’t much question a female leader as much as they question how this young, inexperienced villager could possibly lead them against the Order. Further, these few wonder why they should be following her at all since it was at her hands the Order is now intent on putting down the unrest.
Both The Armored Saint and The Queen of Crows can be read through a feminist lens celebrating the young woman who questions the status quo and leads her followers against tyranny. They can also be enjoyed as ripping good tales, which happen to have a leader who is a woman.
I am of the opinion that Myke Cole, and Heloise, should be recognized for deliberately making choices which demand more of genre, both readers and writers.
Title:The Geek Feminist Revolution Author: Kameron Hurley Published: 2016 ISBN-13: 9780765386243 Publisher: Tor Twitter: @KameronHurley Publisher’s Blurb: Outspoken and provocative, double Hugo Award-winning essayist Kameron Hurley writes with passion and conviction on feminism, geek culture, the rise of women in science fiction and fantasy, and the diversification of publishing.
The first panel I attended at WorldCon 2018 was M. Todd Gallowglas’ Lit Crit for Geeks. I was enthralled. One of the writers he mentioned was you, as doing some great work in feminism. I dutifully wrote your name down in my journal.
Since then, I’ve lost my job and spend my days reading and writing and thinking. I hash things out a lot in my brain, the one that never shuts up. And then I write stuff for my mentor to read.
One evening after dinner, a friend took me book shopping. Kepler’s is this fabulous indie bookstore whose customers banded together to keep it from closing its doors. There were two names on my list that I knew would go home with me that night, yours and N. K. Jemisin. And since I didn’t know where to start with you, I picked up The Geek Feminist Revolution.
Always a voracious reader, I am inhaling them now. This is my job while I figure out about the day job, I read and write about what I’m reading. Not only does it give me direction for a life which could easily be adrift and and feeding my food addiction, it makes me stronger in so many ways.
Never really shy about self-reflection, I now have the time and space to really look at some of the things coming up right now. And sometimes, it is some scary, sad shit.
“But because my body was coded female, I was never ever assumed to have the kind of knowledge or credibility that a man would have.” (p. 37)
I read the first 38 pages of your book and sobbed. I felt so completely bereft that I had to set it aside for a week or so. Because those pages were my story. The story of being a woman and the rampant sexism which had become so normalized I didn’t see it anymore. I read your story and began to understand that not only was I not alone in this mess, but that there were ways I could raise my voice.
But first I had to reconcile some stuff within myself. Because the stuff that was coming up was more than just re-evaluating my entire life in terms of how I’d been treated because I was female, it was looking at some pretty horrifying events and having the light bulb go off. Which led to, “Well shit, no wonder. I never had a chance.”
And without going into too much detail here, there were new realizations about my parents. Then there was looking at my most recent job and realizing that it had been a put-up job from the day I walked in as a temp until the day I walked out as a no longer employed here type. Things started slamming into place. And it was scary.
I’ve been following you on Twitter and reposting some of your articles on Facebook, because you speak to me in a way that no woman ever has before. And that’s valuable to me. I’ve learned a lot from you.
Taking a deep breath, I picked The Geek Feminist Revolution up again, and only put it down when other, more pressing matters demanded my attention. It made me wish I knew you well enough to take you to dinner and ask you to just tell me stories about your life. To talk about process, and yeah it sucks to have to have a day job for the insurance, and holy shit I hadn’t realized how bad the sexism is.
There are hard truths in your book.
At my last job there was a week when I had to actually go to my manager and explain to him what being a part of the team and having a voice meant. The group admin wouldn’t put me on the meeting agenda because I didn’t have Director in my title. She would only do it if my male manager said it was okay. I was pissed. So pissed I was vibrating. And that I had to explain it several times in very small words just made it worse.
Reading your book gives me such hope. For the first time in my life, at a time when people are looking forward to retirement, I realize I still have time to make change in my world. I have time to rearrange everything I thought I knew about myself and create a different life for myself. The life I want is one which tempers my very emotional responses and allows me to reasonably explain to someone why they’re not allowed to take my voice away.
I get to figure this out, and you have motivated me to keep doing that. To read, and write, for the sheer joy of it. To understand I need a day job for the health insurance benefits, and to pay my bills. And that all of it’s okay and necessary to survive. My writing can be my night job. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice anymore.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell my middle-school self to keep writing, because writing would keep her happy and sane. I would insist she not give it up and not worry about what it looked like or sounded like. I would tell her no matter what, do not quit writing, even if it’s just a sentence about how particularly shitty the bullies were that day. “Keep writing, always,” I would whisper in her ear.
I had so much to heal from, so much to learn, it’s hard to regret it took me this long to realize what I had been keeping from myself. Reading books like yours help so much, and I don’t know how to tell you what an impact you’ve had.
I close this with an open invitation, if our paths cross at any time, dinner is my treat. It’s the least I can do, aside from buying your other books and joining your Patreon once I’m gainfully employed again.
Publisher’s Blurb: (Calculating Stars): … with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.
(Fated Sky): Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.
I am not kidding even a little when I say these books jumped to the top of my list of favorites. And getting to meet Mary Robinette Kowal was a highlight of my WorldCon experience. She really is kind, patient and generous.
The Lady Astronaut series is entertaining, even while discussing important topics like sexism, racism and, climate change, just to name a few.
And her publisher Tor has announced there will be two more books in the series.
The Calculating Stars
This book literally starts off with a bang. A cataclysmic event which takes out most of the east coast of the US, and precipitates a space race to move the world’s population to another planet.
It’s an alternate history of the US space program set in the late 1950s and grapples with the big question we find ourselves facing now, “How do we save ourselves?”
Elma is a mathematician who ferried planes around during World War II. She is smart, capable and, stubborn. Her only visible flaw is that she’s a woman in that time period. She has to fight so much just to have her contributions to the space program noticed. She’s fine out of the public eye as a computer. But that’s not what she wants for herself, or her friends who also fly.
Part of Elma’s story is her social anxiety. In school she was shamed for being smart. One of her coping mechanisms is to count prime numbers. But doing that doesn’t keep her from throwing up before she makes public appearances. So she does what any sensible person would do, she goes to the doctor for help.
Miltown prescription in hand, Elma is better able to handle her anxiety. It has to be kept a secret though, because open knowledge would cause those the men in charge to view her as an hysterical female and drop her from the program.
It would have been just as easy to not write this about Elma. It’s already nearly impossible for her to make any headway on equality in the space program. Giving her protagonist social anxiety, Kowal shows just how determined Elma is to make equality a realty.
The things the women have to do to prove their worth are demeaning. Something most women would identify with, no matter their generation or profession. And all the women striving to be in the space program paste their best smiles on and go through the paces. They know there’s a lot on the line for so many reasons.
By the end of The Calculating Stars Elma has earned her place in the program setting up the Moon as a way station to Mars.
The Fated Sky
There’s a colony on the moon now, and Elma rotates on and off, flying shuttles to Earth and helping prepare for the next big step, colonizing Mars.
It isn’t until the director realizes that the navigational computer isn’t reliable and too hard to program that a woman is considered for the crew. Elma’s highly visible profile as the “Lady Astronaut” makes her the choice to go at the expense of someone else’s place. And living in close quarters makes it harder on everyone involved.
Seven people on a space ship to Mars. There’s a lot of tension. Affairs are revealed, old wounds are picked at, and Elma does her best to roll with it. We finally see what’s been festering between Stetson Parker and Elma York in both books.
We also get to see the astronauts try to work through the personal issues which could very well be the downfall of the mission to Mars. The best thing about Elma is she’s always trying to understand, and learn, when her privileged white background gets in the way.
By the end of the book, landing on Mars has become not routine, but is well on its way.