Scandinavia Itinerary

I’m heading off to Scandinavia shockingly soon HOW IS IT TIME ALREADY. O_O

*ahem*

I’ll be at Histories of the Future in Uppsala, Sweden on August 4th and 5th for a conference on the legacy of empire and the SFF genre, which I am extremely excited about.

From there I’ll be doing actual, you know, vacation-ing, on account of traveling all the way to Scandinavia anyway, spending the next few days in Stockholm, Sweden and Bergen, Norway.

(VIKING ARTIFACTS. FJORDS. CANNOT FULLY EXPRESS EXCITEMENT. *__*)

And then I’m on to Helsinki for WorldCon! This will be my first WorldCon, and it looks like it’s going to set the bar pretty high. I’m more a creature of small cons (where small cons are, like, 100 people, for context), so we’ll see how this goes! I have loaded a shocking number of books onto my ereader to stock up on introversion in advance. =)

I’ll be arriving in Helsinki in the afternoon on August 10th. If you’re going to be at WorldCon too, ping me and let’s hang out!

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Favorite SFF Reads of 2016

SFF award season is upon us! I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads of the year that were published in 2016, in case either

a) you really liked some of these too and could do with a reminder they’re nomination-eligible, or

b) you’d like to check some of them out!

 

A few notes about my list here:

  1. They’re all novels, because that’s mostly what I read.
  2. There are no YA books, because this list would go on forever if I didn’t focus SOMEHOW.
  3. It looks like most of my favorite reads this year were not the first books in their series, so if you do want to check them out, keep that in mind when looking them up.
  4. I have not yet read everything published in 2016 that I meant or mean to. Story of our lives, I know, but there’s still time! If I’m missing something here that seems like it would obviously suit, though, that’s probably why.

Between moving and the election, this was a rough year for me, and I reached for a lot of stories that I either knew would be lighter reads or were set in worlds I was already comfortable with. I did try out new authors and series, of course, many of which didn’t make it onto this list — I’m picky, some were YA, many I enjoyed but weren’t my personal favorites (target audience is hard! taste is subjective!), etc. — but there are also some I desperately want to read and just haven’t gotten to due to limited mental bandwidth.

On that note, first, two shout-outs to books I’m really excited about and have on my e-reader, have started, have every confidence I’m going to love in their entirety, and have not yet had the brain space available to finish. I could just finish reading them before posting this, but if I delay I might never get around to posting at all, so. Really smart space opera and secondary world urban fantasy respectively!

  • Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1), by Yoon Ha Lee – from Solaris
  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2), by N.K. Jemisin – from Orbit

 

Without further ado, the rest of the list in order of publication, with some very brief descriptions of why they’re favorites:

  • City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2), by Robert Jackson Bennett – from Broadway Books
    • Secondary world urban fantasy. Mind-breaking and awesome in every way.
  • A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2), by V.E. Schwab – from Tor Books
    • High/portal fantasy. Action-packed and full of thieves, shenanigans, and feels.
  • The Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura #4), by Martha Wells – from Night Shade Books
    • Best high fantasy world-building I’ve read in ages.
    • If you’re new to Martha Wells LOOK UP HER WORK NOW.
  • Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay – from NAL
    • GGK is the master of historical fantasy. Lyrical and dense.
  • Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2), by Intisar Khanani – self-published
    • High fantasy, just straight-up fun. More thieves and magic and exploring an expansive world!
  • Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence #5), by Max Gladstone – from Tor Books
    • Secondary world urban fantasy. Again with the “mind-breaking and awesome” descriptor.
    • Please believe me: you want to read the Craft Sequence. I promise.
  • Behind the Throne (The Indranan War #1), by K.B. Wagers – from Orbit
    • Space opera! Action-packed adventure and politicking.
    • (I believe K.B. Wagers is Campbell-eligible!)
  • No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers #3), by Rachel Aaron – self-published
    • Urban fantasy with dragons and sorcerers and adorable/terrifying demonic cat familiar. Definition of “changing the game and raising the stakes.”
  • The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns #4), by Django Wexler – from Roc
    • Military fantasy. Arguably his best yet.
  • Once Broken Faith (October Daye #10), by Seanan McGuire – from DAW
    • Urban fantasy, my favorite fae-based UF series to date. I love these characters so much.
  • Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9), by Ilona Andrews – from Ace
    • Urban fantasy of the shapeshifter variety. Case study in how to do a long-running series while still pushing the characters and having a functioning arc.
  • Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings #4), by Sharon Shinn – from Ace
    • High fantasy romance? Character work is exquisite, and I love this world-building a lot.
  • One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3), by Ilona Andrews – self-published
    • I have no idea what subgenre this falls into, but I love it. Like a cross between urban fantasy and space opera.
    • You can try out the beginning of this serial on her website.

 

Happy reading! (And if I DID miss something you’re sure should be on here, please let me know so I can check it out!)

 

Excitement for 2015 Fantasy Novels

So, this is not the normal time of year for “best of” or “most anticipated” posts, but it’s never the wrong time to celebrate awesomeness, right? Given all the upset in SFF lately, I wanted to share a dose of my excitement for some novels coming our way this year. Because for me, that’s what being a fan is about — sharing my excitement with other passionate people — and I refuse to let that be tainted by other interpretations of how fandom does or should work.

ANYWAY. I’m going to list these in order of release. I am so excited for other people to have read these so we can squee and argue together.

(UPDATE I somehow forgot a critical book in my initial post, and I don’t want to remove anything or fix the numbering system so I’ve just inserted it where it should properly go chronologically.)

 

A Crown for Cold Silver

  1. A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall, out on April 14th.

(Epic fantasy, first in its series.)

Cobalt Zosia conquered an empire and retired — until politics followed her. Now, she’s out for blood. I love that this protagonist is an old woman, that she’s a mercenary, that she is at times she is terrifying and at others unexpectedly relatable. I love that this empire spans a lot of cultures that are not Eurocentric, and I love how much is going on with gender and sexuality in this book.

The Mad Apprentice

  1. The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler, out on April 21st.

(MG fantasy, second in its series following The Forbidden Library.)

Alice gets thrown off the deep end in this book. Everyone — excepting one terrifying, perfect dragon — keeps claiming they know what’s best for her. It’s one thing to know their agendas could get her killed, but how can she know what to do or who can she trust? Also, there are cats.

Hana

  1. Hana by Tam MacNeil, out in May.

(YA historical fantasy, fifth installment in its series beginning with Okatsu.)

I don’t know exactly what date Hana is coming out on, but keep your eyes peeled. This series is set in a fantasy Japan with samurai and assassins. I am SUPER PICKY when it comes to fictionalized versions of Japan, but this one I love. Doku, the most recent Jao book, was in my opinion the best yet, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next. I’m also legitimately worried for Jao and Masahiro, because Tam puts those poor boys through an emotional wringer every time.

 

Letters to Zell

(Genre: complicated, stand-alone.)

I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s some cross between fantasy, women’s fiction, new adult, and literary. It’s written epistolary-style between Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, as their “official” stories are finished and they’re expected to get on with their lives in approved fashions or risk unraveling their entire fairytale universe. Camille walks the edge perfectly between so sharp it hurts and absolutely hilarious. To be honest, I generally don’t go for fairytale retellings, but I literally cannot recommend this book highly enough. She had me at “IMPORTANT FUCKING CORRESPONDENCE from Snow B. White.”

 

The Talon of the Hawk

  1. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy, out on May 26th.

(Fantasy romance, third in the Twelve Kingdoms series following The Tears of the Rose.)

I enjoyed The Mark of the Tala (book 1), but I did not expect to love The Tears of the Rose like I did. Normally, for me, not respecting the protagonist means I’m unlikely to enjoy the book. But Jeffe Kennedy has a gift for complicating characters I don’t like until they’re so compelling I don’t care that I don’t like them. The Talon of the Hawk follows the third sister: the responsible one, the one who her father wishes were a man, the one who trained as a warrior and as a politician and has a mind like a steel trap. If the author could get me to enjoy the passive and bratty sisters, I can’t wait to see what she can do with the one I’m already rooting for.

The Devil's Only Friend

  1. The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells, out June 16th.

(YA horror, restarting the John Cleaver series.)

If you have not read the John Cleaver series beginning with I am Not a Serial Killer, you have missed out. It’s not too late. Dan Wells gets what makes monsters so horrifying on a creeping yet visceral level, and he gets what makes humans horrifying, and also what makes humans amazing. This series is a master work, and I can’t tell you how excited I am he’s picking these characters and this world up again.

Last First Snow

  1. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, out on July 14th.

(Secondary world urban fantasy, latest installment in the Craft sequence.)

In this book we are back in Dresediel Lex with Elayne Kevarian who is pretty much my favorite character ever (ever), the King in Red who is a skeleton sorcerer ruling a city because why not, and Temoc who is the last surviving knight worshipping fallen gods. This book leads us inexorably through a fantasy version of a protest from all sides, and it is wonderfully done and actually painful in parts. SO GOOD. If you haven’t read Three Parts Dead and on, please do yourself a favor and check this series out.

Court of Fives

  1. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, out on August 18th.

(YA Fantasy, first in its series.)

Somehow I haven’t managed to read any of this author’s work before, so this will be my first. Besides hearing extremely positive reviews, I’ve heard that this book was actually borne out of a roundtable discussion we had at Sirens in 2013 about women in power positions in fantasy, and I’m excited to see what she took.

Updraft

  1. Updraft by Fran Wilde, out on September 1st.

(Fantasy, first in its series.)

Wings. A growing city of bone, with towers and spires. Sky monsters. Did I mention the wings? Fran has such an immersive world, and I absolutely loved the protagonist — resourceful, realistically mature, indomitable. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

The Bloodforged

  1. The Bloodforged by Erin Lindsey, out on September 29th.

(YA Fantasy, second in its series following The Bloodbound.)

Our protagonist is a warrior — once a scout, then the captain of the king’s personal guard — and also an aristocratic lady, and extremely notable as both. I love competent protagonists. She’s observant, resourceful, and willing to buckle down and do what needs to be done when no one else will. I also find it refreshing that this is a world that does not preclude or shame women from being warriors.

Sunbolt

  1. Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani.

(YA Fantasy, next novella installment following Sunbolt.)

The author hasn’t announced yet when this will be out, so I list it here out of hope. Sunbolt is a fabulous introduction to a vast, multicultural world full of inventive magic and monsters with a heroine who is actively working in an underground rebellion as a spy. Some authors struggle with giving their characters agency, but the protagonist of Sunbolt is active and making choices constantly and it’s absolutely delightful. I really want the next one!

That’s it for now! I did not realize how many of these were YA when I started writing, and I am newly pleased — I feel like I didn’t enjoy as many YA fantasy novels last year, but it looks like this year will be a great one for my YA reading =). So a quick note for two others I’m excited about and only aren’t on this list because beyond positive reviews I know nothing more about them than what’s included in their official synopses: Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, both out in September.

Did I mention how excited I am for this year as a fantasy fan? It’s going to be fabulous. We will make it so.

Norwescon Wrap-Up

Last weekend was my first Norwescon, and it was a blast. Norwescon is one of those old-school SFF cons: this was year 37. Aside from Anime Boston, this is also the biggest con I’ve attended to date, with something like 5,000 attendees (I don’t know where that estimate came from, but I believe it: I waited for about 40 minutes just to get my con badge). It was held in the same hotel as FaerieConWest, so I wasn’t quite as lost as I could have been, and I kept meeting and running into people happy to help me out.

My favorite panels were on completely disparate topics: Viking era clothing and directed energy weaponry. The writing track panels are geared toward beginning writers, and they weren’t particularly useful for where I’m at. I’m finding this to be a trend at most cons, with the glaring exception of 4th Street.

From the dealer’s room I came away with tea from Friday Afternoon, which specializes in blends for nerds (she’s got D&D, Firefly, and BSG themes). I got cards from a couple of other shops I would have liked to patronize, but — PRO TIP — if your website is inaccessible, poorly navigable, or requires me to change obscure coding in order for it to function, I’m out. Don’t make it hard for me to give you money.

The best part of Norwescon for me was talking with friends and meeting people in either the hotel bar (which is really not set up for ease-of-bar-con) and the parties. I helped host a get-together for Cascade Writers, and I got to hang out with folk from Rainforest and from the SF2W meet-ups. It’s strange to realize I’m actually starting to know a fair number of repeat offenders at SFF events in the area; maybe I’m finally starting to put down some roots in the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe I’m just beginning to learn my way around SFF-dom and cons.

It bears mentioning that there are sort of two separate worlds at Norwescon., which helps me understand a little better why RustyCon and FaerieConWest weren’t the right fit for me. There’s one world where most of the writing industry pros frequent, between their panels, the bar, and the presidential suite, and they tend to be pretty low-key.

The other world is for the fans and for fan culture. Having not come up through cons and fandom, this world is the one that to me seems wondrous and strange. For instance, evidently the Red Gnomes (so discerned by their pointy hats) and the Cult of Scott Bakula (“Because His Career Died for Your Sins,” you see — they have a life-size cardboard cutout and everything) have merged. There are also yearly room parties where people have collected strobe lights and blacklights and lava lamps, brought in their own DJs and sound systems, covered suites floor to wall to protect from damage, moved beds elsewhere to set up a bar (with a bouncer at the door to check IDs and stamp) and a dance floor, and people arrive in varying degrees of undress or elaborate costumes. And I’m not talking about a single party occurrence here. The parties I popped into were all awesome and welcoming — I also want to give props to Norwescon for posting signs all over that read “Cosplay is Not Consent” — but those gatherings are otherwise Not At All like those of the other world.

My main regret is that I missed most of the singing. I got to hear some of Vixy and Tony’s concert, which was gorgeous, but I missed Seanan McGuire’s entirely. I also find it irritating that apparently SakuraCon and Norwescon are intentionally scheduled for the same weekend every year, because apparently you can’t be a fan of both anime and books at the same time. -_-

I did skip Sunday entirely for my sanity, and really it’s a wonder I remained mostly coherent and socially competent for that long, since I had total novel brain. On Monday I finished the rough draft of the Novel of Doom, so named for how it has been weighing on me for so long. The first draft clocks in at about 147,000 words, making it the longest I’ve ever written.

I’ll save comments on quality and experience for another time, and I do want to do a writing statistics post at some point (because numbers and metrics are fun!), but for now I’ll just say that since going part-time, in a little over two months I wrote nearly 100,000 words. I’m not wasting any time with this. I beat my end-of-April deadline (so no indiscriminate punching: you’re all safe), and I refuse to even look at that monster until June. In the meantime I’m getting back to all the many things (XD) I pushed in March and April and starting a New Shiny story.

Reflecting on This Summer’s Cons

This summer I attended two cons in back to back months. I’m relatively new to con-going in general, and so far all of my con experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s taken me a couple of tries to realize that the panels probably aren’t going to blow me away; what matters is the conversations they start afterwards.

4th Street Fantasy and Cascade Writers Workshop are both fairly small and attract people very invested in writing, but other than that they don’t have a whole lot in common.

One of the selling points of Cascade is its critique track, which I absolutely loved. I grew up in the educational environment of small discussion-based (read: arguing with whomever is up for it) classes, so Milford-style critique groups work out great for me. Everyone has an allotted time to speak, which means I have a chance to say All The Things (because I have Opinions on stories) and that you can shut me up with a timer. So I guess really I never get to say All The Things I want to, but it forces me to hit the most important ones and hope I’ve left explanatory enough notes for the author’s perusal. I lucked into a really chill group of talented writers and readers who had all submitted stories in pretty different subgenres of SFF, so this was a ton of fun.

At least at this year’s Cascade, there was more emphasis on the business side of being a writer, where at 4th Street Fantasy, it was pretty much all about the craft. And everyone was incredibly excited about the chance to geek out over craft. The great advantage of one-track programming is that our minds are all getting triggered by the same panels, so when you meet up afterwards everyone is building off of some common groundwork.

I was pretty quiet at this one, for me. Sometimes when I think too many thoughts at once I end up saying nothing at all, and sometimes I’m more interested in reveling in the feel of a thing to chance spoiling it with my speech. Not even natural disaster stopped the party or even set it back, really, and staff bent over backwards to keep it moving. Unfortunately, for this one I arrived early and had to leave early, and I got oddly emotional about it. I felt more like an observer during the con (as much as one can, at a con so small), so I was surprised at how hard leaving hit me. I’ll definitely be back, and doing more of that whole talking thing.

I’ll also be back at Cascade. It feels weird to register for something a whole year in advance; it’s been a while since I had some kind of geographic stability on which to base these kinds of decisions. (Not that I couldn’t still move, but I’m probably not moving out of the country again anytime soon).

Frankly, I could wax eloquent on both for far more paragraphs than this, and maybe I will again, but the bottom line is that if you’re serious about writing and about science fiction and fantasy, both of these are great conferences. I’m so glad I decided to go to both. I had a chance to hang out with some wonderful people at each, make new friends and visit with people I knew, and I hope I’ll be able to meet them again at future cons.

That’s the most important part, for me: the people. And the people at both of these cons are wonderful.

Allies

I should have posted sooner, but sometimes writing only makes the outrage beyond bearable, and I have been fatigued with it. Sometimes I am silent not because I don’t have thoughts on the matter — I always have thoughts on the matter — it’s because I have too many. Too many for a cohesive post, anyway. I think this one is nearly coherent.

In the past weeks there has been much discussion among the SFF community of sexism, how it manifests and what should be done about it. People have spoken eloquently and brought up a number of good points, so I’m not going re-hash them all.

There’s this one notion that strikes me, though, that I keep seeing, that there’s this network of women who help each other out at conventions, or that people only feel comfortable attending with a pre-arranged support group of friends and family.

Because sometimes the supporters don’t quite get it. Just because someone identifies themselves as an ally does not make it true.

These are the “supporters” who respond to your story saying that they understand, but that they are also removed from the immediacy. That say, “Of course I support you, but I can also be objective; I can be rational about what you’re too emotional to see clearly.” (As if emotions can only cloud judgment, rather than clarify it.)

These are the people who say, “Of course I don’t think like this, but you have to see where they’re coming from.” (Which in no way makes it acceptable.)

These are the people who make sexist jokes, and then say, “But it’s fine, because you know I don’t think like that / mean it that way. It’s just for fun.” (No. No, no it is not fun, and if you think sexist jokes are fun, that should give you pause.)

These people say, “Well of course I would believe you if you said you were harassed, but not everyone is like you.” (The harasser is not the victim.)

These are the people who are loudly offended by the suggestion that they might not be great allies. (Because allies will take that suggestion and try to find ways to be better.)

There are men to whom I don’t have to explain why any of these sentences are problems, and women to whom I do. There are total strangers who understand this immediately, and friends and family members who’ve known me for most of my life who don’t. It can be hard to know who your allies really are until something goes horribly wrong. Because these are the people who are supposed to be there for you at those times, and if this is the sort of thing they tell you, sometimes you’re too distraught to parse quite how problematic any of these statements is.

And in case I have been too subtle? Not a single one of these is an acceptable response. Ever.

That’s why I think this idea is so cool. I hope it takes off. Because sometimes our allies are not who we expected.

My personal experience with sexual harassment and rape culture has mostly not been of the physical variety, nor of the something gone horribly wrong variety. It’s littler things, insidious things that tell me someone is not my ally.

It’s the friend who sees me reading a book on feminism and bursts out laughing, because after all, there’s no need for feminism; the glass ceiling shattered ages ago, and why am I dwelling on it? The only thing limiting me is myself, after all. I should stop making excuses. (These are the people who say, “Oh, but you’re not a radical feminist, a crazy feminist; that’s different.)

It’s the people who tell me I’m overreacting. That if I want anyone to take me seriously, I can’t argue from my emotions, because those are a weakness; that somehow personal passion and anger invalidate points in an argument in a way that complete lack of empathy doesn’t.

It’s all the people in my life who have told me I can’t be as good at something because I’m female, to whom I actually have to prove I’m better at that behavior in order to be taken seriously. And then I’m an outlier for my gender: I’m not like normal girls; I’m one of the guys, a tomboy in disguise. I deserve to be treated as an equal, but not because I’m some kind an outlier.

It’s the people who’ve told me certain offensive behaviors just have to be accepted because I’m female, because there’s no way I can change the world, that I can’t expect others to hold themselves to higher standards of behavior, so I will just have to change myself to deal. And I do deal. But I shouldn’t have to.

I especially shouldn’t have to at conventions, and nor should anyone else. I can’t think of a single reason why every convention should not be a safe space. I have been lucky to attend SFF conventions where the idea of harassment is patently absurd, laughable (here’s looking at you, Sirens), and I want that to be all conventions. I want it to be my whole world.

There is a line in the TV show Angel that has stuck with me for a long time: “We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be. You’re not a part of that yet. I hope you will be.”

I hope so, too.

And those people who live as though sexual harassment of absolutely any kind, under any circumstance, is completely unacceptable?

Those are your allies.