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November 2013

Speculative Fiction 2012 (and 2013)

Speculative Fiction 2012

With Speculative Fiction 2013 on the horizon, I've taken the opportunity to rejig 2012 into a slightly prettier version. There aren't substantial differences, but it is a little slicker, a little easier on the eyes and, while I was at it, a little more typo-free. This 'second printing' is now available through Amazon US and Amazon UK (where it seems to be 20% off right now - no idea why).

All proceeds from the sale of Speculative Fiction 2012 are donated to Room to Read, so now's the chance to buy some amazing non-fiction and feel good about yourself for doing so.

And, don't forget, it isn't too late to submit your favourite online essays or reviews (either your own or those of others) for 2013, edited by Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers.

Need more convincing? Here are just a few of my own favourite quotes from Speculative Fiction 2012...

"I feel that by limiting feminist expression to strong female characters only, we are shortchanging ourselves. If male characters are allowed to be strong, weak, broken, insane, anti-heroes – why can’t we have a range of female characters likewise? I think that writing women in a non-stereotyping way, as people with desires, weaknesses, strengths – is feminist. I want portrayals of women that are as vivid and varied as portrayals of men." - Rose Lemberg

"[Miéville] has created one genuine masterpiece, The City and the City, and several works of importance, chief amongst them Perdido Street Station, which represented nothing less than a paradigm-shift in commercial fantasy fiction but – like Neuromancer in its turn – could not turn its numerous imitators into anything but moderately talented hacks." - Lavie Tidhar

"It’s funny because whenever you challenge somebody to look around at the people in their lives who don’t fit dominant expectations of what men and women should be doing, they come up with hundreds of examples. But ask them to construct fictional worlds that contain that same kind of fluidity between gender roles, and it all goes to hell." - Kameron Hurley

"The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion." - Paul Kincaid

"I may transgress against the rules of SF because there are many things that I do not know about science fiction. I did not grow up surrounded and soaked in its language." - Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

"Imagine a female point of view character is going along about her protagonist adventure, seeing things from her perspective of the world as written in third person. She hears, sees, considers, and makes decisions and reacts based on her view of the world and what she is aware of and encounters. Abruptly, a description is dropped into the text of her secondary sexual characteristics usually in the form of soft-focus Playboy-Magazine-style sexualized kitten-bunny-I-would-fuck-her-in-a-heartbeat lustrous-eyes-and-nipples phrases. Her breasts have just become omniscient breasts." - Kate Elliott

All this and more...


(YA) Review Round-up: Speak! Knives! Football!

Three utterly fantastic YA titles: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Keeper by Mal Peet and The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan.

SpeakSpeak (1999) is the story of Melinda Sordino, a freshman at Merryweather High School. The transition to high school is always traumatic: a shift from the (relatively) care free days of youth and innocence to a vastly more complicated world. In high school, the future matters - you're told about college and sex and adulthood - life isn't about potential any more - your acts now have meaning. (Ah, the "permanent record", is there anything more terrifying?) Moreover, high schools have hierarchies: not just the cliques and clubs, but also the ages. There are Varsity and Junior Varsity, Seniors and Juniors; as a freshman, you're the lowest rung on the social ladder, told to look up at, admire and emulate, those above you.

For Melinda, this transition is especially brutal. At the last of the big summer parties, she's raped by "IT" - her way of referring to the senior boy who takes advantage of her. In a state of shock, she calls the police and has the party broken up. No one knows of the sexual attack, but everyone knows that she's the girl that ruined the party. Melinda's not the lowest rung on the ladder: she's buried deep underground.

Speak is a beautiful, horrible novel: layered with manifestations of Melinda's enforced silence. She cannot find someone to talk to. When she does, she can't make them listen. She begins to believe that she has no voice and then, ultimately, it disappears - leaving her completely silent. The truly terrifying part, of course, is how little that seems to matter: although there's a bit of token concern by the "system" (parents, school), Melinda's unnatural silence is simply brushed aside, dealt with as routine adolescent angst. It is only through isolated incidents - connections with individuals - a teacher, a friend, a lab partner - that Melinda regains the power to communicate.

Ms. Anderson wraps up Speak in a way that's empowering without being a fairy tale. The ultimate lesson, I suppose, is something along the lines of people are good, even if individuals can be evil and, collectively, we can be dingbats. Communication is critical - it isn't that people don't want to hear, it is that sometimes they can't. But, just as critical: we need to make sure that people have the room, and the time, and the opportunity and the power to speak. A simply brilliant book in both story and message.

Continue reading "(YA) Review Round-up: Speak! Knives! Football!" »


Remix and Transformation: An introduction to fanfiction by Renay

Keep Calm and Write FanFictionBackground and Terminology

I really, really love fanfiction

Fanfic has been the dominant form of literature in my life since the late 1990s, and it's only grown to take over more of my literary adventures with the advent of the Archive of Our Own's option to download stories onto my phone. I love a good space opera, but no joke, I love a trope-filled fake boyfriends fic just as much. I love the blank spaces in original works and so I am interested in how fan artists build additional stories about characters I love or subvert canon to tell new, different stories. 

I also happily read most texts from queer perspective, which impacts how I engage with fandom. You can call me a slasher (also see: femslash) because that's my primary mode of engagement with fanwork.

This is only one way to participate — there's myriads of other ways, including "het" and "gen". I know I have often seen slash used interchangeably with "porn", but frankly, that's a reductive view of the category, and the work some fans are doing inside their communities. It helps to think of fandom as a marketing category in which many, many genres exist, including, surprise surprise, fanwork which has no sexual or romantic content at all.

We can go deeper by expanding outwards from fanfiction into podfic, fan art, vidding, and academics. In the last few years, sections of fandom have shifted to Tumblr, a microblog service that has given rise to remixed or canonical gifsets, tag commentary (definitely a brilliant new fannish medium), and round-robin style fic writing and world building — the list goes on and on. 

Although I identify as a slasher and feel most at home in fanfic circles, it's hard to be in fandom these days without getting sucked in to the amazing things other fans are creating. Fanwork does insightful, creative things with original source texts, and so I've chosen a collection of pieces that I think are excellent examples of the fantastic imagination of fans and the way we deconstruct, reconstruct, and think about our media.

Needless to say, there may be spoilers for all the properties below and definite spoilers if you read/watch/listen to any of the pieces. Also, please mind all warnings!

Continue reading "Remix and Transformation: An introduction to fanfiction by Renay" »


Review Round-up: Beauty Queens! Heroes! Housewives! Chalk! Answers!

Eight even-briefer-than-usual reviews as I do some catching up: Peter Haining's The Hero, The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer, Libba Bray's Beauty Queens, Max Brand's The Streak, Sue Kaufman's Diary of a Mad Housewife, Pat Cadigan's Chalk, Patrick Ness' The Ask and the Answer and Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three. 

Cold War thrillers, domestic fiction, horror, young adult fantasies, Westerns and... everything else. A genre pick n' mix.

The heroPeter Haining's The Hero (1975) was terrible. I mean, I was expecting 'bad', but this was terrible. A Cold War thriller, it posits a world filled with peace-and-love-for-all except for the evil Chinese. An ordinary English civil servant is chosen to run an impossible mission behind the 'bamboo curtain': to photograph a doomsday device before the Chinese use it to level the West. A parallel narrative follows a group of film-makers as they make a movie of our hero's adventures. Neither are particularly appealing, and the conclusion is both senseless and distasteful. Oh, also racist. And filled with plotholes and paranoid conspiracy theories. If I were the type to give stars, here's an instance where I wouldn't.

The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer (1967) was my first experience of the man's work. I'm still going to plow on, as I'm extraordinarily interested in "New Journalism" as it applies to, well, blogging. A few stories fell flat with me - "The Time of Her Life", "Advertisements for Myself on The Way Out", "Truth and Being, Nothing and Time", "The Notebook"... all seemed, well, either overly deliberate or too linked to the mores of the time. Others, say, "The Patron Saint of Macdougal Alley", "The Paper House", "A Calculus at Heaven", "The Killer" are some of the best I've read. I suppose any survey of a career this diverse is going to have its ups and down, but I'm pleased that some were so good. 

Libba Bray's Beauty Queens (2011) made me laugh out loud a half-dozen times. A dark, slapstick comedy about teenage pageant competitors stranded on a desert island while a bumbling Evil Corporation does Evil Stuff in the background. Ms. Bray takes wonderful pokes at reality television, consumer culture, nepotism, television, the South,... pretty much everything. But beneath it, there's a really lovely positive message about doing what you love and being yourself - whoever you are. Very highly recommended, both as a charmingly progressive book and a hilarious one.

Continue reading "Review Round-up: Beauty Queens! Heroes! Housewives! Chalk! Answers!" »


Joey Hi-Fi's Weirdness Rodeo

Welcome to the Weirdness Rodeo - your weekly dose of wonder and strangeness, courtesy of Joey Hi-Fi. 
You can follow Joey on Twitter at @JoeyHiFi and admire his work here.



Galaxy of Terror (1981)

"Donovan Marsh to Direct the Film Adaptation of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes". (BooksLIVE)

"10 Most Dangerous Cities in The World to Travel". Cape Town is 8th! (Escape Here)

Listen to someone play the 'viola organista' - a unique organ Designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. (Neatorama)

"Which New 'Doctor Who' Companion Are You?". Bloody hell. I'm Rose Tyler! (Buzzfeed)

Alternate ending to “Breaking Bad”. It's a DVD extra. So amazing! 'He would say yo B-word! Yo science B-word'!' (Buzzfeed)

Watched the intriguing & often hilarious Event Horizon-Alien-esque Galaxy of Terror (1981) last night - the trailer (above) and the box art. It's the Prometheus of 1981. With the worst crew imaginable hand-picked to investigate a strange structure on a hostile alien planet.

Continue reading "Joey Hi-Fi's Weirdness Rodeo" »


Can there be fantasy disaster fiction?

Towering InfernoWriting up the review for The Explosion led to thinking about disaster fiction as a genre which led, inevitably, to thinking about fantasy. (This is, ostensibly, a fantasy-focused blog, although you wouldn't really know it outside of DGLA season.)

Could there be fantasy disaster fiction?

As with all things, need to define a term or two:

By "fantasy disaster fiction", I specifically mean "disaster fiction in a fantasy setting". 

By "fantasy", I mean secondary world + magic exists + dragons n' wizards n' whatnot type fantasy. Not science fiction - there's loads of disaster fiction in SF (arguably, all disaster fiction is SF as well).

By "disaster fiction", I mean books like Airport and The Glass Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and Condominium and Tropical Disturbance and The Explosion. Books where the primary conflict comes from a catastrophic disaster occurring in a defined space: establishing a complex system, seeding the flaws in said system, the destruction of that system and the resulting chaos (and perhaps new order).

Is that possible in fantasy? After mulling it over, four responses - in order: no, maybe, "yes", yes (potentially).

Continue reading "Can there be fantasy disaster fiction?" »


Review Round-up: Murder! Explosions! Long Distance Calls!

A better class of holiday reading with Brett Halliday's Murder Takes No Holiday, Hans Heinrich Ziemann's The Explosion and Susan Howatch's Call in the Night.

Murder Takes No HolidayI'm sure I've read a Mike Shayne mystery before - in fact, I'm almost positive I own a stack of them, but, for the life of me, I can't remember anything about them. Which is part of the reason Murder Takes No Holiday (1960 - although this is a 1973 edition) was such a pleasant surprise. Everything about this book (that is, the cover) screamed trashy PI pulp, and, although it was, it was also a lot of fun. (The original cover is better.)

Mike Shayne is a Miami PI who, as we've learn, is in dire need of a holiday. His last case/fracas has resulted in broken ribs, a nervous secretary/girlfriend and a grumpy doctor. Like it or not, he's being packed off to St. Albans. (Un)fortunately, a few of Mike's other friends see this as an opportunity - a perceptive customs agent thinks that there's something dodgy on the island and, as long as Mike is heading that direction...

It doesn't take long, by Shayne is quickly in a mess. The island cops think he's a criminal. The island criminals think he's a cop. There's some sort of secretive British agent stomping around and an equally enigmatic (if less clothed) French dancer. At the centre: a young pair of married Americans, including the widow of one of Mike's cop buddies. Whether or not his ribs can take it, Mike sees no choice but to get involved.

The resulting melee is a bit... by the book, but despite the lurid cover art and copy, Mike's not sleazy. He plays fair with everyone (good guys and bad), and, despite the frequent opportunities, never hops in bed with anyone. Travis McGee - he of the quick judgements and loose morals - could learn a lesson from Mike Shayne. The mystery itself is a bit goofy: it is one of those linear set-ups where Mike starts with a single clue and then follows it to the next and the next and the next; nothing new is ever introduced, and he constantly circles back to the same few people. (Convenient that St. Albans only has one criminal, right?) But Halliday has a knack for bringing characters to life in a few short sentences: the frustrated barman (forced to wear pirate garb to please tourists), the grieving widow (and her penchant for cakes) and the irritable chief of police. This, plus Shayne's own wry sense of humor, keeps the book going and, despite the simple 'mystery', keeps it entertaining.

Continue reading "Review Round-up: Murder! Explosions! Long Distance Calls!" »


Review Round-up: Jade! Death! Honour!

Three quick reviews - probably the most obscure collection of books since the infamous 'Nurse Romance Round-up of '11'. Holiday reading: got to love it. (Or not, in this case.)

Cool JadeBernard Girard's Cool Jade (1975) follows con artist Ira Hand as he plans an elaborate operation in the heart of San Francisco. Ira's set up as a cool character, picking up and dropping identities at the drop of a hat, and often several times on each page. To some, he's a far right conspiracy theorist. To others he's a violent anarchist. Even Ira can't keep track of his own lies - in several scenes, he has to do a double-take before realising people are talking to him.

Ira is after the collection of jade in Gumps department store - a very real San Francisco landmark, and one of the few enjoyable notes in this otherwise dire book. To do so, he's come up with a scheme that involves, amongst others, a legion of plumbers, insurance fraud, a series of bombing attacks, a Boy Scout troop and a (presumably contractually-mandated) love affair with a flighty-but-good-hearted blond. 

On the whole, Cool Jade is pretty silly stuff. Although the elements of the con build to a sort of slap-stick crescendo, there are so many red herrings that the reader (like Hand) often loses track of what's important. Hand's methods are partially improvised, partially organised, and the result is a sort of murky, unpleasant chaos. That's not to say Cool Jade is a total loss. Although the crime plot is forced (and, again, rubbish), Mr. Girard (that's got to be a pen name, right?) does have a wicked sense of humor, with pointed attacks on both the Right and Left. The ridiculousness of the anarchist groups is only matched by the malignancy of the conservative organisations, and Mr. Girard pulls no punches when he mocks the stupidity of both. Curiously, his contention isn't that these groups are hypocritical, rather, he is scathing about anything or anyone that tries to distill the complexity world into a single issue. Hand, who is able to see the many facets of an argument, finds these true believers easy to manipulate: "pushbutton people... all you had to do was push the button and they would respond".

Continue reading "Review Round-up: Jade! Death! Honour!" »