reading, SFF

2018 recommendations

Here (in no particular order) are some of the things (this is a very incomplete list and doubtless I’ll want to add something as soon as I post it) that I read and enjoyed in 2018, and commend to you both for reading, and for considering for awards season:

Novels

  • Aliette du Bodard, In The Vanishers’ Palace. Wonderful worldbuilding of a post-colonial world in disarray and the people trying to help; lyrical writing; and a f/f romance between a dragon and a scholar.
  • T Kingfisher, Swordheart. Halla inherits a sword; which turns out to have a swordman magically trapped inside it. Shenanigans ensue. Such a fun read.
  • T Kingfisher, The Wonder Engine. Second part of the Clocktaur War duology, and just as good as the first. Clockwork, a grumpy forger, and a disgraced paladin. (Set in the same world as Swordheart.)
  • Juliet E McKenna, The Green Man’s Heir. Modern rural (as opposed to urban) fantasy/detective story.
  • Stephen Cox, Our Child Of The Stars. Thoughtful, warm story about a family, their unusual child, and their efforts to protect him.
  • Becky Chambers, Record of a Spaceborn Few. Yay more Becky Chambers. Notionally part of the Wayfarers series, but standalone. It’s more like four stories woven together. It’s gentle, and thoughtful, and I loved it.
  • Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun. Cracking finish to the Machineries of Empire series.

Novellas

  • Aliette du Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective. Space opera Sherlock Holmes, with a mindship and a scholar, set in the Xuya universe.
  • Katherine Fabian and Iona Datt Sharma, Sing For The Coming Of The Longest Night. Polyamory, queerness, and magic, and a mystery revolving around the solstice. Lovely. Also it’s set in London which is always a winner for me.
  • Martha Wells, Exit Strategy. Fourth and final instalment of The Murderbot Diaries, though I admit I am hoping for more Murderbot after this. Murderbot is awesome.

Novelettes

Short stories

(Note to self: do a better job of tracking short story reading this year. I am pretty sure I have missed stuff that I loved when I read it.)

I can also recommend Liz Bourke’s Tor.com review column Sleeps With Monsters is great for adding to one’s TBR stack, should one feel the need to do that. (This year I really am going to read everything on the pile. Yes.)

my fiction, SFF, writing

A Glimmer Of Silver: out now

So, it’s been a busy few weeks. Last month my novel The Deep And Shining Dark was released. This month, my novella A Glimmer Of Silver came out from The Book Smugglers. It’s available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Smashwords. It has been getting good reviews, too, which is awesome.

(I’ll be at Nine Worlds on Saturday with a few copies to give away — watch Twitter for details.)

Cover of A Glimmer Of Silver, by Juliet Kemp. An androgynous person with brown skin and short dark hair sits on a dock, with the sea at their feet. They have silver marks on their skin. Behind them there are floating buildings in the distance.

SFF

Generation Ships & morality

I went to a panel at Worldcon on the morality of generation ships, and have been thinking about it since.

(I’m also going to take this opportunity to recommend this Jo Walton story set on a generation ship, which is great and has something to say about choice and decisions.)

So, the question under discussion at the panel was: is it morally acceptable to board a generation ship (i.e. a ship that people will live on for multiple generations on their way to another planet), given that you are not just making a decision for yourself, but for your future children, grandchildren, etc etc. The two main categories of moral problem that the panel identified were:

  • the risk of the voyage itself;
  • the lack of choice for every generation after the one that gets on the ship in the first place.

The ‘risk’ issue seems reasonably strong. It’s very unlikely that anyone would have a really clear idea of what the planet was like that they were going to. If you’re using a generation ship at all, then you probably don’t have any other form of fast travel, so any information that exists about the planet will be scanty, very out of date, or most likely both. (See Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which is also great.) So it’s not at all a reliable bet that your descendants will truly be able to settle where they’re headed to, even if it looks good from here.

There are also the risks of the voyage itself, including but not limited to radiation issues, the possibility of running into something else, and the likelihood that the ship will genuinely be able to maintain a workable ecological system. We don’t have good on-Earth comparisons for small closed systems; what experiments have been conducted have been very short-term and not terribly promising. What about the social dynamics? What are the risks of, say, a totalitarian system arising? If the risks on Earth are very high, or humans on Earth are facing imminent disaster, then this might be an acceptable trade-off, but how high is ‘very high’ and how disastrous does a disaster have to be? Does it need to be Earth-wide? If your current home is, for example, sinking under rising waters, and you know that any alternative will mean becoming a refugee in poor circumstances — how much risk is ‘reasonable’ to accept then?

Which brings us on to the issue of ‘choice’. One could argue that a kid living in a refugee camp without enough food or warm clothes has, notionally, some future ‘choice’ or ‘opportunity’ to escape that. A child on a generation ship is stuck there.

But why is “can’t leave generation ship” morally different from “can’t leave Earth”? Which is of course a situation into which all children are currently born and which we do not consider morally problematic. And how realistic is the ‘choice’ that the average Earth-born child has? This was where I thought that the Worldcon panel fell down a bit. They threw the word “choice” around a lot but didn’t at all interrogate what realistic “choice” is available to which children in which situation on Earth. There are many kids born without very many realistic ‘choices’; children who are unlikely to go more than a few miles beyond where they were born, children whose projected lifespan is short, children whose lives are likely to be very difficult. How different is that, in reality, from a generation ship? In fact, if the generation ship does work, it might be a better life than on Earth: guaranteed food, shelter, and useful work (making the ship run).

The panel talked about limiting the choices of children born on the moon, because they might not be able to go back and live on Earth — but why is Earth necessarily better than the moon, or Mars, or the asteroid belt? Why isn’t it immoral of us to have children who are stuck down here in the gravity well?

More generally: we’re constantly making choices for our children, and through them for generations beyond; we’re constantly giving them some chances and removing other options, every decision we make. Is that immoral? It’s not avoidable, however much privilege you have, although most certainly more privilege generally means more options.

Would I get on a generation ship? Well. Not without a really good perusal of the specs. But I’m not convinced that it’s immoral to do so.

SFF

Me at Worldcon 75

In two weeks I will be off to Helsinki for Worldcon 75! About which I am very excited.

I am also in some programme items, so if you’re going & any of these are of interest, come along:

Now I need to start making some notes so I will have something to say…

SFF

Eastercon highlights

Slightly belatedly — I had a splendid time at Eastercon. I was on four panels (Emotional Storytelling Through Music; Mystery, Fantasy, and Romance; Writing With Disability, Writing About Disability; and In Search of Optimistic SF). My co-panellists were all great, and all four panels seemed to go well as far as I could tell. I was pretty entirely wiped out by the end of the last one on Sunday evening though.

I also went to lots of other panels; spent all my spare cash on books in the Dealers Room[0]; hung out talking to splendid people (old and new) in the bar and the fan lounge; and drank rather too much caffeine.

I especially enjoyed the Women In Star Wars panel, the BSFA Hamilton lecture (with impromptu singalong), the Vorkosigan Law talk (especially the bit where they acted out the scene in which Ivan and Tej attempt to divorce 🙂 ), and the Populism in SF panel on Monday morning that wound up happening in the bar due to Technical Errors[1]. I had vague thoughts of putting some of my notes from them here but on re-reading them, I think turning them into anything comprehensible to anyone else is beyond me.

Looking forward even more to Worldcon in August now (and indeed to next year’s Eastercon, for which I am already signed up).

[0] I’ve been talking about Kindles lately and I do love my Kindle, but I want to support the small press folks and book dealers at the con too; buying directly from the author as in a couple of cases is awesome as well.
[1] Risk of being on fire due to mains cable problem. Being on fire generally considered unwise.

SFF, writing

Eastercon 2017 recs

Eastercon was fabulous, and I may yet do a writeup post, but for now, I have many recs to extract from my scribbled notes. (NB I have not yet read any of these; things I had already read I didn’t generally write down.)

LGBT to QUILTBAG panel:

  • “Not Your Sidekick” — C. B. Lee
  • “A Rational Arrangement” — L. Rowyn
  • “Hunger Makes the Wolf” — Alex Wells (cyberpunk)
  • The Raven Cycle — Maggie Stiefvater (YA, queer relationships)
  • “The House of Shattered Wings” — Aliette de Bodard
  • General recs: Uncanny Magazine, Tor.com, Lethe Press

Women of Star Wars panel:

  • “The Things I Would Tell You” — Muslim women anthology

Hamilton lecture:

Romance, Mystery, and Fantasy panel

(plus some recs from the bar afterwards. Some of these are non-SFF romance.)

  • Obsidian and Blood series — think this may have meant “Ivory and Bone” and “Obsidian and Stars” — Julie Eshbough
  • “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” — Laini Taylor
  • “Behind Her Eyes” — Sarah Pinborough
  • “Hold Me” — Courtney Milan
  • “Hold” — Rachel Davidson Lee
  • Cosy witch mysteries!
  • Heather Rose Jones (published by Bella Books)
  • “Don’t Feed The Trolls” — Erica Kudisch
  • “Rollergirl” — Vanessa North
  • “The Art Of Three” — Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae
  • “Storm Season” — Pene Henson
  • “The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World” — A. C. Wise
  • “Hurricane Heels” — Isabel Yap
  • Neville/Hermione/Luna fic generally (must check AO3 tag 🙂 )

Fandom and Theatre panel

  • Team Starkid — on YouTube
  • Smash — TV show about backstage
  • Slings and Arrows — TV show about actors

Misc other recs

  • “At The End Of The Day” — Claire North
  • “The End of Days” — Jenny Erpenbeck
  • “Cities in Flight” — James Blish
  • “Meg and Linus” — Hanna Nowinski
  • “Every Heart A Doorway” — Seanan McGuire

So, uh, that should keep me going.

reading, SFF

Mancunicon 2016 — book recs

Note: these are not books that I am recommending personally, because I haven’t read any of them yet. They are instead books that other people at the con talked about sufficiently enthusiastically that I now want to read them. Some of them are on my (now much larger) to-read pile, either in dead tree form or electronically; some aren’t yet.

First up: two people I know had book launch parties at the con! David L. Clements released his collection of short stories, ‘Disturbed Universes’ (from NewCon Press); and Siobhan McVeigh has a story in the collection ‘Existence is Elsewhere’ from Elsewhen Press (scroll right down for buying options). I heard various of the authors reading extracts from their stories in this book at the launch and they all sounded great.

The rest of my recs are from the Feminist Fantasy panel:

  • Jo Walton ‘Lifelode’ (annoyingly, it seems to be out of print, and expensive second-hand)
  • The Chinese myth series Dream of Red Mansions
  • Elizabeth Gouge (note that not all of her books are fantasy)
  • Octavia Butler ‘The Wild Sea’
  • Someone mentioned the Green Knowe series of children’s books, which are sort-of historical fantasy. I read them as a child (a long time ago now) but am now minded to have a look for them the next time I’m in the library and see how they’ve held up.
  • Tanith Lee
  • Lois McMaster Bujold ‘Paladin of Souls’ — I have read this one and it is GREAT. Very strongly recommended.
  • Kate Elliott — both fiction and non-fiction. (Just looked at her post about her own books/series and am now wondering how I missed all of this for this long. Looks great!)
  • Mary Stewart — Merlin trilogy
  • Andre Norton ‘Year of the Unicorn’. (I should probably have read this already…) (but I haven’t, so.)

To enlarge your (my) reading list further, E. G. Cosh (who was on a panel with me and is v cool) has a recs post too.

SFF, writing

Mancunicon 2016 — con report

I spent the weekend at Mancunicon, this year’s Eastercon, a gathering of UK (and a few international) SFF fans. And lo! I had a splendid time. I caught up with old friends and met new ones; I acquired half a suitcase full of dead tree and a vast recommended books list; I went to some panels; I took part in two panels for the first time; and I got three full nights of uninterrupted sleep PLUS several naps in my lovely quiet hotel room*.

A great start to the weekend was Friday afternoon’s panel on coping with anxiety at cons. I particularly liked the snowball theory, where meeting one person leads to meeting more people; and it is indeed true that fans are, in general, friendly. Volunteering is also a good way to engage with people if you’re a bit anxious. Having a job to do can be calming, and you’ll automatically meet more people. Many thanks to the panel for being honest about their own stuff and encouraging to the rest of us.

‘A Feminist Fantasy Canon’ on Saturday dispensed immediately with the notion of a “canon” as something of a patriarchal construct, but were happily still prepared to provide recommendations instead. There was a fair bit of discussion of the role of the “kick-ass chick”/woman with a sword, alongside the ways in which feminist fantasy can tackle “women’s work”, women’s interests and domestic fantasy. They’re both valid narratives (as are a whole host of narratives in the middle) ; the problem comes when kick-ass chick is the only narrative, and we’re simply transplanting women into very masculine swords-and-power stories.

Fantasy can also, the panel agreed, be insufficiently imaginative about what is and isn’t possible; the mindset in which dragons and telepathy are fine, but women in roles of power are “historically inaccurate”. Not to mention the fact that, as per Kate Elliot’s recent column, our view of ‘historical accuracy’ is woefully distorted when it comes to what women actually did and did not do. (See also, of course, ‘We Have Always Fought’ by Kameron Hurley.)

My first panel, Saturday lunchtime, was ‘Balancing the Creative Life’, where we talked about how to wrangle day job/family/writing/creating/anything else you might be trying to squeeze into your time. It was lovely to hear from the other panellists about how they wrangle their very different creative and work lives, as well as to be able to talk about my own problems and solutions. (Noise-cancelling headphones are my top tip to anyone trying to work in a noisy household, especially if the noise includes small children.) In other news, I am still looking for successful solutions to that time-sink of all time-sinks, the Internet.

Sunday lunchtime saw me and awesome co-panelists talking about ‘Supporting the Short Stuff’. We agreed that the short story market for SFF as a whole actually looks pretty healthy; venues opening and venues closing again is simply pretty much par for the course with any sort of small business. Which still means: if you want to read short fiction, support the publications and websites that you read, whether that’s through subscriptions or Patreon or Kickstarter or just linking to stories you like. There was some discussion about expanding the ‘bubble’ of those who read speculative short fiction, how people are already trying to do that, and how else it might be done — podcasts, anthologies, crowdfunding, link-sharing…

‘All Roads Lead to Kings Landing’ had a fascinating array of writers of epic fantasy talking about their various approaches to plotting, fights and battle scenes, conflicts, and world-building. ‘Steampunk as a Force for Good’ on Sunday evening sadly didn’t tackle the diversity and colonialism issues of steampunk as much as I would have liked it to; nor did it quite live up to the ‘radical potential of steampunk’ tag in the programme description. I did however discover that someone has recently run a Harry Potter activism workshop, which sounds amazing.

As I had a train to catch first thing Monday, my con finished up on Sunday evening with some bar time and then half of sing-a-long Rocky Horror before midnight approached and I ran out of steam. Next year I will try to stay a bit longer as some of the Monday panels sounded awesome. I’m looking forward to Birmingham / Innominate 2017 already.

Books rec round-up to follow here

* I gather that treating cons as “catching up on sleep” time is not entirely usual, but apparently that is what parenting has done to me.

SFF

LonCon3

A fortnight ago I went to LonCon3 – not just my first Worldcon, but my first SFF con of any sort. Given that they were holding it about 20 min tube/DLR ride from me, in ExCel, it would have seemed churlish to skip it. 

There were a lot of panels. A LOT of panels. And I went to quite a few of them. I found myself ducking out of this one 15 min early so I could have a quick break / snack before dashing back for the next slot. It reminded me of when I first went to music festivals (20-odd years ago now) where I would pore over the programme planning how if I left *this* then and dashed over here I could catch half an hr of *that* on the way to *the other*… Another time I might endeavour to take it a little easier and give myself more time for everything else. (I entirely missed the Art Show, for example.)

Having said that, I enjoyed nearly everything I went to, and could happily go back and start over with a whole different set of things. (I missed most of the science track, for example). I have many pages of notes I am not about to type out, but a couple of panels particularly stuck in my mind afterwards (ie came to mind without checking said notes while writing this).
— Race and British SF: a really interesting discussion about who is writing what, where, and why, which left me with a much longer to-read list. 
— Ideology vs Politics in SF: the premise was that ideology (noble ideas) shows up in SF more often than politics (the grubby business of hammering out solutions), probably because the former is in general more interesting to write/read. Lots of discussion about the value of both about writers who do tackle politics, and about the radicalism of imagining a political alternative. 

There was also one talk (on worldbuilding) I left after getting too annoyed by the panelist who invariably referred to a hypothetical character as “he”. A shame as there was good stuff from the other panelists, but it was just too irritating. I cheered myself by getting some dal for a late lunch. 

I saw “kaffeeklatsch” repeatedly on the programme with no explanation, then when I established what it was, was too shy to sign up. Then I found myself sitting next to Stephanie Saulter (author of the excellent novels Gemsigns and Binary, about which I was most enthusiastic at her) at another panel. She mentioned her kaffeeklatsch, which gave me the courage to sign up. I’m glad I did – it was a lovely hour, and I also got to meet and chat to Anne Charnock (whose novel A Calculated Life I have since read and enjoyed), Cindy of Draumr Kopa review blog, and someone from Birmingham SF group whose name now escapes me (oops). Buoyed by this I also went to Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden’s one, which was interesting if less chatty. 

Despite my extensive panel attendance, I also managed to do a bit of socialising with people I didn’t know at all, and thus award myself a Big Gold Social Person Star. (I had a drink with a couple of folk I did know, too, but that is less challenging because I already know that they’re nice.) The fan village in many ways was great from a social point of view – lots of opportunity for mingling – but it was also very noisy (and echoey, being as how this was ExCel and therefore it was inside a big concrete box) which made life harder. I left one thing because I just couldn’t hear anyone, which did nothing for my intermittent social anxiety. 

Sunday I missed most of everything that didn’t involve hanging around in the fan village, as Leon came along for the day. He was delighted with his badge and First Worldcon ribbon and very enthusiastic about running round the ‘village green’ with a hula hoop. He is, however, still not panel-compatible. I went home with him and D at dinner time rather than staying for the Hugos. I was a little sorry, but following it on Twitter over pizza and a glass of wine at home was still pretty exciting, and also involved pizza. A very pleasing set of results. 

(Given how Sunday panned out and that I would have had L with me on Monday too, I somewhat reluctantly stayed home on Monday and missed the final day, bah.)

Brilliant weekend, if exhausting. I would go again like a shot if it ever comes back to Europe. And after over 20 years of being a fan of sorts but never going to a con, I am now signed up for both Eastercon and 9 Worlds next year and greatly looking forward to both.