Who reads genre and doesn’t know who Catherynne M. Valente is? I suppose such people exist, but I don’t concern myself with them. I have certainly heard of her work as early as 2008 when a few late-to-the-game reviewers picked up her The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden. First, I took notice of the cover, then the premise and then the actual author’s name, which sounds like a very good name for a genre author – fantastic and melodious.
As with Margo Lanagan, I followed the ripples her work created in the blogging community with the sad realization I couldn’t quite join in on the fun (books cost money, damn it). After this first meeting, I read reviews of Deathless, The Habitation of the Blessed and Palimpsest. My writing buddy Theresa Bazelli urged me to get a copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I’m about to in the near future along with her back catalogue. In short, I already felt deep love for Valente’s work without having read a single page. It’s bizarre; I can’t explain it, but it has happened before multiple times. Call it a reader’s instinct, if you will.
It’s hard to explain why I haven’t been more proactive in hunting her work down. I guess I find it far sweeter to know I have excellent books yet to read and anticipate what wonders lie between the pages. I’m sure you have felt this excitement when you know what you’re going to read next, have it in your grasp but still need to crack it open. This moment before immersion where you’re about to fill your lungs with air and hold your breath – now that’s bliss. I have just been holding mine for too long. This all changed when I received a copy of her Six-Gun Snow White. Continue reading
Let’s talk about sex, baby.
Let’s talk about genre and kink.
Not the best Salt-n-Pepa rewrite admittedly, but it serves as an appropriate introduction to these wonderful, wonderful editors. I’m breaking my rules (I’m a bad boy, deal with it), because each day should celebrate a single woman in genre, but both Germain and Ashbless are responsible as chief editors for Geek Love. Therefore, I don’t have the heart to separate them. Consider them an inexplicable dual-mind entity. Done? Good.
Back to sex and genre. Genre lends itself to sex more than one would imagine. Oglaf serves as an excellent example of how sexual fancies can really take flight. Creative couplings, naughty talk and ludicrous sexual behavior mash into a colorful orgy and mind you, I’m talking about Oglaf. Erotica in fantastic stories has been present since humans first developed storytelling and can be found in every era. Most recent examples include Cthulhurotica and Rigor Amortis (both edited by women – yes!), though the Internet has got you covered when it comes to fantastical erotica whether we talk about slash fiction or original amateur work.
Then what makes Geek Love so darn special? Why are Shanna Germain and Janine Ashbless the editors of note? The answer is twofold and goes beyond the fact that I’m in it (though let me tell you I’m quite happy to be featured in the TOC). Geek Love has claimed nerds and geeks as new sex symbols at a time when mainstream media has finally picked up that geeks are hot beyond all conventional tropes. It’s a timely release as it comes during the process of rebranding geeks as a new category to lust over. Naturally, geeks have always known how to have fun in the sack well and beyond the vanilla, but a book that proves the virility of spec fic writers’ imaginations is the best thing to happen to geeks (especially those who like their fiction with a bit of a kink).
I don’t know whether it’s because Australia gives birth to nature’s deadliest being in creation or it’s a coincidence, but the strongest voices in genre fiction to leave in an intransient mark in big ways hail from spider central down under. Kaaron Warren started the trend, then Angela Slatter picked up the pace with Lisa L. Hannett and Felicity Dowker hot on her heels with the publisher and editor Alisa Krasnostein there to push excellent fiction forth. I’m thrilled to include the most hailed name in fiction when it comes to dark fiction – Margo Lanagan.
Prior to launching Women in Genre, I listed the women I knew I wanted to talk, then edited out a great many names because I couldn’t exactly say anything worthwhile other than the most token of pleasantries. Margo Lanagan entered and left the list because honestly, I knew the name ever since Tender Morsels caused every genre reviewer to buzz and swashbuckler with opinions. The subsequent years allowed me to befriend Margo over Facebook and Twitter and I can testify that you won’t meet a sweeter person with a good sense of humor (Margo once promised me she’d write in a scene with a magic shovel, which is all I need to laugh my ass off).
I was a fan of the person, but of the author; that is until I had the immense pleasure to acquire her excellent short “Goosle” for Tales to Terrify during my tenure as an assistant editor charged with acquisitions. In short: mind blown. Margo Lanagan set out to retell Hansel and Gretel, which has been done over and over again, but her retelling renders every other irrelevant in the sense it goes on to ground the story in realism. Forget about witches in the classical sense, add an emphasis on the plague, child molestation and cannibalism and you’ll read a story, which arrests you with its graphic nature and terrifies you with this story’s plausibility. Lanagan proves horror writers need not search for monsters to scare their readers when human beings can suffice.
Genre escapes one unanimous definition as all big and rich things should and have. I often seek a definitive concept when it comes to genre, but that’s not really how it goes now, does it? Genre has the ultimate power to include, though it seems we devote time and resources to draw lines in the sand. When I set out to write Women in Genre, I considered whether or not to limit myself to fiction, because the initial discussion concerns the gender biases within publishing. A discussion locked between authors, reviewers and fans.
What about cover artists, though? Where do they fit in?
The publishing business has evolved to a stage where novels and short stories achieve success through the symbiotic relationship with mind-blowing art. You see this in Tor.com, where each short story receives beautiful art. You see it in various cover battles, where fans rate books by the cover art. You see it in how genre reviewers often open topics pertaining to the quality, message and gender bias of book covers. The book cover has never been quite as important and to an art aficionado with gigabytes worth of images for inspiration, I can’t not talk about one of the most prolific illustrators in genre – Galen Dara.
Once I mentioned how important Gemma Files became to me for her fearless inclusion of strong, gay characters as protagonists in a narrative, which prior to “A Book of Tongues” has featured a binary couple almost exclusively. I can’t speak about every book ever published, but it certainly felt like it was the only book willing to take Weird Western with its tough setting and tough men, definitive symbols of masculinity, and show raw masculinity didn’t suffer from homosexuality.
“A Book of Tongues” taught me to seek out defiance in fiction and counter-trope work in books, which brings to Anne Lyle and “The Alchemist of Souls”. Those interested may find my review in full HERE, because I look as in-depth as I could in the themes I talk about here and why Anne Lyle deserves more attention as a writer. Frankly, I don’t consider “The Alchemist of Souls” one among the many alternative history books out in the open, but a rather smart and detailed look at alternative sexuality in an era regarded as prude, asexual and restricted.
Non-binary sexuality, gender and relationships receive little coverage in general, but tend to be a completely overlooked element in historical fiction, because homosexuality and every other big word to describe non-binary behavior outside heterosexuality are rather new concepts, so it’s not a bit of a stretch to imagine a rather conservative sexual past. History, however, brims with many examples of alternative sexuality, sexual identity and gender. This juxtaposition between how we color our perceptions about sex in the past and what historical artifacts suggest sex was like has been a great interest of mine.
I honestly can’t speak about Ann VanderMeer and not continue the conversation with another of the most prolific editors in genre, Ellen Datlow. Datlow works in the shadows of genre and has a keen eye for twisted stories to terrify and delight the reader. I’m not saying anything new under the sun, because Datlow has been editing anthologies since before I’ve been born.*
Impressed doesn’t begin to cover how I feel about this achievement on its own and I hope I don’t sound condescending when I say it’s double-so considering Datlow carved a piece of her own at a time the gender balance in genre looked even more dismal. Naturally, I can’t say what it was to be a woman in genre in the late 80s, but if we’re still in the process of fighting for equal respect and coverage of women as creators, then I’d imagine twenty years ago the situation didn’t look a lot brighter. I can’t help but nod in appreciation at all the anthologies she has edited and her big legacy in the twenty one volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies – a staple in genre culture.
Where there is legacy, there are awards and Ellen Datlow has amassed a small collection. From World Fantasy Awards to Hugos and Stockers and Locus Awards, Ellen Datlow has them all and I can’t help but compare her to the greatest Pokemon master (provided you’d be comfortable of imagining awards as Pokemon). However, that’s not really personal. Yes, I do admire her for the work she has done. To me Datlow has become an institution and a role model to writers who can only wish to be featured in her anthologies and editors who want to emulate her success.
Having completed several short story anthologies and collection and reading others, I have been thinking about short fiction more and more. There’s something to the brevity and the intensity of the narrative as a story rushes into fruition in a strict, clearly marked space. Even the silent ones, when written right, can leave just a distinct impression as a fully realized novel would. Writers have to see the magic, catch it in a single snippet and let it ripen for those with an ear to collect it for other’s enjoyment. Ann VanderMeer has gathered more succulent fruit than any other editor I have heard of and she has been doing in so in various projects, all of which beautiful and heavy with honey-juiced, creative fruit.
I may have said it elsewhere, but it’s worth saying it again. I have only the utmost respect for the VanderMeers, two of the great luminaries of fantastical fiction, because it’s rare to see anyone as industrious and committed to their work (vocation really) as this husband and wife duo. I’d very much like to imagine both as the lit-geek incarnation of Bonnie and Clyde, only armed with red pens and riding into the night with bags of the most precious stories.
You can see I’m a fan, right?
As you may have noticed already, I have missed Monday in Women in Genre. I’m a stickler for schedule and it irks me I have come to this point in time and have skipped a day, but when your body plays a nasty trick on you, there’s little you can do to stay on schedule. I’ve been battling a set of muscle spasms for the past five days and the pain has kept from maintaining my backlog of posts for situations from these. Monday and today have been the worst in terms of pain and I have been suffering sleep deprivation on the account of the pain. My focus has become rather hazy and I don’t think I can deliver a coherent post.
Women in Genre will return with new material tomorrow, but the posts will be backdated so that everything fits perfectly within April even though the month will extend into May.
Last I wrote about Amal El-Mohtar and her delicate aesthetic. Another author I highly value for her strong commitment to beauty in style is Gemma Files. Files hails from Canada and has a bit of a reputation as a creative risk-taker, something every writer should aspire to achieve in every single sentence he writes. Risks push form and genre, which Files accomplishes with aplomb in her wonderful “A Book of Tongues” – a book I consider dear and important.
Because I have an emotional attachment to this particular title, I’d like to reminisce and share my experience reading “A Book of Tongues” and how it came to my possession. In all honesty, I do not find weird west all that interesting. Cowboys and deserts don’t appeal to my aesthetic, reason why I stopped playing Diablo II as well (curse you, desert!), so it was pure impulse I volunteered to review Files’ novel for Innsmouth Free Press in 2010.
After all, the blurb promised a real gay couple – central to the plot and everything. I hadn’t read LGBT fiction. How could I resist? The idea seemed ludicrous. Books written with characters just like me? Unheard of. Gemma Files’ novel did a lot more than just show fiction for queer readers existed, but I will focus on that later.
It was summer – hot as hell and I worked a second summer as a hotel receptionist at a miserable, small hotel with personnel that made me uncomfortable with their behavior. I couldn’t come out to my colleagues, because they didn’t seem like the tolerant type, and I don’t take risks when the question of my sexual preferences can make my work environment hostile. High school wasn’t a particularly fun experience for a gay kid and in 2010 I still gained confidence about being who I am as a person – gay and weird (but mainly weird). Continue reading
Yesterday, I touched upon my preference for beautiful prose. Consider me shallow, but I find the better stylists among SFF authors to tell a superior story, because well-crafted prose creates more depth and nuances than straightforward prose in service of a plot or character development. Yes, the latter two matter in general, but superior writing starts with excellent prose. An author with a grasp on how to write with a magical ease is Amal El-Mohtar, which she displays in her fantastic but too short “The Honey Month”.
As far as I know, “The Honey Month” remains El-Mohtar’s single stand-alone work, but she has several appearances in magazines such as Apex, Weird Tales and Sybil’s Garage and anthologies such as Book of Apex, Steam-Powered and Welcome to Borderland. I don’t know whether Amal considers writing a novel, but I would very much hope she has such aspirations because she has a beautiful approach to storytelling as demonstrated in “The Honey Month”. I have become such a fan, I have marked all her publications to date and hope to read them at some point.
What makes “The Honey Month” so extraordinary is the collection’s concept. El-Mohtar picks a particular honey for each day of the month, offers a brief description and impressions of its taste before she uses it as an inspiration to craft either a short story or a poem. Writers have translated sights, sounds and sensations to the page, but have rarely focused on taste as primary inspiration and the resulting works enchant the senses with its delicate beauty. Continue reading