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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Alex Hughes! Her work includes the Mindspace Investigations novels (Clean, Sharp, and Marked), the prequel short story Rabbit Trick, and the related novella The Payoff (1.5 in the series), as well as some short stories unrelated to her series. She’s also an avid reader of science fiction, and she’s sharing her top 10 favorite female writers in the genre with us today!

Clean by Alex Hughes Sharp by Alex Hughes Marked by Alex Hughes

Top Ten Favorite Female Authors in Science Fiction
By Alex Hughes

Recently I keep hearing that women aren’t writing science fiction (or we can’t, or I’m unusual for doing so). This is silly; women in science fiction have been here a long time, though often under pseudonyms, and in certain scifi genres (like urban fantasy) we currently outnumber the male authors. But, in the interest of setting the record straight, let’s celebrate women in science fiction through a list of my all time favorite female authors. The list is in no particular order.

  1. C.J. Cherryh. (Make sure to read: The Pride of Chanur.) Nobody makes aliens feel alien like Cherryh. In my opinion, she’s one of the all-time greats—if not the greatest—sociological science fiction authors of all time.
  2. Anne McCaffrey. (Make sure to read: The Rowan.) She was the first female science fiction author to make the New York Times Bestseller list in 1978, and one of the first science fiction authors to make the list at all. She writes incredibly vivid characters and strong women.
  3. Catherine Asaro. (Make sure to read: Ascendant Sun.) A physicist, Asaro knows her science. Her i-space hyperdrive and very cool nanotechnology change the very nature of the stories she writes, but she still spends the time to paint vivid characters.
  4. Lois McMaster Bujold. (Make sure to read: The Vor Game.) If you like swashbuckling adventure in space, you must read about Miles Vorkosigan.
  5. Elizabeth Moon. (Make sure to read: Once a Hero.) Moon writes extraordinary ship-based military space opera. Period. Her female heroines are smart, tough, and can handle anything the world throws at them.
  6. Andre Norton. (Make sure to read: Brother to Shadows.) One of the “founding fathers” of pulp science fiction writing under a male pseudonym, Norton’s body of work is huge. She writes interesting aliens/magicians and cultures in vivid settings with a lot of adventure.
  7. Tanya Huff. (Make sure to read: Valor’s Choice.) One of Huff’s relatives is a Marine, and you can tell. She writes brilliantly in a variety of subgenres, but her military science fiction is particularly noteworthy. It’s gritty, real, and exciting with plenty of action.
  8. Linnea Sinclair. (Make sure to read: Finders Keepers.) Sinclair writes action-adventure science fiction with strong romantic elements and a kick-butt attitude.
  9. Mercedes Lackey. (Make sure to read: By the Sword.) Best known for her fantasy, Lackey writes amazing science fiction as well, though mostly in short-story form. She’s a master of worldbuilding and one of the most prolific writers in the business.
  10. Ursula K. Le Guin. (Make sure to read: The Left Hand of Darkness.) Not only is her work often cutting edge in its treatment of gender, politics and sexuality, the way she puts words together is truly gorgeous.

Alex Hughes

Alex Hughes, the author of the award-winning Mindspace Investigations series from Roc, has lived in the Atlanta area since the age of eight. She is a graduate of the prestigious Odyssey Writing Workshop, and a Semi-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novels 2011. Her short fiction has been published in several markets including EveryDay FictionThunder on the Battlefield and White Cat Magazine. She is an avid cook and foodie, a trivia buff, and a science geek, and loves to talk about neuroscience, the Food Network, and writing craft—but not necessarily at the same time! You can visit her at Twitter at @ahugheswriter or on the web at http://www.ahugheswriter.com. Or, join her email newsletter for free short stories.

About Marked (Mindspace Investigations #3, Released April 1):

FORESEE NO EVIL.

Freelancing for the Atlanta PD isn’t exactly a secure career; my job’s been on the line almost as much as my life. But it’s a paycheck, and it keeps me from falling back into the drug habit. Plus, things are looking up with my sometimes-partner, Cherabino, even if she is still simmering over the telepathic Link I created by accident.

When my ex, Kara, shows up begging for my help, I find myself heading to the last place I ever expected to set foot in again—Guild headquarters—to investigate the death of her uncle. Joining that group was a bad idea the first time. Going back when I’m unwanted is downright dangerous.

Luckily, the Guild needs me more than they’re willing to admit. Kara’s uncle was acting strange before he died—crazy strange. In fact, his madness seems to be slowly spreading through the Guild. And when an army of powerful telepaths loses their marbles, suddenly it’s a game of life or death.…

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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author and editor Deborah J. Ross! She has written both short stories and novels, including Jaydium, Northlight, Collaborators, and some of the Darkover novels, continuing the series begun by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her latest books are an epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield, comprised of The Seven-Petaled Shield, Shannivar, and The Heir of Khored (coming in June 2014)—and she is here today to talk about the heroic women in this series!

The Seven-Petaled Shield by Deborah J. Ross Shannivar by Deborah J. Ross

Women Heroes in The Seven-Petaled Shield
By Deborah J. Ross

My first professional short story sale was to Marion Zimmer Bradley for the debut volume of Sword & Sorceress. When the anthology became an annual series, I kept submitting stories, and looking around for different cultures and historical times as background. For one of the later volumes (XIII), I wanted to explore the tensions between a nomadic horse people like the Scythians and a city-based culture like Rome, and their different values and forms of magic. I did not call them Romans and Scythians, of course, but these models were very much in my mind as I created Gelon and Azkhantia. As I delved further into my research, I learned that although Scythian women were definitely second-class citizens, the Sarmatian women rode to battle and were likely the origin of the “Amazons” of legend. What could be more perfect for a sword and sorcery story featuring a strong woman protagonist? Thus began a series of “Azkhantian tales,” and my exploration of a vastly complex, fascinating world.

From the very first “Azkhantian tale,” I set up different systems of magic and of spiritual beliefs in the various cultures, contrasting the pantheon of the empire-building, city-dwelling Gelon and the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe, loosely organized into clans (each named for a different totem animal), living in harmony with the land and its seasons. Their primary deities are, of course, the Mother of Horses and her consort.

For the first of these stories, I departed from the usual swordswoman or sorceress heroine: a woman who is young, physically fit, and unattached to family. I’ve often been astonished by the number of such protagonists who appear to be orphaned only children. In cultures like my Azkhantian nomads, however, family and clan form the core of an individual’s identity. I wanted the bonds between parent and child or between siblings to shape the adventure. A host of possibilities opened when I chose a point of view character who wasn’t physically involved in the battle, but was deeply emotionally involved. Hence, most of “The Spirit Arrow” was told from the perspective of an aging mother, linked to her warrior daughter by more than the natural enchantment of the heart.

These stories grew into not only a novel, but a trilogy. From the outset, I knew The Seven-Petaled Shield must be told primarily through the experiences of the women. The action begins with the armies of Gelon laying siege to the citadel of Meklavar, but I was more interested in what the women of the city were doing. For my initial viewpoint character, I created Tsorreh, the young second wife of the aged king. She’s inexperienced but neither helpless nor idle; she organizes medical care for the injured and housing for refugees from the lower city. She counsels her husband and treats his wounds, and she worries about her adolescent son in his first battle. All of these are traditional “female” roles. Because she is an educated person and a woman with initiative, however, she also takes it upon herself to save the library. Shortly after the city falls, she whisks her son to safety through the mountain tunnels, and she herself becomes the bearer of the mystical gem that will later play a pivotal role in defeating the incarnation of chaos in this world.

The second and equally important woman hero rides onto the pages of the next book, which is also her namesake: Shannivar. Shannivar is recognizably heroic; she’s a warrior of the Azkhantian steppe, skilled in archery and horsemanship, determined to accomplish great feats of valor. She’s the grandchild of the clan matriarch, a strong and self-reliant woman.

Shannivar and her best friend, Mirrimal, have reached the age when they are expected to choose husbands and retire from fighting the Gelon. Neither is happy about this – Shannivar because she refuses to surrender her dreams of glorious deeds, Mirrimal because marriage itself is abhorrent to her. Both women insist on their own self-determination, although with quite different results. Shannivar’s courage and quick-thinking place her in a succession of leadership roles, first of a war-party, then of a diplomatic mission, and finally of a expedition to trace the incursion of uncanny forces into her world.

In tales of fantasy as elsewhere, we have a tendency to measure heroes by their physical prowess instead of, for example, their foresight or moral authority. This approach inherently puts women in non-industrialized cultures at a disadvantage. Very few women are as physically strong as men or have the same mass, height, and reach. We can step outside the strength=heroism model if we consider that the differences can be minimized by training, appropriate weaponry, or other advantages. Shannivar is a superb horsewoman and archer. The height of her horse (and she has two wonderful horses that are heroes in their own rights) and the reach of her arrows mitigate her lesser muscular strength. More than that, she has the ability to see patterns in battle and to think in ways that use the assets of her riders – speed, maneuverability – to best advantage. She has a clear vision of her goals and does not let temper or ego get in her way, unlike her hotheaded cousin. This enhances her ability as a strategist and organizer.

All of these qualities can apply to male warriors as well. What then distinguishes Shannivar as a hero? The quality of her character, her vision, and her determination to defend her people against enemies human and supernatural, regardless of cost. Instead of being a handicap, her refusal to “settle for less” lifts her deeds to extraordinary – heroic – heights. Tsorreh is no less a hero, for her courage is of the heart and spirit, her quiet wisdom and compassion.

Deborah J. Ross

Deborah J. Ross writes and edits fantasy and science fiction. She’s a former SFWA Secretary and member of Book View Café. Her short fiction has appeared in F & SF, Asimov’s, Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace, Realms of Fantasy, Sword & Sorceress, and various other anthologies and magazines. Her most recent books include the Darkover novel, The Children of Kings (with Marion Zimmer Bradley, Amazon Barnes & Noble); Lambda Literary Award Finalist Collaborators, an occupation-and-resistance story with a gender-fluid alien race (as Deborah Wheeler, Amazon); and The Seven-Petaled Shield, an epic fantasy trilogy (Amazon Barnes & Noble.) She’s also the author of Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life (Book View Café Barnes & Noble).

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Today’s guest post is by Grace from the wonderful blog Books Without Any Pictures! She reads and reviews a wide variety of books, including a lot of speculative fiction, and she also has giveaways, guest posts, interviews, and discussions on her site. I really enjoy reading her reviews and think she has excellent taste in books so I’m glad she is here today recommending some favorite recent science fiction and fantasy books by women!

Books Without Any Pictures

5 Awesome SF/F Books by Contemporary Women

When I sat down to write this post, I jotted down a list of some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy books written by women. Then I looked at my work and realized that all of the authors on my list were the classics—Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, etc. While these authors are tremendously influential and are some of my all-time favorites, they represent older and more established voices within the genre. Instead, I decided to focus on speculative fiction written by women that has been published within the past five years. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order):

Deathless

1. Deathless by Catherynne Valente
Deathless is a retelling of the Russian legend of Koshei Bessmertny, a wizard who keeps his soul outside of his body (inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a rabbit, which is in an iron chest, which is buried under a tree) to preserve his immortality. The story of Koshei and the woman who destroys him is juxtaposed with Soviet history, adding another dimension to an already captivating story. Deathless is hands down my favorite book of all time.

vN by Madeline Ashby

2. vN by Madeline Ashby
Madeline Ashby’s debut novel is set in a world where humans live side-by-side with von Neumann machines, or self-replicating robots. There is a tenuous peace between the humans and the vN (even though the vN are second class citizens) because the robots are built with a failsafe that prevents them from harming them. But when a little robot girl named Amy accidentally eats her grandma during a school play, the world changes as humans begin to fear and persecute their creations. Seeing the plight of the vN can’t help but remind readers of the types of discrimination that exists within our own society.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

3. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Yeine Darr was raised in a matriarchal warrior society. After her mother’s death, Yeine is summoned to her grandfather’s palace, where she learns that she is a contender for the Arameri throne. The Arameri have enslaved gods known as the Enefadeh, and they use the gods’ power to help them subjugate most of the world. The Arameri are ruthless and will stop at nothing in pursuit of power, and it will take all of Yeine’s strength to survive in their world. N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy completely upends many of the stereotypes that plague epic fantasy. The protagonist is a black woman, and the world she lives in is nothing like medieval Europe. Instead of all-powerful, the gods are dysfunctional. It’s brilliant.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

4. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
This is the story of Cat, a girl who falls in love with a robot. She doesn’t know whether Finn is capable of returning her love, and so she makes a lot of mistakes with her life out of guilt and the pressure to have more “normal” relationships. One of the things that impressed me the most about The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is that Cat is so fallible. We see her make poor but understandable life choices that hurt people she cares about and then pick up the pieces and learn to move on and live with the consequences of her actions, which is a profound commentary on what it means to be human.

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

5. Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen
Danielle Jensen’s debut novel Stolen Songbird is the story of a teenager whose life plans get disrupted by trolls. Cecile is planning to move away from the village where she was raised and become a singer, but she is kidnapped and sold to trolls. The trolls have been imprisoned under a mountain by a witch, and there’s a prophecy that a union between a red-headed human and a troll could break the spell. Cecile is forced to marry Tristan, the troll crown prince, but unlike a typical fairy tale, their union fails to break the curse. The troll marriage ceremony uses magic and links the emotions of the two partners, so Cecile and Tristan are stuck with each other. This is one of the best new releases of 2014, and I can’t praise it enough.

These are just a few of the fantastic examples of speculative fiction novels written by women, but, in the illustrious words of LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it.

What are some of your favorites?

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Today’s guest is one of my favorite new authors, M. L. Brennan! Generation V is one of the best openings to an urban fantasy series I have read, and Iron Night was even better and even more difficult to put down. On the strength of these first two books alone, her series has become a must-read for me, and I can’t wait to read Tainted Blood in November. Her books are unique and have a sense of humor, and I especially love the characters and her protagonist’s narrative voice.

She is here today discussing the aspect of her writing that seems to surprise people the most—and, no, it’s not writing about vampires, kitsune, and elves!

Generation V by M. L. Brennan Iron Night by M.L. Brennan

I’m a female author writing a series with a male protagonist.

I’m also a human author writing a series with a non-human protagonist.

Guess which one seems to baffle people more.

A lot of people have asked me about writing a first-person male character – sometimes the question is phrased better than others, but it comes out often enough that I think I can say that it’s representative of something that seems to honestly baffle a lot of readers. How on earth can I be writing from a male perspective – and even more than that, how on earth can I be doing that in an effective way?

A lot of attention was given to George R. R. Martin’s famous answer to being asked how he was able to write female characters (in his utterly delightful way, he paused and said, “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” – and if you’re one of those people who has managed to avoid seeing the viral meme, I’ll include the link right here — http://www.upworthy.com/why-it-shouldnt-be-difficult-to-write-believable-female-characters). It was an answer that I really liked and appreciated. When I was young, I did what a lot of budding writers seem to do when I essentially read my way through my local library’s entire collection of science fiction and fantasy. Like a lot of libraries in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the bulk of its sf/f collection was from the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I encountered quite my fair share of authors who seemed to regard female characters as even more alien than the characters who had tentacles. Also, in fairness, I read plenty of writers who were excellent in their presentation of both genders, whether tentacled or not.

In writing my main character, I focused on who he was as a person. What drove him, what formative experiences influenced him, what did he want and how was he going to get it? That he had a penis was certainly part of who he was, but it wasn’t his defining characteristic. Similarly, it wasn’t as if I got to female characters and suddenly said, “Ah, vaginas! Completely easy to write well!” It isn’t harder to write men and easier to write women just because I happen to share genitalia with the latter. After all, it isn’t as if the books are an unending series of descriptions about how the protagonist goes to the bathroom.

Besides, even if they were, I’m a writer and I can observe subjects to get the information that I need. Plus, let us never discount the Internet as a research tool.

One of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice is “write what you know,” and there is a good amount of usefulness to it. But at the same time, people take it too far and allow it to become a literal dictate for everything that can be put onto the page. My own experiences as a person certainly inform how I write, but they shouldn’t be a series of fences that I can’t progress beyond. After all, then my books would be about white women in their thirties who avoid physical activity at all costs.

And they definitely wouldn’t be about vampires. Drinking blood? If we’re basing only on personal experience, these protagonists wouldn’t even be able to have lactose intolerance!

People who talk to me at cons or for interviews seem genuinely curious about how I wrote a supernatural protagonist. But a first-person narrator who is a different gender than the author? Inconceivable!

Is gender a throwaway? I’ll grant that as much as I do enjoy second-wave feminist theory, it is not. But gender is no great equalizer – it’s emotions, losses, desires, and stresses that truly form a character. And those are what I can dig inside myself and find as a counterpoint. Whether it’s women writing men or men writing women, we should all remember that what it’s really about is authors writing about people (even if those people sometimes have fangs).

M.L. Brennan is the author of the critically acclaimed GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT. The third book in the series, TAINTED BLOOD, is forthcoming in November 2014. Brennan holds an MFA in writing and is employed as an adjunct professor at several New England colleges.

Brennan cut her baby bibliophile teeth on her older brother’s collection of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, but it was a chance encounter with Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks as a teenager that led to genre true love. Today she’ll read everything from Mary Roach’s non-fiction to Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasies, but will still drop everything for vampires and werewolves in the big city.

For Brennan’s thoughts on writing, publishing, and the world in general, please check out her official webpage at http://www.mlbrennan.com

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Last week’s guests got the month off to a great start! This week’s posts begin tomorrow, and you can see this week’s schedule below. I am also excited to be giving 2 copies of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison today!

But before this week’s guest lineup, here’s a brief overview of last week’s discussions.

Week In Review

In case you missed any of last week’s guest posts, here’s what happened:

Upcoming Guests: Week Two

It was a great first week, and I’m also excited about next week’s guests:

Women in SF&F 2014 Week 2

April 7: M. L. Brennan (Generation V, Iron Night)
April 8: Grace from Books Without Any Pictures
April 9: Deborah J. Ross (The Seven-Petaled Shield, Jaydium, Northlight)
April 10: Alex Hughes (Clean, Sharp, Marked)
April 11: Anya from On Starships & Dragonwings
April 12: Rachel Bach (Paradox, The Legend of Eli Monpress)

Giveaway

Courtesy of Tor Books, I have two copies of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison to give away! This giveaway is open to North American residents, and two winners will each receive one copy of this book.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

About The Goblin Emperor:

A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Read an Excerpt from The Goblin Emperor

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “The Goblin Emperor Giveaway.” One entry per person and two winners will be randomly selected. Those from North America are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Sunday, April 13. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

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Today’s guest is fantasy author Anne Lyle! Her work includes Night’s Masque, a historical fantasy trilogy set during the Elizabethan era (The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams, and The Prince of Lies). She’s also a scientist and her discussion is about how science does not have to be limited to science fiction—fantasy can be built upon scientific concepts, too!

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle

Back when I was a teenager, I was all about the science. Science fiction, science fact – I devoured it all. My favourite subject at school was biology, so of course I loved stories about aliens, such as the “Hospital Station” series by James White, and anything by Ursula Le Guin or Andre Norton. By contrast, history was a more ambivalent subject. I loved pseudo-historical swashbucklers like “Scaramouche” and “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, but our history lessons in school were deadly dull.

In those days (the 1970s) and at an aspirational girls’ grammar school like the one I attended, a broad curriculum was not admired – we were destined for university and academic careers, so we specialised early. At 14 I ditched arts and humanities to focus on science and languages, went on to take a degree in zoology, and eventually found my way into web development and bioinformatics. And yet despite this high-tech focus, I ended up writing fantasy instead of science fiction. So what happened?

I think it started in my late teens, when I discovered the three-volume paperback edition of “The Lord of the Rings” in a local bookshop. I’d read fantasy before, of course, but here was a world as vast and awesome as anything I’d encountered in SF – plus it heavily featured the natural world that I loved. For the next couple of decades I read a mixture of fantasy and SF – and in some cases, like Julian May’s “The Saga of the Exiles”, a heady blend of the two.

Then in the latter half of the 1980s, two opposing fiction genres vied for my attention. On the one hand there was one of the hottest new paperback series, the Brother Cadfael historical crime novels by Ellis Peters. I’d always loved detective stories, and the combination of a classical whodunnit with a medieval setting rekindled my interest in English history.

At the same time it was the heyday of cyberpunk: the novels of William Gibson, Walter Jon Williams, George Alec Effinger and their peers – and of course the movies. Blade Runner and Robocop epitomised this sub-genre and painted a picture of a cynical but still fascinating future where biology and technology collide. For a while it seemed like the perfect mix…

But by the mid-90s, reality had started to catch up with fiction. Cyberspace was here, but instead of glowing pyramids and jacking in, we had HTML and the dot-com bubble. The future was now and it was both exciting and really rather mundane – which left science fiction feeling a bit…unnecessary? It didn’t help that, during the 80s, I’d discovered environmentalism and started to feel pessimistic about the future of our planet. SF was no longer the shiny beacon of hope, but a harbinger of doom. Faced with a rapidly changing world, perhaps it’s not surprising that many SFF fans took refuge in an idealised past of sword-wielding heroes trekking across an untamed wilderness. And so I, like so many of the reading public, turned to fantasy for my sensawunda thrills.

For the writer, fantasy offers some distinct advantages over science fiction. For one thing, writing good SF requires a solid understanding of science and technology, which might seem daunting to a non-scientist. (Which is not to belittle the specialist knowledge required to write convincing fantasy.) My earliest attempts at writing fiction, way back in my teens, were of course SF – thankfully they are lost in the mists of time, as I fear the science was very bad. In my defence, I was only fourteen!

That said, a background in science can still come in useful when writing fantasy. Just because you’re writing about magic and primitive technologies, it doesn’t mean you have to throw your scientific knowledge out of the window. Sure, there are many fine authors who have drawn solely on myth and legend for their fantasy, but SFF has always been a continuum between hard science and the completely fantastical.

An example of how I blend the two in my own work is the skraylings in my historical fantasy series Night’s Masque, which is set in late 16th/early 17th century Europe. I wanted to create a fantasy race that wasn’t based on folklore like elves and dwarves but on the principles of biology I had learned during my education. Admittedly I found ways to fit them into existing folklore, because that’s how the people of that era would have understood them, but in my mind they were normal flesh-and-blood creatures like ourselves.

One of the key aspects that defines any culture is their family structure, and so for my skraylings I adopted some behaviours that are more usually seen in birds than in mammals. Male and female skraylings live apart for most of the year and only come together for the mating season, when the males “display” and the females choose mates. Being an intelligent, civilised species, these mating rituals have turned into festivals of artistic and sporting excellence, similar to the original Olympic Games, so they are not so dissimilar from human customs – and yet the segregation of the sexes permeates skrayling culture and colours their attitudes in ways that seep into characters and plot and hopefully make the whole fictional structure believable.

Right now I’m working on the worldbuilding for a new fantasy series, this time set in a wholly invented world – and once again I’m drawing on both science and history (and the history of science) to give it realism and weight. I guess you could say that I’m still as much in love with science as I ever was, but I’ve found new ways to use it without having to confine my stories to future settings. For a scientist who loves fantasy, it really is the best of all possible worlds!

Anne Lyle

Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in alternate pasts or imaginary worlds.

Her published works include the Night’s Masque trilogy – The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies – which came out in 2012-13, and a short story in the 2013 BFS fantasy anthology Unexpected Journeys.