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Today’s guest is Lisa from Starmetal Oak Reviews! Lisa mostly reads and reviews fantasy and science fiction, but she also covers some historical fiction and young adult books. I enjoy Lisa’s blog for her honest and heartfelt reviews, and I also appreciate the fact that she frequently reviews books that I am not seeing talked about on almost every blog I follow.  She also has some giveaways and author guests, and she often posts about upcoming books that look interesting.

Lisa also reviews quite a few SFF books written by women, and she’s going to tell us about a few of her favorites today!

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First, let me say I’m super excited to be guest posting for Kristen’s Women in SF&F Month, just as excited I am to follow the event. This subject is particularly important to me. I love reading speculative fiction written by women. I find that the novels being put out by some female authors these days are getting more awesome by the second. It’s also important to me that we support these authors by buying their books and spreading the word about them.

Thus, today, I’m going to give you a list of books written by authors I don’t think get quite enough attention. While making this list of some of my favorite books, I picked them based on how much I feel they are talked about. They may be award winning or nominated, and maybe even popular in different parts of the world. But I can only go from my perspective, so here it is! I encourage everyone to give them a try if you haven’t already.

Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins

Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins

I read this book last year and I absolutely loved it. It’s an urban fantasy set in Russia mixing Russia folklore and magic in a way I never quite experienced. Wilkins is an Australian writer, and the only way I found her was through a book club. Promptly after finishing Veil of Gold, I went out and bought two other novels, The Autumn Castle and Giants of the Frost.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Another urban fantasy novel unlike any I’ve read before. It’s set in South Africa and follows a great heroine, Zinzi. What I loved is that this novel incorporates magic and animals in a unique way and provides an intriguing, if not a little frightening, take on society and magic. I’m betting people have heard of Beukes’ books, especially Zoo City or Moxyland, but I wanted to encourage everyone to go read them anyways.

The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

Slonczewski is known for writing hard science fiction and if you read that then you’d know her books. I read The Highest Frontier and enjoyed it a lot, it’s about a school in an orbital space station. The novel contains some of the most fascinating ideas on biology that I’ve read. I really think speculative fiction readers should try to read more hard science fiction from female authors and this is a good place to start.

Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow

Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow

Broken, part of the Extrahumans series, is a dystopian super hero story. There’s definitely a slew of super hero fiction out there, but this one really stood out for me. The word-building is solid and the main character, Broken, is strong female protagonist. This book put Bigelow on my radar and is definitely an author to check out.

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Today’s guest is Jessica, who runs the extensive and informative blog Sci-Fi Fan Letter!  Jessica has reviews of a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, as well as quite a few others (mostly horror and graphic novels). In addition, she has an impressive number of interviews with authors, including Joe Abercrombie, Carol Berg, Guy Gavriel Kay, and N.K. Jemisin. Other features include new author spotlights, fantasy artist spotlights, movie reviews, and reading lists. I’m particularly fond of the large number of reading lists which range from general categories like space opera and steampunk to more specific lists like books about fantasy on the high seas and superheroes. Her newest one is science fiction written by women. There is so much to read on Sci-Fi Fan Letter I could spend hours browsing it. It is like SFF heaven!

So I was delighted when Jessica said she would write a guest post for today, particularly when she told me her choice of topic!

On Expanding Your Reading Experience

Everyone knows the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but what about judging a book by another author’s work?  I work at a bookstore and part of my job is to fit books to each reader’s taste.  But it’s hard to do when so many people have limits on what they’re willing to read.  I’ve had people tell me they don’t like: teen fiction, books by women, hard sf, urban fantasy, books with romance, books with dragons, etc., etc., etc.

When I first started at the store, a manager suggested skimming the backs of books to learn what’s in each section.  Because of this practice I’ve read subjects and genres I would never have considered reading otherwise (business, self-help, cultural studies, thrillers, romance – and I used to be a HUGE anti-romance snob).

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

In fact, during my life I’ve been a snob regarding quite a lot of books.  When I was in grade 9 I got to pick a book to review for English class.  I chose Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  I hated it.  Not only that, I somehow got the idea that I therefore hated ALL regency and Victorian books, even though that was the only one I’d read.  It took 8 years for me to try another book from that period, Pride and Prejudice.  I loved it.  I’ve now read numerous books by authors from this period.  It turns out that I do like regency and Victorian literature, I just don’t like Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, David Copperfield…  In other words, there are certain books within that body of literature I don’t like and others that I love.

I’ve had a few instances where men have told me they don’t like books written by women.  I’m just using this as an example since the topic of men not reading books by women is big on the internet right now.  I could also use the reaction of horror I’ve had by some adult women when I tell them the book club book they’re after is in the YA section, as if YA somehow equaled childish writing.  Or any number of other examples.  I can understand men not liking most urban fantasy written by women due to the prevalence of romantic elements (though if that’s the case try Rob Thurman’s Nightlife), or not liking a particular book or author, but to say you don’t like any and all books written by women just shows an ignorance to the wide variety of different fiction written by women.  For example, if you like hard SF have you tried Joan Slonzcewski (Brain Plague), Syne Mitchell (Changeling Plague) or M. J. Locke (Up Against It)?

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski Up Against It by M. J. Locke Changeling Plague by Syne Mitchell

If you don’t like particular elements in a genre (romance, mystery, stupid adults, brilliant kids, difficult SF concepts, lack of character development, elves) then find people whose taste you agree with and ask them for suggestions that are a bit outside the genre, or that use those elements in creative ways.  For example, Chris Evans modernized elves by giving them guns in his Iron Elves trilogy.

Indeed, finding someone whose taste you agree with is a good step in broadening your reading.  And you’ll probably be surprised by how many great books are out there that you’ve been missing.

And don’t limit yourself to novel length fiction either.  I’ve always believed that, with a few exceptions, I don’t like short stories.  Well, the last few months have proven me wrong there too.  I’ve been combing Manybooks.net for out of copyright classic SF stories and, again, while I haven’t liked everything, I have enjoyed the majority of the stories.  Not sure where to start?  Try “This World Must Die” by Horace Brown Fyfe (1951), “Time and Time Again” by Henry Beam Piper (1947) or “Keep Out” by Fredric Brown (1954).

So I challenge you to take a subgenre/format you’ve avoided, find some good recommendations, and try reading something outside your comfort zone.  Even if you don’t end up liking the book, you’ll still broaden your horizons and perhaps gain a deeper understanding of why others do like it.  And don’t let one bad story or novel turn you off an entire genre, author, or gender forever.

Jessica Strider works once a week in the SF/F section of a major bookstore in Toronto.  She posts author interviews, themed reading lists, book reviews and more on her blog.  She also posts three times a month on SF Signal.

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Today I’m excited to have a guest post from Moira J. Moore, author of the Heroes series! I have been having a great time reading the books in this series starting with Resenting the Hero. They are character-driven fantasy books centering on Lee, a young woman who has been trained to become a Shield, and Taro, the Source she has to work with (and isn’t at all happy to be paired with!). As a Shield, Lee protects Taro’s mind while he averts the natural disasters that plague their world.

One aspect of the series that I found particularly notable was that the society was gender equal – gender didn’t seem to be an issue at all when it came to lineage or societal roles. So I invited Moira J. Moore to write about how she approached gender equality in her series, and I was very happy when she agreed to write a guest post!

I’d like to thank Kristen for inviting me to participate in this fabulous event. She suggested I write about my portrayal of gender relationships in my Heroes series, and as that is a topic very near to my heart, I was ready to jump all over that.

To me, the best way to demonstrate gender equality is to describe a society where respect between the sexes is the baseline of proper behaviour. Recognizing the equality of others is not considered a remarkable trait any more than not murdering people is. It’s simply expected. There are jerks, of course, but why they treat people like trash has nothing to do with sex.

I decided to strive for a society similar to one I’d actually like to live in: Equal opportunities with no assumptions or restrictions according to sex. And the first step to that, I decided, was to describe a different version of what it is to be strong.

Prizing physical strength over everything else – and I think a lot of societies do –  automatically puts women at a disadvantage. There are exceptions, of course, but an average guy is going to be able to beat up an average girl, and a whole lot of other inequalities will be created because of that one fact. If we let them.

Either sex can be smart, can be disciplined, can show endurance. I think other excellent sources of strength include being able to recognize when one has made a mistake – and I know, Lee doesn’t always – apologize for it, never make the mistake again, and fix it!  The ability to recognize when others are good at something, and instead of getting immature about it and turning it into a competition, letting them do their jobs. Being able to take no for an answer. Recognizing that others know best what’s best for them. I could go on forever.

I’m generalizing, but I see in real life a lot of traits being treated as weaknesses when I think they are signs of strength, and it was those traits I wanted to make a priority in the world I was describing. These are strengths that either sex can exhibit, on an equal basis.

The following are the points I kept in mind as I wrote:

  1. Physical strength is not considered the most important asset to have, or a necessary stepping stone to everything else. Some jobs require physical strength, others don’t. In my world, people aren’t going to assume someone can’t be a good accountant just because that same someone, male or female, can’t also move a barrel full of wine. All that matters is that the person can do the job they were hired to do.
  2. A man isn’t considered weak or some kind of failure just because he doesn’t have a lot of physical might. Throughout the series, Taro never learns to fight. He would have been in some scraps at school, and he’s twisted his way through some tense situations, but if he got into a serious fistfight, he’d be toast. He knows this, and he doesn’t care, except when it’s inconvenient. Others assume this of him – he’s not tall, he’s slight, he’s not aggressive in his manner – and they don’t think any less of him.  He’s a Source and he’s good at it. Who cares if he can throw a punch?
  3. Men wouldn’t dream of using their physical strength against women, because they are raised not to.
  4. When I hear “firefighter,” I think “man.” When I hear “nurse,” I think “woman.” This isn’t good. When I’m writing and I need someone of a certain occupation, and I automatically think that the character is going to be male or female, I flip the sex over.
  5. There is no concept of being unladylike or unmanly. There’s no concept of a woman having the prerogative to be late or change her mind or a man having the right to be proud to the point of stupidity. There’s no concept of chivalry. Everyone is expected to be polite to everyone else regardless of sex.
  6. Aside from issues of consent and fidelity, there is no morality surrounding sex. People can have a lot of it, people can have none of it, no one cares, though gossip can be fun. Note: Shields and Sources aren’t supposed to sleep together, but that’s due to legitimate concerns about the impact such a development can have on an already intimate and emotional bond. It really does screw them up, though I fear I didn’t make that clear enough in the books. Lee and Taro are an exception.
  7. Marriage has nothing to do with morality. Most people don’t bother.
  8. Whether a child’s parents are married has nothing to do with morality.
  9. It isn’t assumed that mothers will be the primary caregivers. Both parents are responsible for caring for the children, unless one is horrible at it and needs to be kept away for the sake of the child.
  10. I think I managed to avoid ever writing “for a woman” or “for a man.” As in, “That’s an unusual job/characteristic for a woman.”

The best way to demonstrate gender equality is, of course, to have it reflected in the relationship of the two main characters, Lee and Taro. The first step was dealing with the jobs the two characters have. Lee is a Shield and Taro is a Source. The public think that Shields have a lesser role, not because the Shield is considered a feminine occupation – it’s not, there are male Shields – but because of their perception of what the two roles involve. Taro, as a Source, is the one in the spotlight, but he can’t do his job unless Lee does hers. He doesn’t think she’s in a subordinate position, and neither does she. His respect for her abilities are as great as her respect for his.

Lee is the calm one, Taro is the emotional one. No one thinks that’s weird.

While Taro has the wild reputation, I hope I made it clear that he isn’t Lee’s first sexual partner, and that there were no moral issues involved with that.

Taro isn’t embarrassed when Lee knows something he doesn’t, or when she can do something he can’t.

Lee doesn’t think a man shouldn’t be so fussy about his clothing. She just wishes Taro would leave her alone about her clothing.

Lee doesn’t expect Taro to protect her from physical attack aside from what he can do as a friend and a partner, and she jumps in to protect him just as often, even though she can’t fight, either.

They bicker, and they criticize each other, but they never go out of their way to hurt each other, and they never tell each other what to do.

Really, I could go on for ages about all the ways I tried to show that Lee and Taro have complete respect for each other, that neither thinks the other is lesser for any reason. The short story – at the end of all that explanation – is that I took a bunch of the things that drive me nuts about my own society, and tried to fix them. I hope I did a fair job.

Moira J. Moore has several short stories related to her Heroes series available on her blog. Click here to see the master list of stories with links to read them in full. Her website is located at moirajmoore.com. You can also visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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Today’s guest is Stina Leicht, one of this year’s finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer! Her first novel, Of Blood and Honey, was released last year. And Blue Skies from Pain, the second book of the Fey and the Fallen, just became available last month.

Although I plan to, I have to confess I haven’t yet read either of these books. I really wanted to invite some authors I hadn’t already talked about here this month, and I thought of Stina Leicht both because I’ve been hearing wonderful things about her books and I follow her on Twitter. Her books, which combine Ireland in the 1970s with the fey, sound very interesting, and I have seen nothing but rave reviews for them. Now that I’ve read what she has to say on blending major real-world events with fantasy, I’m even more excited to read them!

Stina Leicht

Vanishing the Elephant

Fantasy has an element of surrealism. The magic of the genre isn’t in its complete disconnection from reality but rather, its connection to it. Readers read in order to experience other lives — to travel to a different world, but they never leave the rules of reality behind. Audiences are more sophisticated than they once were. So it is that the more realistic that fantasy world, the more intense an experience is created. Powerful novels take my breath away. They make me care about the characters. They make me laugh *and* cry. It takes a great deal of skill as a writer to affect a reader’s emotions, but when it comes down to it… that’s the job. In addition, I adore the concept of the ordinary made extraordinary — that all the things we don’t believe in might just exist at the edges of our perception, if we squint hard enough. Details are vital. This is especially true when incorporating actual history into the story. The thing to remember is that readers will look up events referenced in fiction — even more so now than ever before, and that will make or break their experience of the story. This is even more the case when the novel is set in a time and place in which the reader lives or has lived. The balance becomes trickier when the events in question are associated with high emotions and conflict. Add in yet another layer of complication when telling a less mainstream aspect of events, and it’s an enormous challenge. However, I believe it’s well worth attempting. Addressing touchy subjects with story is one of Science Fiction and Fantasy’s best traditions. Sure, not all Sci-fi and Fantasy does this. (Some novels are intended to be fluffy and they do have their place.) However, I feel the main thing that sets Sci-fi and Fantasy apart from other genres is its capacity to make the reader think, in addition to SFF readers’ willingness (perhaps even eagerness) to contemplate complex subjects.

The more recent and emotionally charged the history, the more complicated the work is for the writer. History is edited and smoothed out over time. That has yet to happen with current events. For example, ask any police officer how many witnesses to a crime they prefer to have and they’ll tell you… one. Why? Studies have shown that human beings perceive events differently in subtle ways. So, if five witnesses step forward, there are five separate versions of what happened. Each and every version is valid. Remember we’re talking about personal events, not a distant, far-flung history. If lives have been lost, and generally they have been in this type of event, then the stakes are quite high. In many ways, the approach is connected to writing about Other. The same caution, attention to detail, patience, respect, and concern are required. If you ask me, the first step is in listening to those who have lived the events you’re writing about — really listening with an understanding that the witness to the event is the expert, not yourself. You’ll never know what it was like to live through what another human being has. You can only guess. So it is that without the ability to listen with an ego-less ear, a writer is doomed to fail.

Can you see how these sorts of stories have all the problems of non-fiction in addition to the problems of fiction? I tend to do a certain amount of research first and then look for the gaps that are left in the records. There are always small openings in history. Interestingly enough, some are quite broad. The more narrow the space, the more skill is required to weave in the fantastic. It’s a delicate process. It’s too easy to make the mistake of painting in broad strokes, but doing so will not only bust the illusion, it might inadvertently create a caricature and be harmful. It’s like a stage magician’s trick — only you’re using real history to distract the reader from the unreal elements. The trick is to make the elephant disappear without harming or killing it.

About Stina Leicht:
Stina Leicht is a 2012 Campbell Award nominee. Her debut novel Of Blood and Honey, a historical Fantasy with an Irish Crime edge set in 1970s Northern Ireland, was released by Night Shade books in February 2011 and was short-listed for the Crawford Award in 2012. The sequel, And Blue Skies from Pain is in bookstores on March 2012. She also has a flash fiction piece in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s surreal anthology Last Drink Bird Head.

Website | Blog | Twitter

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht And Blue Skies From Pain by Stina Leicht

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Today’s guest is Janice from Janicu’s Book Blog, one of my must-read sites! Janice mostly reads and reviews speculative fiction with a romantic element (although she also reads SFF without romance and romance without SFF). In a rare turn of events, I actually met Janice in person before I was familiar with her blog when we both attended the first Book Blogger Convention. She was reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (a book I loved) and I was reading the third Kate Daniels book (a book she loved) so we had a lot to talk about and found we had a lot in common. Ever since then, I’ve been a big fan of her blog for her well-thought-out reviews, great enthusiasm for reading, and friendliness to those of us who stop by and comment. She’s a great person to talk about books with! You can also read her blog on Livejournal and follow her on Twitter.

Janice is sharing some of her favorite SFF books written by women today, mostly ones that are closer to the science fiction side of the genre. I now really want to read all of the authors she mentions that I haven’t read already!

Janicu's Book Blog header

Thank you for the invite to your Women in SF&F Month Kristen! I’m happy to be here. For this guest post I spent a lot of time thinking about why I read so many speculative fiction stories by women, and I couldn’t come up with one reason. Part of it is that I am a woman and I want to read books with female characters and support female authors, part of it is my love of character driven stories along with great world building, part of it has to do with my being a romantic and gravitating to stories that are about relationships. I don’t think these are things unique to women writers, but they’re not uncommon. Even then, I still don’t think I’ve really explained why I read books by women because each book I pick up involves a decision that has a countless number of factors including mood, taste, proximity, hype, recommendation, and page number. In the end, I just read a lot of speculative fiction books by female authors. Here are some of my favorites (these fall on the science fiction side of the spectrum, but aren’t necessarily limited to that genre):

Wen Spencer – How do I describe Wen Spencer? I think that her style of world building is the most out there of my favorites, which is one of the reasons I adore her books, but each of her series is very different from the next, and all defy categorization. I think you have to like weird.

Tinker Series

Her Tinker series features a girl genius in a futuristic Pittsburgh that moves between dimensions (one on Earth, one on Elfhome) and has a mix of sci-fi, fantasy (with nods to Japanese and Celtic folklore), and romance. It has a cross-genre appeal, but I feel like it is one of those books where it’s better when you are a fan of all the genres it nods at rather than one. Tinker and Wolf Who Rules The Wind are out now, Elfhome has a July, 2012 release date.

Her Ukiah Oregon series has a protagonist who is a private investigator that was literally raised by wolves and has no idea where he originally came from. The truth about who he is quite mind-boggling, but if you accept it, oh-so-great. I have read the first three books, and there is a fourth that I can’t make myself read because then it will be over. This series falls into the urban fantasy / X-Files category.

A Brother's Price

Spencer’s standalone A Brother’s Price is probably closest to romance of all her stories, but again, it’s turned on it’s head with a Wild West world where families are mostly female. Men are rare and prized — hidden from the world until they are married off to be shared by a group of sisters. If you can wrap your head around a world where the stereotype is that men are blushing, stay-at-home types, it is delightful. I would call this one a fantasy romance.

Endless Blue by Wen Spencer

Finally, there is Endless Blue, another standalone that is a space opera-ish story with a Japanese influence, with two adoptive brothers – one a clone, one a supersoldier. This was a complex, complex world, and it took me some time understand the rules of an inside-out world, where all manner of people “jumped” to it and were trapped. This is probably the most complicated of the books I’ve read by Spencer, but I wouldn’t call it hard science fiction either since there are a lot of fantastical elements.

Karin Lowachee – Karin Lowachee is an author I like because the voices of her protagonists are always so distinctive and so compelling.

Warchild series

For a while, she only had one science fiction trilogy out – this was the Warchild Universe – Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird. Each of these books are told from the POV of a different character within the same world and around the same events, so you really could read each book as a standalone, if you really wanted to, but I would read them in order because there is a story arc that links all three. All the books are narrated by young men that are caught up in the same war and see it from a different perspective. Warchild blew me out of the water with how good it was – it’s a coming of age tale with heartbreak and shades of Ender’s Game. I was disappointed that Burndive features someone who was not Jos, but I was just as reeled in by Ryan’s story, even though he was a much more sheltered character than Jos. To be honest, I am still sitting on my copy of Cagebird (she doesn’t publish every year, so I’m hoarding), but just writing about this series here has me eager to do a reread so I can review these three properly on my blog. I also have to read The Gaslight Dogs, which is billed as “a Victorian era steampunk novel” and has a gorgeous cover.

Katie Waitman – Katie Waitman’s books are out of print but I believe you can find them used for a decent price online. Here’s the deal though – there are only two. I have read both The Divided and The Merro Tree, and they are very different from each other.

Katie Waitman books

I liked The Divided, which is a story of two groups at constant war with each other, but I LOVED The Merro Tree. The Merro Tree follows the life of Mikk, an abused young boy and his journey to becoming the galaxy’s greatest and most infamous performer. This is a compulsively readable story about young man overcoming a harsh upbringing and his own particular learning disabilities to become someone amazing. For that alone I love it, but you can also find messages about censorship and about same sex relationships here. Every year I will check google to find out if there is ever going to be anything new from Katie Waitman, and I’m always a bit heartbroken when I find nothing.

Linnea Sinclair – I feel like I must add Linnea Sinclair for something a little different here. This is an author that is well known for her space opera romance. She is my go-to comfort read author in the genre because her stories are reliably full of space battles and light science fiction, and they always end in a happily ever after. This is an author I would recommend to romance readers to introduce them to science fiction — a gateway author.

Sinclair standalone bookes

Her four standalones are An Accidental Goddess, Finders Keepers, The Down Home Zombie Blues, and Games of Command. These are probably the best place to dip your toes and try this author. My first Sinclair was Finders Keepers because of the cover that shows a woman meaning some serious business, but the newer covers have been repackaged to show the romance aspect more (kissing couples).

Sinclair Dock Five Universe

Her Dock Five Universe has four books. The first two, Gabriel’s Ghost, and Shades of Dark focus on the same couple and is a lot darker than the usual Sinclair. The next two, Hope’s Folly and Rebels and Lovers are further along in the same timeline and feature different couples. They aren’t as dark as the first two books, and further the overarching plot, but I feel like they can be read alone without problems.

Ann Aguirre – If Linnea Sinclair is a gateway author for romance readers, I think Ann Aguirre is the author to lure urban fantasy fans into science fiction/space opera.

Jax series

Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series focuses on Sirantha Jax – a Jumper (someone with a special J-gene that allows her to send a spaceship through a hyperspace jump), and her pilot March. Although the series does spend some time on their relationship, there is no guarantee that things are going to end well. They are very complex characters and the series never fails to throw Jax and her crew into desperate situations without easy answers. Early on Jax is someone with only her best interests at heart but she develops into a more heroic figure. March starts off as a Hero figure but loses some of himself in the course of the series. There is death, violence, and plenty of angst, but I am hooked. The relationship between Jax and her crew (all who have distinct personalities of their own), and the on-the-edge of your seat space drama keeps me reading until the wee hours of the morning. The last installment promises to come out this year, and I have been saving my copy of the second-to-last because I’ve heard it is a gut-wrencher. I am going to read it when the end is within spitting distance. The order of books is Grimspace, Wanderlust, Doubleblind, Killbox, Aftermath, and Endgame.

Ann Aguirre is a very prolific writer. In the past few years her backlog has grown quite a bit. There’s an urban fantasy series (Corine Solomon) that’s already 4 books long (with a fifth coming out 2013), and two pending series (another SFR trilogy set in the Jax universe – Dread Queen, and a steampunk duology). That doesn’t include her YA series, or her series under her pseudonyms of Ava Gray and Ellen Connor.

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Today I’m excited to have a post about the Raksura race, their society, and their gender roles from Martha Wells! I discovered The Cloud Roads, the first novel in the Books of the Raksura, last year due to an excellent review by The Book Smugglers. The Cloud Roads ended up being one of my favorite books I read last year for its sympathetic main character, creative worldbuilding, and absorbing storyline. I absolutely loved it, and I’m definitely planning to check out earlier books by Martha Wells (and of course, The Serpent Sea, the recently released sequel to The Cloud Roads).

Martha Wells

Kristen asked me to write about the Raksura, from my recent books The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea.

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

Both books are fantasy adventures, set in a created world, where the main character Moon is an orphaned shapeshifter who has no idea what he is or where he comes from.  He’s been living among the many different species of his world, always hiding his true nature.  When he does find his own people, the Raksura, they’re in danger of being wiped out by the Fell, a predatory and parasitic species that seems unstoppable.

Moon was an outsider who was discovering his culture for the first time, and I wanted the reader to discover it along with him.  I wanted to make Indigo Cloud, the Raksuran court that Moon tries to join, to be as strange to the reader as it was to him.

Moon’s will to really belong somewhere, to have a safe place to live and to have friends and lovers who know who he really is, is at odds with a lifetime of distrust and fear, of having to lie constantly and to pretend to be someone else in order to survive.  He doesn’t know if he can trust his own people, and he doesn’t know if he’s even capable of trusting anyone anymore.  He faces the fact that he may never be able to fit in, that he may have been alone too long to really become one of them.

It doesn’t help that the court’s social structure is complex, with rules of behavior that seem completely strange to him.  Moon also finds that his role in the court will be far more complicated than he imagined. And he has to learn all this while trying to help Jade, the sister queen, and the other Raksura fight off the Fell and look for a way to move the court to a safer home.

The queens are the leaders of the Raksuran courts, and also the most physically powerful.  Female warriors are also bigger and stronger than male warriors.  And one of the things that Moon doesn’t know before he arrives is that he is a consort, one of the only fertile males of the royal Aeriat, and that his only possible role in a Raksuran court is to be a mate to a queen.

So if Moon wants to belong to the court of Indigo Cloud, it basically means an arranged marriage to Jade.  And Pearl, the ruling queen and her faction, don’t want him in the court at all. While he is still considered an outsider, Moon has no status and no protection; he may be forced to fight for a position in the court he isn’t even sure he wants.

Also, Raksuran consorts are meant to be seen and not heard; Moon’s role would be mainly symbolic and how much agency and influence he would have would depend a lot on his queen. Moon, who finds it so difficult to trust, will have to put himself physically and emotionally in Jade’s power.

With the gender role reversal in Raksuran culture, in some ways it was tricky to stay in the viewpoint of my non-human characters. I had to continually question my assumptions about physical abilities and sexual politics.  Also, though many of the roles in the court are determined by biology, Raksura are also cranky and stubborn individualists in many ways, and I wanted to leave room for that individuality.

The Arbora have the most latitude, since the castes of teacher, soldier, and hunter are individual choices, and the Arbora can switch from one to the other as their preferences change.  Since the Arbora need magic to be mentors, that was the only one of their castes where membership in it was determined by birth. I also felt that a culture that was not monogamous, where the queens and the female Arbora completely control their ability to conceive children, would be pretty free about sexuality and that that freedom would be reflected in other areas of the culture.

I’ve had a great time writing these books, and thanks to Kristen for letting me talk about them here!

About Martha Wells:
Martha Wells is the author of twelve SF/F novels, including The Element of Fire, City of Bones, Wheel of the Infinite, The Wizard Hunters, and the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer.  Her most recent novels are The Cloud Roads (March, 2011) and The Serpent Sea (January, 2012) published by Night Shade Books.  She has had short stories in Realms of Fantasy, Black Gate, Lone Star Stories, and the anthology Elemental, and essays in the nonfiction anthologies Farscape Forever and Mapping the World of Harry Potter. She also has two Stargate Atlantis media-tie-in novels Reliquary and Entanglement.  Her books have been published in seven languages, including French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Dutch.  Her web site is www.marthawells.com.

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