Bone and Jewel Creatures
by Elizabeth Bear
133pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.88/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.95/5
 

Elizabeth Bear’s novella Bone and Jewel Creatures is set in the same world as her Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky), though it focuses on a completely different set of characters, mainly the 96-year-old wizard Bijou. It was released before a prequel novella, Book of Iron, about the same protagonist during her adventuring days many years ago. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to do so, I am glad I read Book of Iron first since it provides more background on the characters involved in the central conflict (plus I loved it—here’s my Book of Iron review).

Bone and Jewel Creatures has a rather straightforward plot: Bijou discovers that something is awry in Messaline, the city of jackals, and works toward preventing the triumph of evil. One day while in the workshop in which she creates her wondrous creatures of bone and jewel, Bijou’s current project is interrupted by the arrival of Brazen the Enchanter. He has come in hopes that Bijou can save a feral child, unable to speak due to having lived in the wild without the company of other humans, with an infected hand. In order for the child to survive, Bijou must amputate the hand and she wastes no time proceeding with what must be done. As she’s examining the tainted limb after the surgery, Bijou finds a white rose petal embedded in it and knows it could only have come from the garden of the man she used to love, Kaulas the Necromancer—and realizes it’s probably not a coincidence that this child was put into her path.

After that, it seems to take a long time to come around to the inevitable conclusion, and I don’t really think this is a novella to read for the plot. It’s one to read to admire the imagination that went into Bijou’s menagerie of bone and jewel creatures, the beautiful writing, and the character perspectives. Both Bijou and Emeraude (the name Bijou eventually gives the child) stand out as quite different from other characters I’ve come across in the books I’ve read.

I loved that the story centered on a woman in her nineties and I loved Bijou as a character, just as I did in Book of Iron. She’s feeling her age—she’s arthritic and slower than she used to be—but she still constructs the titular bone and jewel creatures and “not one other alive could do [what she did]” (page 7). What Bijou does is a combination of art and magic. Her creations are each unique, put together from different types of bones and decorated with jewels, and animated. They fill her household and assist her with daily tasks; she trusts many of them, especially the first of them all that she’s had for about seventy years, Ambrosias. Bijou also has a sharp mind and is a compassionate, practical person. She doesn’t hesitate to take in and care for this stray child, and after the surgery, she sets aside the bones and creates a functional hand for Emeraude.

Emeraude also has a third person perspective told from the viewpoint of “the cub.” Having lived in the wilderness with a family of jackals, the child has learned to survive as they do and views the world as one of them. Although quick to learn, Emeraude is new to human customs and perceives humans as a separate group to which the cub does not belong, and it’s quite compelling to read events through this child’s eyes as one who has not had contact with humans before.

Though a quick read due to its short length, Bone and Jewel Creatures is also a slow moving read since it introduces a problem in the first chapter and doesn’t have much follow through until toward the end. However, it’s notable for other reasons: as usual with books penned by Elizabeth Bear, the writing is lovely, and it’s unique due to the characters it focuses upon and the creative array of creatures populating Bijou’s household.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: My husband got me a signed copy for Christmas.

This book is April’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

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Today’s guest is novelist, short story writer, and poet Laura Lam! Her first novel, Pantomime, won the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction and was nominated for other awards, including the Cybils Award for Young Adult Speculative Fiction. It was followed by the second book in the Micah Grey series, Shadowplay, which was selected for the 2014 Tiptree Award Long List, and some short stories and novellas set in the same world collectively known as the Vestigial Tales. A third book in the series, Masquerade, will be released in 2017, and she has a new book—a science fiction thriller titled False Hearts—coming this June!

False Hearts by Laura Lam US Edition False Hearts by Laura Lam UK Edition

More than Wives, Love Interests, and Daughters: The Women in False Hearts

My next book, False Hearts (June 2016), stars two sisters who should know each other better than anyone else. One has a secret, and the other will do anything to find out the truth. It is a book about women and the fraught, nuanced, interpersonal connections between them. Women are still fighting for equal recognition in stories. In film and television, women still have less than half of the speaking roles. I’m not sure if a similar study has been done for literature, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was similar. Women-dominated genres like romance are still often derided in the media, despite having equal literary merits with male-dominated novels. In False Hearts, I had no interest in writing female characters that are reduced to the love interest to be won, the fridged victim at the start of the story, the kidnapped daughter to be rescued. Every woman I meet is the star of her own story, or to quote The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, she is the architect of her own fortune. Novels should not be any different.

The book stars conjoined twins, who were raised connected at the chest in the secluded cult of Mana’s Hearth, set where Muir Woods is now. At sixteen, their shared heart begins to fail, and according to the beliefs of the Hearth, they should bow to the will of the Creator and let themselves die. They decide they want to leave, but it’s not as though Mana-ma, their leader, will let them simply walk out of the compound. Once the twins escape, they are separated due to the pressures of a San Francisco obsessed with perfection and given mechanical hearts. Ten years later, one twin is accused of murder, and the other has to assume her identity in order to prove her sister’s innocence and save her life.

I’ve tried to reflect the Bay Area I grew up in and postulate a potential future. In this version of San Francisco, everything is recycled and people live minimally. Crops grow in skyscrapers and the bay glows green at night with algae that can be eaten. All meat is vat-grown. There have been numerous medical advancements, such as very good prosthetics, and through gene therapy and walk-in plastic surgery clinics, people often change aspects of their appearance. People can dye their hair various colours and map it to their DNA so they never have roots (as someone who currently has bright pink hair, I think that would be great). Some aspects of this future are a utopia, but other aspects are darker. There is a lot of pressure to fit within Pacifica’s narrow demands of what is desirable.

False Hearts is full of women; possibly more women than men. “Likeable” and “unlikeable” women. Complicated women. I didn’t want to ignore intersectionality, and have women from different backgrounds and of varying sexualities. For instance, Taema and Tila are bisexual and white, black, and Samoan. They have distinct personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. A supporting character, Kim, is Japanese, gay, and a prominent neurosurgeon. Another character, Mia, is a drug addict hooked on the dream drug, Zeal. Mana-ma, one of the villains, is a woman, and another woman in the underground mob, the Ratel, called Malka. That’s not to say I’m reducing the male characters to love interests or pure victims, either, but that I try to make sure all of my characters compelling enough that, under different circumstances, they could lead in their own novels.

Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang Grimspace Borderline by Mishell Baker

There’s been an uptick in female-led thrillers in non-SFF, like Gone Girl, Before I Go to Sleep, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Black-Eyed Susans. I suppose, subconsciously, I wrote False Hearts wanting to bring that feel into a near future setting and blending two genres I really enjoy reading. I’m far from the first. A few other female-led thrillers are Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Zero Sum Game by SL Huang, some of the Culture novels by Iain Banks, Grimspace and the sequels by Ann Aguirre, and Borderline by Mishell Baker.

False Hearts was a book of the heart. I’d had some discouragements in my writing, and wrote something completely different and fell back in love with telling stories. I’m excited to have my book join the ranks of other female-led SF thrillers, with women who hopefully stay with you for a long time after the book is done.

Laura Lam
Photo Credit: Elizabeth May
Laura Lam was born in the late eighties and raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

After studying literature and creative writing at university, she relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, a boy she met online when they were teenagers and he insulted her taste in books and she insulted his right back. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. She is now a dual citizen, but at times she misses the sunshine.

While working a variety of jobs from filing and photocopying endlessly at a law firm to library assistant to corporate librarian, she began writing in earnest. Her first book, Pantomime, the first book in the Micah Grey series, was released in 2013, which was a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month, won the Bisexual Book Award, was listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association List, and was nominated for several other awards. Robin Hobb says “Pantomime by Laura Lam took me into a detailed and exotic world, peopled by characters that I’d love to be friends with . . . and some I’d never want to cross paths with.” The sequel, Shadowplay, followed in 2014, as well as several the Vestigial Tales, self-published short stories and novellas set in the same world. The third book in the series, Masquerade, will follow in 2017.

Her newest book is False Hearts, a near-future thriller released in June 2016 by Tor/Macmillan and in three other languages. Peter F. Hamilton calls False Hearts “a strong debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” Another thriller, Shattered Minds, will be released in 2017.

She is still hiding from sunshine in Scotland and writing more stories.

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Today’s guest is Joanna from Strange Charm! This is a wonderful site dedicated to showcasing speculative fiction written by women, and I particularly appreciate that many of the books reviewed are ones that are not currently being discussed all over the Internet. Joanna and her co-blogger Rachel post new reviews and interviews every Monday and Thursday, and they also cover books fitting into a fun unifying theme such as the spring series Joanna just finished: Musical Magic, ending with Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks.

Strange Charm

Like many girls who spent their teenage years reading fantasy books, I wasn’t one of the popular girls; I didn’t understand how to wear makeup, how to wear clothes, or how to flirt with boys. Little wonder, then, that I retreated into stories where girls who were just like me got to have adventures, save the day and live happily ever after, usually with a love interest who liked them for who they truly were. Looking back, I realise now that this common factor was a trope called the tomboy princess.

I still feel huge affection for these tomboy princess books, which comforted me in my awkwardness and assured me everything was going to be ok. As an adult, though, I can also look back at them and see the more problematic aspects of the messages I was learning. Do these problematic factors ruin the enjoyability of the book? Or can we still take something away from the tomboy princess story as feminist adults? I’ve scoured my shelves for examples to take a more critical look.

The Horse and His Boy (C.S. Lewis) was always my favourite of the Narnia books. Rereading it as an adult, I realise it must have been because of Aravis, because there’s very little else I like about it now. We first meet her fleeing in the middle of the night, to escape an arranged marriage with a much older man. We learn that she isn’t keen on typical ‘girly’ things, preferring outdoor pursuits like riding, hunting and swimming. Unusually for a tomboy princess, Aravis isn’t the heroine of this story; I think this must have something to do with her being written by a male author. And she definitely drew the short straw for a love interest! But I include her because she was my first introduction to the trope, and in many ways she is the archetypal tomboy princess.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

In Deerskin (Robin McKinley), Lissar must also escape marriage to a much older man by escaping into the wilderness, in this case, her deranged father (in a retelling of the fairytale Donkeyskin). An unwanted marriage is the most common catalyst for a tomboy princess story, and although arranged marriage was an occupational hazard of being a princess throughout history, you might think that it’s not really a relatable issue for modern girls. However, most girls (even the shy ones) can relate to being stared at by older men as young teenagers, and a story where a heroine is uncomfortable with this situation and actively rebels helps us to express our own discomfort.

Hawkmistress by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Romilly in Hawkmistress (Marion Zimmer Bradley) dresses as a boy, runs away from her life of privilege, and becomes a wandering outcast in order to escape her arranged marriage. For both Lissar and Romilly, their defining relationship in the book is with an animal: Lissar with her dog, Ash, and Romilly with her hawk, Preciosa. Their respective love interests are present, but not at all crucial to the story. It’s odd that liking animals is considered a tomboyish trait—but I think it’s less that they simply like animals, and more that they get emotional fulfillment from these relationships, and so do not need or want a love interest. I think this is a nice message to take away.

Romilly also suffers by being compared to her ‘more perfect’ sister, another trope that crops up for the typical tomboy princess (although this role might be filled by either a friend (such as for Aravis) or even a mother (for Lissar)). This sister is more beautiful than our heroine, and knows how to do traditional homemaking tasks such as sewing; she never messes up her clothes, or gets dirty, and she knows how to behave in formal functions. This is the aspect of these stories that I find most problematic, because our heroine is deliberately framed as ‘not like all those other, silly, girly girls’, because she likes ‘boy stuff, like riding horses and swordfighting’, and boy stuff is better. Placing our heroine in opposition to these other women might feel cathartic, because we want to be on her side, but we’re still making value judgements about the best kind of woman to be.

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

In Wildwood Dancing (Juliet Marillier), Jena is one of five sisters, and the most tomboyish of them, although this isn’t framed as a bad thing as it is for Romilly. Happily, the sisters mostly band together despite their differences, and their love for each other is the emotional heart of the book. Jena struggles with asserting her authority despite her sex—she wants to run the family business in the absence of any brothers, and despite being obviously capable, she must fight for this against her overbearing cousin (whilst also avoiding his unwelcome advances).

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Ani in The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale) is the least naturally tomboyish of all the tomboy princesses on my shelf, so is something of a counterpoint to the others, but she shares their resourcefulness. As she travels to a neighbouring kingdom to fulfill her arranged marriage with a young prince, a jealous lady-in-waiting stages a coup and takes her place. Despite living a life of luxury until now, Ani must quickly learn to fit in with the common people, and takes a job as a gooseherd while she works out how to reclaim her rightful position. Eventually, this gives her the insight needed to be a wiser ruler, unlike the established ruling class who are out of touch and unaware of the problems the ordinary people face. And, like Lissar and Romilly, this subterfuge rewards her with a love interest who loves her for who she really is.

The Girl King by Meg Clothier

Also learning what it means to be a ruler, Tamar in The Girl King (Meg Clothier) is a princess who must fight to be Queen after the death of her father. She has the requisite perfect sister, the love of horse-riding and fighting and an unwanted arranged marriage. Like Lissar, Aravis, Ani and Romilly, she is forced to fend for herself in the wilderness despite being utterly unprepared. What makes Tamar different is that she really existed: she was a real 12th century princess of Georgia who successfully defended her reign to become one of the country’s most popular queens, and as far as I can tell, The Girl King sticks very closely to the actual history. The tomboy princess may seem like a modern trope, but actually history is full of wonderful women who defied their society’s expectations, if we know where to look.

Rereading these books as an adult, I’ve enjoyed every single one. Yes, there are problematic aspects, such as the tendency for our heroine to be presented as a favourable contrast to most women, or the fact that we are so focused on women with economic privilege. However, I think the idea of the tomboy princess story comes from a good place. We get a self-sufficient female character with agency in her own story, and she is relatable because she is deprived of her privilege and must live like an ordinary person. In the end, we can’t help cheering her on as she defies the conventions of her society to earn her happy ending. I’d now love to find some new examples—so what are your favourite tomboy princess books?

Joanna Joanna has been reading science fiction and fantasy for as long she could read. Her favourite genres are feminist science fiction, magical realism, and historical fantasy, and she particularly enjoys finding science fiction and fantasy stories in unexpected parts of a bookshop. She is also half of the feminist SFF book blog Strange Charm. She lives in the Cotswolds, where if she isn’t reading, she’s probably singing. You can find her on twitter, as @joanna_m, or on the TV quiz show Only Connect, as a Nørdiphile.

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Today’s guest is writer and editor Laura Anne Gilman! She’s the author of fantasy, horror, and science fiction short stories, mystery novels (as L. A. Kornetsky), and several speculative fiction novels and novellas, including the series that comprise the Cosa Nostradamus books (Retrievers, Paranormal Scene Investigations, and Sylvan Investigations). Flesh and Fire, the first book in her Vineart War series (which features wine magic!), was nominated for the 2009 Nebula Award. Her latest novel is the first book in the Devil’s West series, Silver on the Road.

Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman

When Fantasy Cafe invited me to write for their Women in Fantasy series, I had a handful of ideas circling in my head, bumping into each other and arguing for space. What I read as a child, as a teen, as a young adult, that created the storyteller I became (both pro and con).

And then my father was diagnosed with cancer, and died within a space of three weeks, and my thoughts scattered again, refocusing, probably inevitably, around the influence of my dad.

But wait, my brain reeled me in. This is “women in fantasy” month. Dad doesn’t fit the theme. Try something else.

So I did. And it kept circling around to dad. And I realized that it wasn’t only because of my loss. It was because of what I’d been given.

It is inevitable that our parents shape us—and when one of those parents is of the opposite gender, that shaping is often invisible until long after the fact.

My father didn’t read fantasy. My father didn’t read much fiction at all, honestly. That all came from my mother. But he did read, and read voraciously, in history. He delved into the why and the who, the elements that drove action, and the results of those actions. And he taught us by example to do the same, seeing absolutely no reason why our gender would or should have any impact on what we were capable of, with no apologies for being smart, or tough, or delicate, or emotional or clinical, and to hell with anyone who tried to shove us into half-a-space because of Being Female.

I appreciated that when I was in my twenties, and became aware of being female in a male-shaped world. Certainly all that came through in the main characters of the Cosa Nostradamus novels: Wren, who deals with being the “invisible woman” in a competitive field. Bonnie, who carries privilege on her shoulders as both shield and obligation. Ellen, a woman of color whose move from outcast to exceptional made her more vulnerable, not less.

But it wasn’t until I began writing SILVER ON THE ROAD, the first of the Devil’s West novels, that I consciously sat down to think about what it meant to be a daughter to a father, to have that strangely powerful influence on every element of who you are, and all the ways it can go both wrong and right, even with the best of intentions and the most heartfelt of affections.

Isobel née Lacoyo Távora is a daughter—of the Devil, of Flood, of the Territory, of a new world being born around her. She carries with her the weight of masculine expectation, because that is the world within which she was born, the product of forces perceived as masculine—and yet, those forces given a feminine form, the Infinitas that marks her palm and shapes the power she uses, the world she will help reform.

And it wasn’t until my father’s funeral, looking for solace in my loss, that I found the words that matched what I had been exploring.

If my boundary stops here
I have daughters to draw new maps of the world
they will draw the lines of my face
they will draw with my gestures my voice
they will speak my words thinking they have invented them

they will invent them
they will invent me
I will be planted again and again
I will wake in the eyes of their children’s children
they will speak my words.

(from the Mishkan T’Filah, for the house of mourning)

We cannot shape the world, any world, without understanding what (who, and how) first shaped us.

Laura Anne Gilman
Photo Credit: Elsa M. Ruiz
Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus urban fantasy series of novels and novellas, and the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy. Her newest project is the Devil’s West series from Saga / Simon & Schuster, beginning with 2015’s Locus-bestseller SILVER ON THE ROAD, and continuing with THE COLD EYE.

She has also dipped her pen into the mystery field as well, writing as L.A. Kornetsky (CollaredFixedDoghouse, and Clawed).

A member of the writers’ digital co-op Book View Cafe, she continues to write and sell short fiction in a variety of genres, most recently appearing in the anthologies Genius Loci and Temporally Out of Order.

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Today’s guest is Lisa from Tenacious Reader! This is a great site to visit if you’re interested in fantasy, horror, and/or science fiction; Lisa reviews a variety of books, including audiobooks, and I enjoy reading her take on what she reads. She also started a really fun feature on the last Friday of each month, Dracarys! Backlist Burndown, for reading and reviewing some books that aren’t the latest releases. Lisa is also a contributor to the collaborative book review blog The Speculative Herald.

Tenacious Reader

Celebrate Women Authors Today—Encourage the Female Authors of Tomorrow

A couple of years ago, Julie Crisp wrote an article on representation of women authors in genre called SEXISM IN GENRE PUBLISHING: A PUBLISHER’S PERSPECTIVE. Honestly, this is the article I had been waiting for in response to all the talk of underrepresentation and/or underpromotion of women in the genre. I am not implying they are not underrepresented, at least within certain subgenres, but I like seeing numbers and understanding WHY they are underrepresented. Now a bit of background. When I went to college, my major was 90% male. So when I moved into the workforce I could not expect my employer to have a 50/50 representation of women to men because I could see for myself in school that not as many women were choosing to go into my field. I had always wondered if the same were true for women authors within at least some subgenres of fantasy. We can’t expect a publisher to be able to sign 50% women authors in a particular genre or subgenre when they are not getting the submissions to support that. So, Julie Crisp, who works in publishing, gathered submission statistics for Tor UK and the result was that there was definitely an uneven number of women submitting stories in some areas of Speculative Fiction. Angry Robot later released their own open submission statistics that had a similar trend. For the record, these were the only statistics I could find on submissions. To really understand trends in the market with regard to gender I think you have to understand the trends of who is writing and submitting, not just who is being published. Both of these publishers happen to be in the UK, although I know at least Angry Robot takes submissions and publishes books from authors globally.

You can not deny there is a stark difference seen in the available submission statistics for some of these subgenres. So, what’s the best way to get more girls interested in growing up to write speculative fiction? Celebrate women authors in this area, get their names out there and get more of an audience. I think getting more women authors in the spotlight so they can be wider read and seen as examples and role models can have an impact in regards to any gender bias. I decided to take the subgenres with lower female submissions according to these lists and highlight a few of my favorite female authors.

I know this is not a comprehensive list, and I know some of the authors are already fairly well known, but for one thing I still have many books to read! So I highly encourage you to share the authors you feel should make a list like this. They all deserve to be celebrated and recognized. The more women that become widely read by both genders within the genre and across its subgenres, perhaps the more we may inspire girls to become readers and future writers.

I think everyone should read what they enjoy! Take whatever the stereotypical expectations based on gender are and throw them out. Embrace what you love, and also remember to help support the women who share not just your love for reading in genre, but also spend the time and effort to write stories of their own to share with the world.

Historical/epic/high-fantasy

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock

Robin Hobb – Any list I create of favorite authors is going to have to feature Robin Hobb at the top of the list. Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series is comprised of a number of shorter series. It takes the reader on a number of fantastical (and emotional) adventures. I think Hobb has maybe caused the most heartbreak as well as the most excitement for me as a reader. If reading is an addiction, Hobb is my vice. I absolutely adore her books, even though (or maybe because?) they are an emotional rollercoaster. Any fans of epic fantasy that have not read Hobb really need to get a copy of Assassin’s Apprentice and read her for yourself. She is hardly an unknown or obscure author in the genre, but her fame and success is highly deserved and should continue. I just could not make a list and not include her.

Erin Lindsey – Lindsey’s Bloodbound is an incredibly fun and addictive series that reminds me why I love to read the genre. Another thing I love about Lindsey’s books is that women are clearly equals in the society in every way, to the point that it is not discussed or brought up. It is a portrayal where women are afforded equal opportunities and respect in what we might consider non-traditional roles for women.

Teresa Frohock – Any fans of dark fantasy that think women don’t write in that subgenre absolutely must read Frohock. Her books are dark, imaginative and full of magic and definite shades of grey. She also does an amazing job of packing in so much you leave the book with a broader picture of the world and character than seem like should have fit in the pages.

Horror

The Three by Sarah Lotz Day Four by Sarah Lotz Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Sarah Lotz – Lotz blew me away with The Three. I was fascinated with both the story as well as how it was told. For those not familiar, it is pieced together with various journals, articles and social media, very much mimicking how we currently follow actual news stories today. When Day Four came out, I was very curious if it would be told in the same manner, wondering if it was, if the uniqueness would wear off, or feel like a gimmick. And if it was not, would the story be as strong? Day Four is told in a more traditional manner, and it is incredibly well done. I absolutely love and highly recommend both of these books (just don’t read Day Four right before getting on a cruise. Seriously, don’t do it.)

Lauren Beukes – Beukes’ works are ones that are hard to force into any specific genre box. Honestly, I think there could be an argument made for fantasy or science fiction as well, but when it comes down to it, it is the emotional and atmospheric elements that I love most about her works. And for this, I will place it in horror. For any fans of Joe Hill, I always recommend Lauren Beukes.

Science-fiction

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie The Heart Goes Lastby Margaret Atwood The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Ann Leckie – Leckie’s Imperial Radch series has garnered a good deal of attention and awards. All of which are earned. It is a series that forces you to look at your own gender assumptions and expectations, and in addition, it also tells an exciting and intriguing story. I loved the hive mind AI concepts in this series and feel that aspect has been a bit overshadowed by the buzz about gender. Highly recommend it.

Margaret Atwood – I know, I know. Everyone has heard of Atwood. Half of us probably had to read Handmaid’s Tale in high school. But, I hate to admit, even though I enjoyed Handmaid’s Tale, I never read more of her books until this past year. The Heart Goes Last was brilliant and insightful and surprisingly funny (in a dark sort of way that I love). I personally need to go back and explore more of the books she has written, and encourage others to read her as well.

Becky Chambers – I have not read that many space operas, but Chamber’s A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet makes me question why. It was a wonderful examination of diversity, acceptance and expectations, the issues with passing judgements on others. It is an incredibly fun book, but it is in no way shallow; it is insightful and has a wonderful commentary on cultural differences and acceptance of others. Highly recommend.

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Today’s guest is science fiction/fantasy author and Tea and Jeopardy podcaster Emma Newman! Her science fiction novel Planetfall was released last year to much acclaim, and the first book in her Split Worlds series, Between Two Thorns, was a finalist in both the Best Fantasy and Best Newcomer categories of the 2014 British Fantasy Awards. She also won the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story with “A Woman’s Place,” and Tea and Jeopardy has been nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fancast twice. Her next novel and the fourth book in the Split Worlds series, A Little Knowledge, will be published in August.

A Little Knowledge by Emma Newman Planetfall by Emma Newman

Negative Modifiers

Back in 2011, I started writing Between Two Thorns (Book 1 of the Split Worlds series). It features a young woman who has managed to escape a secret mirror world where life for women is closer to that of Georgian England, but she is dragged back into it. She chafes against that life, and over the first three novels she tries to find a way to survive, having had a taste of the modern world and the freedom women can enjoy. Another character, a man, enabled me to explore the pressures and toxicity of the patriarchy for men, and between the two of them, I was merrily exploring feminism and toxic masculinity.

There’s a lot of other stuff that happens in those books. Sorcerers, kidnapping, feuding dynastic families—it’s not just the feminism—but it was an important theme to explore for me as I’ve been increasingly angry with the world and the way it treats women. All the time I wrote those novels, there was a part of me that really believed that the awful things a small number of the characters say were so much less likely to be said in 21st century England. It was just writ large in my novels, I thought; having men with 18th century attitudes towards women helped to show how far we’ve come and how hard it is for the heroine to handle after a taste of modern life.

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman Any Other Name by Emma Newman All Is Fair by Emma Newman

Spool forward to 2013. The books have been published and I’m in a bookshop in Bath, where Between Two Thorns is set, signing a second batch of stock. It’s not an author event—I am literally there in the middle of a normal day, quietly signing books in a little nook.

A man goes to the till, book in hand to pay for it, when the (female) shop assistant shows him a copy of one of my books and suggests he takes a look at it, based on what he is buying. “Oh, no,” he says, refusing to even touch it. “I don’t read books written by women.”

“But it’s really good,” says the assistant. “It’s in the same genre as that one you have there. And it’s set in Bath.”

“No. I suppose I sound like a bit of a bigot, don’t I?” he replies. “But I never read books written by a woman.” The assistant puts the book down, rings the transaction for his chosen book through and nothing more is said.

I’m ashamed to say that I pretended I didn’t hear. I didn’t want to embarrass the shop assistant. I didn’t want to cause a scene, not when I was there in a professional capacity, signing stock. Now, looking back, I wish I had done.

I would have asked him why. I would have asked if he believed that I was incapable of writing a good plot, or realistic male characters. I would have asked if he’s ever tried reading a book written by a woman and if he did, why he thinks that experience should dictate his opinion of all female writers. Surely he’s read books he hasn’t liked, written by men? It certainly hasn’t put him off reading more. I would have asked him if he thought my biological differences rendered my ability to write somehow lesser than that of a man.

But I didn’t.

I remember leaving that shop in shock. I remember telling myself it was just one bigot. Right? One closed-minded man, and it was his loss. So many amazing books have been written by women. Perhaps he had been reading Robin Hobb for years, thinking those novels were written by a man. And more fool him; he would never read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. The best I could hope for is that he’s picked up a book by N.K. Jemisin and believed it was written by a man. I wished I could open up a door to an alternate reality where I could have had my book published under initials or a gender neutral pseudonym and persuaded him to read it. Where I could have seen whether he would have enjoyed it once that barrier of my name on the cover was removed. I know a lot of men have read the Split Worlds novels and loved them. Maybe he would have been one of them. Hell, maybe reading about the patriarchy and how it damages men as well as women would have been useful for him. Maybe reading about how men with attitudes like him can be so hurtful, so destructive, might have opened his eyes. I don’t know. I never will.

The majority of the endemic problems caused by misogyny and sexism are rarely so stark. I realised that when it became clear how authors who happen to be women are frequently left out of various list posts, annual summaries and “best of” lists—even though the reviews for their work when it first came out have been amazing. Somehow, female authors are forgotten faster than male authors. So easily overlooked it is heartbreaking. Around the same time, I and several other authors noticed the paltry number of books by female authors displayed on SFF tables and featured promotions in many branches of Waterstones on the UK high street. Our polite letters to them about this issue were brushed off. I wonder if my complaint would have been taken more seriously had I signed my letters with initials or a gender neutral pseudonym.

Many of the negative modifiers, to steal an RPG term, that female authors have to endure are far more insidious than one openly bigoted man in a bookshop. It’s an entire society and culture that is so used to the male gaze and the constant belittling of women that it’s considered the default, the norm. It manifests for us as a constant threat to our careers as authors, as our work is less visible and when discoverability is all, that can have a direct impact on our sales which in turn affects how likely our careers are to last over time. I consider myself lucky though. For many women it manifests as sexual assault, as domestic violence, as murder. I can see the threats to my career but I still have a blessed, privileged life. There are millions of women all over the world, suffering far, far worse.

Returning to purely the book world, how do we tackle this problem? How many times does the SFF community have to decry a predominantly male list of books/authors? How many times do we have to write and signal boost posts about all the amazing women out there—who have been writing SFF just as long as the men—and urge people not to overlook them?

What will it take to change an entire culture that perpetuates the insidious, toxic idea that women are lesser?

That very question is being explored in the rest of the Split Worlds series. In August of this year, the 4th Split Worlds novel, A Little Knowledge, is being published. The heroine is discovering just how hard it is—and how dangerous it can be—to try to push against the patriarchy. It was interesting writing that book several years after Between Two Thorns. I didn’t have the pleasure of naively thinking that I was writing male characters still trapped in the past. They are still here, in the real world, the modern day. It is we who are still trapped with them.

Emma Newman
Photo Credit: Joby Sessions for SFX Magazine
Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels.  She won the British Fantasy Society Best Short Story Award 2015 and ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer 2014 awards. Emma is an audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk and can be found as @emapocalyptic on Twitter.