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Today’s guest is fantasy author Marie Brennan! While I haven’t read any of her books or short fiction (yet), I’ve wanted to ever since hearing about Midnight Never Come, a fantasy set in Elizabethan England. Her newest book, A Natural History of Dragons, has a striking cover and some recent reviews have tempted me to start with this particular book when I do read one by her! Today she is discussing the complications of writing about sexism in fantasy settings.

Warrior by Marie Brennan Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

When I was writing historical fantasy, I decided to stick as closely as I could to documented reality, and slide my faeries and their actions into the shadows and the crack of what we know. That meant, of course, that I had to deal with the historical facts of prejudice: gender, race, religion, and so on. I had some wiggle room with the faeries, whose view of things might be different from that of mortal humans — and, of course, there’s a gap between how the characters perceive matters, and how I present them in the story — but I couldn’t simply handwave those issues out of existence. I wasn’t writing alternate history.

When you write a novel set in a secondary world, though, you can’t use historical reality as your reason for including those things. Not to the same extent, anyway. The setting of A Natural History of Dragons is based on the real nineteenth century, but the countries are Scirland and Vystrana and Chiavora rather than England and Romania and Italy. Which means that when my characters have problems with sexism, it’s because I decided they should — not because doing otherwise would be revisionist. I’m choosing which parts of my inspiration to keep, and which to toss out.

Why did I decide to include Victorian-type sexism in my story? It isn’t just a side note in the world; it’s a focus point in the story, one of the major issues in Isabella’s life, as she tries to pursue an unladylike career as a natural historian. Looking at reviews (yes, I look at my reviews), some readers have loved watching her achieve her dream, in the face of that prejudice . . . but others have not. They’re tired of that story, and tired of mentally inhabiting worlds with those kinds of problems. They’d rather a world where women can be awesome, without having to vault over hurdles along the way.

I can understand that, and I think there’s a place for that kind of story. (A place that is frequently “on my shelf.”) But the “natural historian” concept made me gravitate to the nineteenth century mode, which comes with a lot of baggage — and for me, at least, it feels a bit like a cop-out if I only take the shiny parts of that history and leave the bad stuff behind. A great deal of what makes the nineteenth century feel like the nineteenth century is its shortcomings, as well as its pretty side, and I need both. It’s the effect of writing that historical fantasy, I think: I feel like I’d be writing Disneyland Victoriana. A watered-down, blandly-flavored imitation of the real thing, without the complexity that makes the period problematic, but also interesting.

But that’s not a judgment against the readers who don’t like it. As I said, I understand where they’re coming from, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of books that play much looser with these issues. For me, a lot depends on how well the author understands the kind of prejudice they’re trying to depict. A caricature of sexism isn’t interesting to me, and a story about someone overcoming that caricature is unengaging. In those instances, I’d rather the whole mess got chucked out the window, in favor of the woman or girl just going ahead and doing whatever she pleases. Of course, there’s a fine line there; some stories have driven me away because they depicted prejudice and constraint too well, to the point where I felt miserable and trapped just reading them. And then sometimes a book that doesn’t put any kind of sexism in its heroine’s way feels unrealistic to me, because the open-mindedness comes across as an inconsistency in the setting.

So it isn’t simple. The only reliable answer I can give is that I, personally, want the full range of stories, the ones with sexism as well as the ones without. It’s clear there’s a desire for both: a triumph over prejudice wouldn’t speak to readers now if it weren’t still a problem in the world, but at the same time, reiterating the problem in fiction isn’t always what people want.

Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan is the author of eight novels, including A Natural History of Dragons, the Onyx Court series, and the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy. She has published more than forty short stories in venues such as On Spec, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the acclaimed anthology series Clockwork Phoenix. More information can be found on her website: www.swantower.com.

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Today’s guest is fantasy author Courtney Schafer! Her first book just came out a couple of years ago, and there now two books in her Shattered Sigil series, The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City, with another book forthcoming. Both books are enjoyable, but The Tainted City blew me away—it’s a phenomenal book and only a second novel! The characters and world were both fascinating and complex, and the story was so exciting I didn’t want to put the book down. Reading it put the third book in the series on my shortlist of books I can hardly wait for.

Since reading her books, I’ve also become a big fan of Courtney Schafer’s book recommendations on her own blog, so I was quite pleased she decided to write about some lesser known books from the 80s and 90s today (which sound spectacular and are now all on my wish list!).

The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

I was so very lucky as a little girl.  Growing up in the 80s in northern Virginia, I didn’t have to hunt for female names on the spines of SFF novels in my local library.  I started out young with Diana Wynne Jones, Madeleine L’Engle, Jane Yolen, and many other excellent YA authors.  As I got older and ventured into the adult SFF stacks, I found they were also populated by a host of talented women.

Some of those women remain household names in SFF fandom: Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh.  Yet others, the authors of novels I devoured with equal delight, are not discussed nearly so often nowadays.  A shame, because it means new generations of readers may miss out on experiencing some terrific books.  So I’m happily taking the opportunity here at Fantasy Book Cafe to highlight a few of these lesser-known gems from the 1980s and 1990s – novels that influenced me deeply as an eager young SFF fan, that I delight in re-reading now.  Perhaps you, too, will find a book here to stretch your imagination and capture your heart.

Catspaw, Joan Vinge

Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge

Joan Vinge isn’t exactly unknown, especially among older SFF fans.  After all, she won the 1981 Hugo award for her SF novel The Snow Queen.  (A well-deserved win. The Snow Queen is a great book – though I’d say the sequel, The Summer Queen, was even better.)  But for all I love Vinge’s Snow Queen cycle books, it’s Catspaw, the second of her lesser-known Cat series, that is my favorite of her work.

The protagonist of the series is a half-human, half-alien telepath struggling to survive in a gritty, dystopian future – and oh, what an amazing job Vinge does with Cat’s character and voice!  I credit the first novel in the series, Psion, with instilling in me an abiding love of snarky, cynical first-person narration.  But Psion is a relatively simple tale; it’s in Catspaw that Vinge really pulls out all the stops, both with character development and plot.  Clever twists abound, her dystopian future is believable and well-realized, and the novel delves into the cyberpunk realm without ever bogging down in dated technobabble.  Best of all, Vinge doesn’t gloss over Cat’s flaws and prejudices, and she doesn’t shy away from following through on the consequences of his mistakes (of which he makes many, some of them quite serious).  Yet this isn’t an unremittingly bleak novel – there’s a welcome thread of hope woven throughout, as Cat finds friendships in unexpected places and undergoes real growth as a character.

There’s a third novel in the series, Dreamfall , also good – and I keep hoping that one day Vinge will write more.  (She took a long hiatus from writing after suffering significant injuries in a car crash back in 2002, but recently she published a tie-in novel.  My fingers are crossed for seeing more new work from her, of any variety!)

The True Game series, Sheri S. Tepper

The True Game by Sheri S. Tepper

Sheri S. Tepper is an award-winning author who’s been writing steadily for years.  She’s perhaps best known for SF novels like The Gate to Women’s Country, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and Grass.  But the books I return to again and again are those in her nine-book True Game series, a trilogy of trilogies.  (The trilogies are interrelated, but each set of books features a different protagonist.)  The True Game books may be more raw in quality than some of her later work, but the imagination and the sheer, wild sense of possibility in Tepper’s world have always awed me.

In the lands of the True Game, certain humans have developed powerful psychic talents, ranging from telepathy to beguilement to shapeshifting.  Over the years, a rigidly hierarchical society has developed, in which the talented compete for dominance in elaborate battle games, using the untalented as pawns.  Another author might well make the games the focus of the story.  Tepper takes a far different approach, using the games as a mere backdrop to a greater tale.  Her world is wide and varied, full of magic both older and wilder than any powers that humans might wield, and Tepper’s protagonists visit all manner of societies that challenge their assumptions.

Tepper has a particular gift for eerie imagery; certain scenes, particularly from the second of the trilogies, remain vivid in my head years after I first read them.  That second trilogy is in fact my favorite; the female protagonist, Mavin Manyshaped, is a headstrong, clever, brash shapeshifter whose curiosity leads her into all manner of strange lands and adventures (even as Tepper uses those adventures to explore deeper philosophical questions).

The first trilogy of the True Game books (the “Peter” series: King’s Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard’s Eleven) are now in print again in omnibus form as The True Game.  Sadly, the rest of the books remain out of print, but they are very much worth the effort of finding them in libraries or used bookstores.

The Sword-Dancer Saga (Tiger and Del), Jennifer Roberson

The Novels of Tiger and Del Volume I by Jennifer Roberson

Jennifer Roberson’s Tiger and Del novels were my first introduction to the “sword and sorcery” subgenre – and a fine introduction it was!  The premise of the first book, Sword-Dancer, is simple: Tiger, a skilled swordfighter, is hired to guide a foreigner from the north – a woman named Del, a sword-dancer like himself – through the fierce desert of his homeland, so she can find and rescue her stolen young brother.  Adventure ensues.  The really interesting part is the risk Roberson takes with Tiger, the POV character…because frankly, he starts off as a total jerk.  Cocky, arrogant, deeply prejudiced, completely dismissive of women, the sort of guy you’re dying to punch in the face.  But as Tiger travels with Del, he’s forced to re-examine his beliefs, and Roberson handles his inner struggle and gradual change in a believable fashion.

Successive novels get more complex, both in terms of character and plot, and Roberson does a wonderful job of furthering the relationship between Tiger and Del without letting either character stagnate.  The series is perfect for anyone who likes fantasy with a nice mix of action and magic (plus an interesting desert setting, as opposed to the usual quasi-western-European locales).  The first six books (Sword-dancer, Sword-Singer, Sword-Maker, Sword-Breaker, Sword-Born, Sword-Sworn) were published between 1986 and 2002, and a seventh (Sword-Bound) was just published this February – I’m looking forward to reading it.

Saga of the Exiles, Julian May

The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May

If you love meaty, bold, colorful series with epic scope, a broad cast of well-developed characters, and clever re-workings of existing myths, then you must read Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles series.  The four books in the series – The Many-Colored Land, The Golden Torc, The Non-born King, and The Adversary – form one long fascinating story that bursts with invention, combining SF and fantasy with gleeful abandon.  I’d love to discuss in more detail exactly why I love these books so much, but that would wander too far into spoiler territory – and I don’t want to ruin any of the delightful surprises May packs into the pages.  Suffice it to say the characters are memorable, the worldbuilding fascinating, the action spectacular, and the ending satisfying (or at least, I found it so).  If you enjoy the first four novels, good news: there are more!  A prequel (sort of!) set in quasi-modern times called Intervention, followed by another three books (Jack the Bodiless, Diamond Mask, and Magnificat) that further flesh out events referenced in the Exiles Saga and provide final closure to a certain character’s plotline.  Best of all, the formerly out-of-print Saga of the Exiles books were all recently re-released in ebook form, so if you haven’t read them, now’s the time to start.

The Windrose Chronicles, Barbara Hambly

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly is the best kind of author to discover: she’s astonishingly prolific and dependably entertaining.  These days she writes primarily historical mystery novels (the long-running Benjamin January series), but in the 1980s/1990s she produced a score of terrific fantasy novels, both standalones and series, covering everything from historical fantasy to epic fantasy to horror fantasy.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read from her, but my personal favorites are the three novels of The Windrose Chronicles: The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage, and Dog Wizard.

The premise of the series might sound cheesy to modern readers: Joanna, a computer programmer living in LA, runs afoul of a mystery hacker late one night at work and is kidnapped and transported to an alternate world in which magic exists.  She escapes, and in the company of Antryg Windrose – a condemned wizard, the former apprentice of a viciously powerful mage who nearly conquered the world – she struggles both to find her way home and make sense of the dark magic that has begun to affect both worlds.

I’ll be the first to admit that the technology portion of the first two books’ plot hasn’t aged well, but the characters are so wonderful that I find they eclipse any such issues.  Joanna is a terrific female protagonist – strong, competent, clever, adaptable, without ever needing to be some kick-ass warrior.  Antryg is equally engaging, covering his own sharp intelligence and his emotional scars with a zany, disarming cheerfulness reminiscent of Tom Baker’s turn as the fourth Doctor.  The books are long out of print, but Hambly has released them as ebooks, and also recently e-published some short stories featuring Antryg and Joanna – something I’m absolutely delighted about, after years of wanting more of their tale.

Falcon, Emma Bull

Falcon by Emma Bull

Emma Bull has been quietly writing amazing, trend-setting novels for years (her War for the Oaks is often cited as one of the seminal works of modern urban fantasy).  She’s not as prolific as some authors; but she’s so good that the long waits between novels are worth it.  (And in the meantime, she’s the executive producer and a writer for Shadow Unit , a free online SF series.) Her debut novel, Falcon, an SF tale about the younger son of a planetary dynasty who becomes a starship pilot after a bloody revolution, is rarely mentioned – and oh, what a crime that is, because the book is such a wonderful read.  Every character in the novel is so sharply, vividly drawn – some books, the side characters fade from my memory, but not this one.

Bull took a lot of risks with the novel’s structure.   There’s a huge time jump midway through the story, along with an abrupt shift of POV characters.  Yet Bull’s sheer skill with prose and characterization makes the story work.  You get difficult family relationships, betrayals, reluctant friendships, surprising plot twists – and yes, space battles.  I once went on a 7-day backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada with three male engineer friends who rarely cracked open any book not required to solve a problem set.  Unable to fathom a week without reading, yet conscious of my pack weight, I brought only one book along: Falcon.  Around the third day of the trip, one of my friends asked to see the book, curious why I’d bothered to bring it.  He started to read…and didn’t stop until he finished, forgoing our planned hike up a side canyon the next day.  The other two guys were amazed.  One by one, they borrowed the book – and just like the first, spent long hours huddled over it, ignoring all the spectacular mountain scenery around us.  There is no better praise I can give a novel than that!

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Today’s guest is soon-to-be-published urban fantasy author Jan DeLima! Jan worked at my local library, and we often get together to discuss books and exchange recommendations. I was very excited for her when she learned the first book in her series might be published, and even more so once it was official and she told me it was picked up by Ace (the same division of Penguin that publishes some of my favorite urban fantasy series, Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs and Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews!). Jan’s book, Celtic Moon, will be available on September 24th, but I’ll let her tell you about more about it in her own words—along with how research on Celtic mythology, history, and society inspired her to write it.

Initially, I started this post with a very formal thank you to Kristen for inviting me to participate in her Second Annual Women in SF&F Month, but it seemed too impersonal.  Let me explain.  Kristen and I met long before the dear book review blogger knew I was a writer, when she thought I was just a harmless librarian at our local library.  (She knows better now.)  We worked a few city blocks away from each other and would often find ourselves in the same line at our favorite coffee shop.  We began to meet for coffee and book talk on our lunch breaks, two of our favorite things.  I’m still dragging her out for coffee and book talk, by the way, even though I have recently retired from the library to write full time.

Celtic Moon by Jan DeLima

However, since my debut novel is not due out until September 24th, and you have no idea what type of books I write, I thought perhaps I should give a brief overview of my series.  I write urban fantasy for ACE.  Celtic Moon is the first book in my series using Celtic mythology as the foundation for my fantasy world.  My day job is partially to blame for providing me with this inspiration.  At the time I worked in the cataloging department of my library when a book on Celtic artifacts came across my desk.  It reviewed findings and theories of Celtic beliefs from Celtic art, with depictions of humans transforming into animals.  Intrigued, I dove into researching Celtic mythology and found more material than I could possibly imagine on wolves and shape shifting.  Let’s just say my paranormal writer’s radar was dinging loudly.

CelticMoon_JanDelima

Since my series is based on actual human history combined with their folklore, only spun into a modern perspective, I will discuss how my characters evolved from this culture.  Then to tie into Kristen’s wonderful theme of Women in SF&F, I will touch on Celtic women in history.  I am an avid reader of most genres, especially fantasy and romance, and one of my personal pet peeves is a story that is inundated with historical references.  I have not done that with mine!  I am a character driven writer, and as I delved into learning about this powerful culture my characters quickly took control of the ride, and somehow ended in a much darker place than I had originally intended, but I will not digress into that topic or this post will go on forever. Instead, I will share how it all started.

Celtic Moon was born when I began to wonder…

What if this immortal race of shape shifters actually existed in present day?  And, even better, what if they were gorgeous Celtic warriors?  Since wolves have become extinct in their homeland, where would they have migrated over the years?  And just to make things interesting, what if their race was dying?  What if they were losing their ability to shift into a wolf with each new generation?  How would a dominant race of immortal shifters react to their loss of power?  My characters emerged soon after, demanding a place in this magical world.  As always, they arrived with their own set of questions and choices.  What if a woman, a human, met one of these warriors and had an affair, unaware of his secret?  What if she conceived his child?  What if he kept her guarded, protected, forcing her to remove all ties from her old life without giving her just cause?  How would a modern woman react, if forced to choose among freedom, love, and the safety of her child?  Mine chooses freedom and her child, not love—that is until fifteen years later, when she can no longer deny that her son has inherited more of his father than she had hoped.   For the sake of her son, she returns to his father for help, unaware of an impending war brewing between the very creatures she ran away from all those years ago.  Only this time she is not the same woman they once knew; she has learned how to protect herself and those she loves most—quite well, in fact.  But can an ancient warrior forgive her for leaving with his son?  And now that she’s returned, can his wolf resist his mate?  More importantly, what if this human woman has given birth to the first shifter in over three hundred years?

CelticMoonCormack_JanDelima

I have written six novels; the first five are unpublished and will never be seen.  Out of all my books to date, the reunion scene with Sophie and Dylan, the two main protagonists in Celtic Moon, was my favorite to write.  Physical tension and conflict is always a balance.  Dylan is an alpha wolf and a dominant temperament is an integral part of his character.  His urge to protect and provide vs. Sophie’s self-sufficient attitude was a fun dynamic to play with.  Fortunately, Dylan comes from a culture of strong men who also value independent-minded women.

During my research, one of the many things I grew to love about the Celts was their respect of women in their societies.  Women had equal rights of men, they were warriors, they led armies, and better yet, they had the right to divorce their husbands if they were not performing as they should.  The Celt’s deities were women as well as men, but the Divine Mother was a strong influence in their culture that has carried on to present day.  Also, they were open and unashamed about their sexuality, as proven with this third century quote from a purported conversation between Julia Augusta, mother of the Roman emperor Caracalla, and the wife of the Caledonian chieftain, Argentocoxus…

When the empress was jesting with her… about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: “We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women, for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.”

-Boudicca’s Heirs: early woman in Britian, p.14

Oh, yeah… Can you see why I grew to love these Celtic women?

For the most part, I used Celtic perspectives to shape my characters, therefore their viewpoints are also Pagan, and the magical elements of my world are drawn from nature.  I have Celtic tribes scattered across the globe in environments that support wolf habitats; the tribes are led by both men and women, as determined by their leadership qualities, and whether or not they have the ability to shift into a wolf.  It is not perceived as extraordinary to have a woman in an authoritative position because their culture doesn’t view women as weak.  My male characters are just as powerful, and perhaps a bit proud and dogmatic (an unavoidable side effect of their inner wolves I’m afraid) but they have enough self-assurance and aptitude to value a woman’s competence.  Often times a person’s greatest strength is not their physical strength, but rather their conviction, what they are willing to sacrifice for their beliefs and for the people they love.

Merin_byJanDelima

Well, I will stop there before I ramble on too much, which I have a tendency to do on topics I’m passionate about.  I hope you enjoyed hearing about Celtic women in history as much as I enjoyed researching them.  I will end by thanking Kristen for not only inviting me to be a guest author, as this is my first ever guest author post, but also for the shared hours of book talk and mocha lattes—and I look forward to many more lattes to come with her always wonderful book recommendations. (For the record, it’s all her fault that I hunted down Freda Warrington’s backlist for my library!)

Best wishes,
Jan

Image Credit: Jan DeLima

Jan DeLima

Jan lives in central Maine with her husband of twenty years and their two teenage sons.  Unlike many authors, Jan didn’t pen stories at an early age but has always been a dedicated reader.  She loves stories and storytelling.  It wasn’t until after her children entered school that she began writing.  Raised in a military family, she lived in different countries such as Thailand and Germany, but home base has always been Maine.  She brought a mixture of all her experiences to her first published novel, blending castles and Celtic lore with the wild nature of her home.

 

About Celtic Moon:

Like father, like son…

Sophie Thibodeau has been on the run from the father of her son for more than fifteen years. Now her son, Joshua, is changing, and her greatest fears are about to be realized. He’s going to end up being just like his father—a man who can change into a wolf.

Dylan Black has been hunting for Sophie since the night she ran from him—an obsession he cannot afford in the midst of an impending war. Dylan controls Rhuddin Village, an isolated town in Maine where he lives with an ancient Celtic tribe. One of the few of his clan who can still shift into a wolf, he must protect his people from the Guardians, vicious warriors who seek to destroy them.

When Sophie and Dylan come together for the sake of their son, their reunion reignites the fierce passion they once shared. For the first time in years, Dylan’s lost family is within his grasp. But will he lose them all over again? Are Joshua and Sophie strong enough to fight alongside Dylan in battle? Nothing less than the fate of his tribe depends on it…

Excerpt from Celtic Moon:

 

“I’m going for a run,” Dylan said dryly, taking off toward the woods. His people had wronged Sophie. He was convinced of that now. And still she had come home to him, of her own free will—for their son.

His wolf clawed at his spine for release. Its fury, its need—its desire for the woman who’d had the courage to return for their child was no longer controllable.

The wolf wanted out.

Having her near and within reach was akin to pain.

Perhaps it was a good thing Sophie hadn’t invited him to stay, Dylan thought as he entered the forest, ripping off clothes as he walked. For if she had, he wasn’t sure if he could have controlled his hunger.

It had been too long.

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Today’s guest is SFF writer and podcast producer Mur Lafferty! She was recently nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, making this her second nomination for this particular award. Today she is talking about four women who wrote science fiction and fantasy and played a role in inspiring her to become a writer herself—and there’s also an opportunity to enter a giveaway for her next book, The Shambling Guide to New York City, at the end of this post!

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty Marco and the Red Granny by Mur Lafferty

People keep mentioning that SFF is a boy’s field, or they look at the last few years of awards ballots and say, well, it used to be. [Note, I wrote this before the recent Clarke Award final ballot was revealed.] And while I can see the “boy’s club” happening from time to time, it was the women writers who got me into this whole deal in the first place.

People often ask writers who their inspirations are. It was embarrassing, frankly, when I realized that I usually list my inspirations as an adult: the three big authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Connie Willis. But while their stories make me want to be a better writer, I have to remember that there are many other authors who, when I was a child, made me realize that I could be a writer in the first place. They also made me want to fight dragons and get on space ships and be a hero.

Robin McKinley was my first big eye-opener. I was the kid who wondered why the stupid princesses danced around and sang songs and waited for their prince to come. I wanted a horse and a sword and a dragon to stick it in. (The sword, I mean. Not the horse. They’re too blunt.) And when I picked up The Hero and the Crown, it gave me everything I wanted. The young princess Aerin who prefers retraining her father’s war horse and learning swordplay to the more gentle pursuits, decides to take up dragon slaying. It has everything, adventure, romance, despair, dragons, horses, and more! It gave me a girl hero to look up to. Later I would read The Blue Sword and find it a bit weaker (not knowing that it was published first), but still loving it. Then I read Sunshine and can only tell you McKinley is getting better and better. Pegasus is on my TBR list.

From there, I went on to Anne McCaffrey. I fell in love with Pern and the dragons, Lessa, and all the other characters. I fell a little too in love with the characters, and her newer books initially annoyed me when the plots would take the story hundreds of years in the past, or to a completely different character during the Lessa’s time, but she never let me down. As a teen girl, I did get rather uncomfortable with her frequent depictions of first sexual encounters between lovers being rapey. I know it was probably written to be like bodice-ripper sex scenes, with the flavor of “oh John, no, don’t, not here, not before we’re married, no!…  ooohhhhJohn….” but it still made me uncomfortable. (Sexual aside: She carried this through many of her works, including the Freedom series and the non-genre novel The Lady. On another, related topic, I wondered about the homosexual implications of green dragon sex that was all but ignored. And yes, I know she has updated information about dragonrider sex partners and you can find her explanations online, but it felt like a retcon, with facts completely ignored in the original trilogy.) However, sexual issues aside, I loved Pern. The harpers, the dragonriders, the whole thing.

I found Ursula K. Le Guin not by Earthsea, but by the Left Hand of Darkness, and then the Lathe of Heaven. And this was the first time I felt the incredibly humbled feeling of, “I am holding something created by a mind so much greater than mine will ever be.” While the protagonists of these books were male, they still dealt with gender issues (of course in The Left Hand of Darkness and to a lesser extent Lathe of Heaven. The latter with more racial questions than gender.) and she wrote her women as people within the world, not simply love interests or mothers.

If memory serves, Madeline L’Engle was the biggest influence, though. She brought me the A Wrinkle in Time series, which frankly blew my mind. You had a girl who was nerdy and awkward (talk about being able to identify with a protagonist!) and a sort of single scientist mom who was just about to lose her shit. You had an adventure through time and space. You had battles against incredibly intelligent beings, and an unfortunate teleportation to a two dimensional world. I always remember that Meg’s heart made a sideways, knifelike movement in her chest. Then after reading A Wind in the Door, I was so entranced with her cellular world, I wrote her a letter, and she wrote back!!!11! Kiddies, this is back in the day when you had to bust your butt to figure out how to get in touch with a writer, and often the best way would be to send a letter to the publisher’s mailing address in the front of the book and hope they would forward it. It took months. My dad was cleaning in his house recently and he came across her letter and brought it to me. It was typed on the back of a sort of advertising pamphlet that gave information about her books, family trees, etc. It was the coolest thing I had ever received. I admit that I never quite understood A Swiftly Tilting Planet - I think time travel was too much for my young mind at the time, but I did enjoy Many Waters and the few Austins books I read.

(Right now I am distracted, wondering where I put Ms. L’Engle’s letter. I thought I hung it on my desk, but it’s not there. Grump.)

While I know I’ll never write something as brilliant as LeGuinn’s work, and epics such as the Pern series are something I can only aspire to, and McKinley’s ability to inject emotion into her reader, and the sensawunda that L’Engle gave her readers, there is no secret that these women all were huge influences on me, as when I read their books, I saw what was possible. They were the first authors to make me think, “THAT is what I want to do. Women obviously write all sorts of SFF, and that is going to be ME some day.”

So I guess as the pub date of The Shambling Guide to New York City nears, I would like to thank Robin McKinley, Madeline L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin, and Anne McCaffrey for giving the young Mur the books that entranced me, excited me, and yes, even made me uncomfortable because it made me think, “How would *I* have done this to make it better? Or does this discomfort have a place in the book? Can/should discomfort be a part of fiction?” (Of course, the answer is yes.) They made me think, gave me confidence, and showed me that the fallopian tubes are not something that hinder your ability to write the fantastic.

Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty is a writer, podcast producer, gamer, geek, and martial artist. Her books include Playing For Keeps, Nanovor: Hacked!, Marco and the Red Granny, and The Afterlife Series. Her podcasts are many, currently she’s the editor of Escape Pod magazine, the host of I Should Be Writing, and the host of the Angry Robot Books Podcast.

Personally, she loves to run, practice kung fu (Northern Shaolin five animals style), play World of Warcraft and Dragon Age, hang out with her fabulous geeky husband and their eight year old daughter. Her website is http://www.murverse.com/.

Courtesy of Orbit, I have one copy of The Shambling Guide to New York City to give away! (The giveaway is open to those with US and Canadian mailing addresses.)

About The Shambling Guide to New York City:

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty
 

A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city – for the undead!

Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can’t take off her resume — human.

Not to be put off by anything — especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker — Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble — with Zoe right in the middle.

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 “Shambling Guide Giveaway.” One entry per person and a winner will be randomly selected. Only those with a mailing address in the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Wednesday, April 24. The 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 winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

(Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.)

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today I am thrilled to have a guest post written by fantasy and science fiction author Patricia A. McKillip! Her works have been published since the 1970s and glancing through her titles it appears she has approximately 30 individual titles published, including short story collections. Her work isn’t just astonishing for its quantity but also its quality and influence: she has won the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award, her work has been a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and her work has both won and been a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award multiple times. I was (sadly) late to discover her work when I read and was stunned by a short story collection by her last year, but when I mentioned it on Twitter and Goodreads the volume and sheer glee of the response I got back told me how treasured an author she is in the SF&F community. Since then, I’ve picked up one of her oft-recommended books, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and once again found a book I loved and wondered where this amazing author’s books have been all my life.

It’s with great pleasure that I present her guest post today, in which she discusses both the growing involvement of women writing fantasy and science fiction in the last few decades and the growing number of women as the heroes in these stories. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip Cygnet by Patricia A. McKillip

I grew into reading during the 1950’s and the 1960’s.   I was very lucky to have an older sister who also loved to read.  We shared books, comments, and literary allusions from an early age; we stole each other’s books, like The Once and Future King, when there was only one copy and we couldn’t wait for the other to get done with it. Gradually, sometime in our early teenage years, as we read Dumas, Stevenson, Kipling, etc., we both realized we had come up against what was then a commonplace of storytelling:  the men had all the adventures.  The women only appeared on the last page of the novel to receive a chaste kiss when the hero finally returned from the sea, from exotic lands, from foreign courts, fairytale kingdoms, and the Foreign Legion, to her.

I studied English Literature in the late 60’s and early 70’s, because I thought the best way to learn to write was to read the best writers I could find.  At least 95% of what I read to get my Master’s degree was written from a male point of view.  (This was before Women’s Studies and World Literature came into their own.) I read a great deal and learned a lot about writing from writers as diverse as William Faulkner, P.G. Wodehouse and J. R. R. Tolkien.  But when I sat down to write my first major fantasy, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, I didn’t question the point of view that came out of my pen.  It seemed very natural to me to wonder why in the world a woman couldn’t be a witch or a wizard, or why, if she did, she had to be virginal as well.  Or why, if she was powerful and not a virgin, she was probably the evil force the male hero had to overcome.  Such was my experience reading about women in fantasy, back then.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

So I wrote from the point of view of a powerful female wizard, who, even after she married, was the hero of her own story, and whose decisions, for better and for worse, were her own.

That was published in 1974.  By the mid 80’s, both fantasy and science fiction written by women shared the amazingly expanded SF&F bookshelves in bookstores and libraries.  The sheer volume of women writing about women was, to me, a staggering and wonderful thing to be celebrated.

What happened  to cause such a change in the number of women writing and being published?

I have never studied the subject, but, thinking about the question, I came up with a few ideas.

In my own family, my sister and I were the first of our generation of cousins to go to college and get degrees.  My parents, both children of generations of farming families, grew up during the Depression; neither was encouraged to attend college, though my father went for a couple of semesters before he joined the Air Force and fought in World War II.   The post-war “Baby Boomer” generation was untroubled by either Depression or World War; we grew up in more stable and more prosperous times.    My father was stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area during my high school and college years.  Thanks to the wonderful California State College system back then, my tuition was $32 for my first semester, climbing to $80 a semester by the time I received my MA degree.  (That would have been, for a family with six children living on Air Force pay, just about the only way my parents could have afforded to send me and my siblings to college.)  I suspect that many of the young women whose parents lived through the depression and war were encouraged, during those more peaceful and prosperous times, to further their education.   We had the time that our mothers might not have had to read and learn to write.

Which brings me to what my generation was reading.   I was reading my way through my very Catholic, all-girls high school library in the early 60’s when I chanced across a strange book called The Hobbit.  It was like nothing else I’d ever encountered, and certain images—Bilbo and Gollum playing their riddle game deep in the underground cave—stayed with me for years.   By the time I got into college The Lord of the Rings had been published in the U.S. and much of my generation, it seemed, not only had read the books, but wanted to live in them.  For me, the experience was a grand awakening of an imagination that had been pretty much walled in by the medieval imagery of Catholicism, along with a scattering of obligatory, rather bloodless Western myths.  Tolkien riveted a generation of budding writers, revealing the power of both imagination and language.  He opened the doors of publishing to works of the imagination that were nothing like the novels I read for my English Lit degree.  I wanted that knowledge, that experience, that art that had created The Lord of the Rings.  I wanted to write my own “trilogy”.  And years later I realized that there were many young would-be writers, men and women, who responded with equal passion to that challenge of language and imagination.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, there were many things to be passionate about, to march against, to strike for.  During those years, I heard the word “feminism” for the first time.  I had no idea what it meant.  I thought that you had to understand what it meant to be a woman before you could be a genuine feminist.  It was years before I realized that was the point of feminism:  women defining for themselves what it is to be a woman.  Mainstream novelists like Margaret Atwood and Erika Jong, writing about the question, opened more publishing doors for women.  Their success, I think, broke the ground for other genres as well.  Maybe they would never read science fiction or fantasy, or want to be known as genre writers.  But perhaps the fact that women mainstream writers were getting critical attention and earning money with their writing pushed the doors open a bit more for women writers of other kinds of fiction.  Again, I haven’t studied this question.  But I can’t have been the only young woman reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying while I wrote my Tolkien-inspired fantasy trilogy.  The attention and financial success of the novel must have encouraged every woman trying to write.  Feminism found its own way into genre, with female characters ruling their countries, becoming warriors and wizards, becoming, at last, the heroes of their own tales.

That’s why I am astonished to find that there are still questions about female writers.  Can they write science fiction as well as men?  Will male readers buy and read books written by women?  I thought by now we had answered those questions.  Obviously, if they still come up, we have not.

I don’t have answers; I only have a list:  C.J. Cherryh, Connie Willis, Lisa Goldstein, Nancy Kress, Suzy McKee Charnas, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Delia Sherman, Angela Carter, Vonda McIntyre, Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, Kathleen Goonan, Ysabeau Wilce, Janny Wurtz, Kij Johnson, Elizabeth Hand, Greer Gilman, N. K. Jemisin, Catherynne Valente, Ellen Kushner, R. A. MacAvoy, Nalo Hopkinson, Ellen Klages, Joan Vinge —these are among the many novelists who have appeared on my shelves since the lean years before the 70’s, when we were hard pressed to hear a woman’s voice on the pages.  I am happy to be in their company.

Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia Anne McKillip is an American author of fantasy and science fiction novels, distinguished by lyrical, delicate prose and careful attention to detail and characterization. She is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award, and she lives in Oregon. Most of her recent novels have cover paintings by Kinuko Y. Craft. She is married to David Lunde, a poet.

According to Fantasy Book Review, Patricia McKillip grew up in Oregon, England, and Germany, and received a Bachelor of Arts (English) in 1971 and a Master of Arts in 1973 from San Jose State University.

McKillip’s stories usually take place in a setting similar to the Middle Ages. There are forests, castles, and lords or kings, minstrels, tinkers and wizards. Her writing usually puts her characters in situations involving mysterious powers that they don’t understand. Many of her characters aren’t even sure of their own ancestry. Music often plays an important role. Love between family members is also important in McKillip’s writing, although members of her families often disagree.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is one of my favorite book bloggers, Angie from Angieville! Angie is a voracious reader who reads a lot of different books, including fantasy and science fiction, and she has the gift of making one want to read the books she is passionate about—though I’m sure her great taste is a factor in that as well! Her beautifully written, heartfelt guest post on one of the first female science fiction and fantasy authors she read illustrates this perfectly. It made me want to read every single book by this author she mentioned!

Angieville Header
 

On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze
breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the Light shall have the harp of gold.

By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.

When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.

Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.

I first read these opening lines in elementary school, and I can still feel, with almost perfect clarity, the shivers they sent down my spine. They felt ancient, those lines. They felt real. And I wanted nothing more than to instantaneously lose myself in their history and weight, to walk through the door of the birds at the raven boy’s side and wake the Sleepers. At the time, I had no idea the depth and breadth of the world I was entering. I only knew with a surety that I belonged there. And so my relationship with Susan Cooper‘s books began. Through her wonderful Dark is Rising sequence I made my first real contact with Arthurian legend–a literary realm generally populated by men, I would come to find (with a few luminous and welcome exceptions including Cooper and the incomparable Mary Stewart). I will always be grateful my initial experience with Arthurian lore came in the form of Cooper’s capable storytelling. Because she was at the helm, the character of Jane got her fair say. In fact, Greenwitch, the third book in the series, is for all intents and purposes her story. And it holds a special place in my heart as much for that as it does because it features a quest for the grail.

The Dark is Rising The Grey King Silver on the Tree

This entire series set the standard in so many ways for me when it comes to fantasy worlds and the incorporation of myths and legends in a way that honors the original while striking out into unique territory. In it, Cooper plays with all the familiar elements of the once and future king’s story, even as she adapts and reshapes them to fit her vision of the legend and how it plays out in a more modern setting. Cooper’s Lost Land, in which the young protagonists find themselves stranded for the final battle, is (at its heart) completely Other. It may, here and there, bear the trappings of fantasy worlds as you have known them, but it is (at its very essence) an alien landscape. And so the last of the Old Ones Will Stanton, along with Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew, and the enigmatic Bran Davies, are forced to leave behind our world and navigate a treacherous land of mad kings, crystal swords, and skeletal horses with ribbons of blood blowing in the wind. Cooper’s endings are always somewhat bittersweet, as befits the serious and honest way in which she approaches her characters and her worlds. But I find myself longing to return to them because of those grey areas, because though her protagonists must face the borders and, at times, unforgivable shortcomings of their worlds, they do so with an understanding of their place, with an undimmed thirst for the next horizon, surrounded by the lyricism of their author’s words.

Seaward Seaward reissue

I finished the Dark is Rising books and immediately went on to seek out the rest of Cooper’s body of work. I was happy to find that she set her hand to everything from science fiction to historical fiction and handled it all with a golden touch. Seaward, her scifi/time traveling standalone, remains a perennial favorite of mine. It has been out of print for several years now, but I recently discovered that Simon & Schuster is re-releasing it this coming August with an eye-catching new cover. Prophecies play an important role in this magic-drenched novel as well.

A man with eyes like an owl, a girl with selkie hands, a creature in a high place.

Unlike the longer series format, Seaward is both short and sweet. Yet it still manages to adequately explore the questions of what happens when one has lost everything and how it is possible to go on in the face of the vastness of the universe. It is a book that deserves far more attention than it currently receives and I always recommend it to readers who stopped with the Dark is Rising books, or who enjoy chess, riddles, insect sidekicks, and dragons.

When Kristen invited me back for this year’s Women in SF&F Month, I felt the distinct urge to write about one of the first female SF&F authors I read, one who laid the groundwork for so much of my reading life. As with each of my most beloved authors, I can trace a lineage of sorts back through the years and through the books. I connect the lines and pages from the me that was to the person I am now. Cooper’s words and characters and stories form a bright thread in that picture, their influence real and so very valued.