Women in SF&F Month Banner

…And that’s the end of week three! Thanks to all the contributors for their wonderful discussions and recommendations. Week four has another great lineup, but first, here’s what happened last week in case you missed any of it.

Week In Review

Here are the discussions from last week:

Also, Renay from Lady Business is compiling a list of awesome science fiction and fantasy books written by women. You can contribute by adding your own favorites.

Upcoming Guests: Week 4

I’m very excited about this week’s contributors and their wonderful guest posts! Here’s the schedule:

Women in SF&F Week 4

April 21: Vera Nazarian (Lords of Rainbow, Cobweb Bride)
April 22: Juliet Marillier (The Sevenwaters Series, Shadowfell, The Bridei Chronicles)
April 23: Freda Warrington (Aetherial Tales, A Taste of Blood Wine)
April 24: Seanan McGuire (October Daye, InCryptid, Newsflesh)
April 25: Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks
April 26: Amanda Carlson (Full Blooded, Hot Blooded)
April 27: Sarah from Bookworm Blues

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Elizabeth from DarkCargo! DarkCargo is a collaborative blog that discusses books, conventions, and assorted topics related to science fiction and fantasy fandom. Elizabeth, who also does digital book conversion through Antimatter ePress, is very friendly on Twitter and I’ve come to very much enjoy chatting books with her. She often recommends books I don’t know much about or haven’t even heard of before—and I know she has great taste based on the books and authors she’s enjoyed that I have read so I want to read all the books she recommends! That’s why I’m so glad she’s sharing some of her favorite heroines who are kickass in the different ways they use their wits and intelligence today (once again, making me want to read all the books!).

Dark Cargo and Antimatter Press

The Grand Dames of Kick-Assery

People say dumb things, but one gem sticks in my craw, overheard at a science fiction convention: “One of the reasons women tend to shy away from science fiction is because there aren’t very many good female characters in SF.” A huge part of me crawled off to die after hearing that, but in a great blaze of resurrected fury I sat quietly for three days and compiled a list to the contrary. So there, anonymous commenter. :P What follows is a list of some of the really fab characters I use as high-water-marks.

Some of the consistencies across all of these books, other than a female main character, are that

  • they were published pre-2005,
  • there is a romantic element to each of them (yay, kissin’!), but…
  • lots of not nice things happen in these stories—torture, terror, death;
  • other than Kindred which is very grim, these authors all sprinkle their writing with a bit of humor;
  • all but one is part of a multi-volume (and one is multi x 4!);
  • and their authors are absolutely legacy with-at minimum-a dozen books published.

There are some traits are true to all of these characters, as well. These women tell an interesting story because they are all smart, savvy, self-reliant, without being snarky smart-asses. They are not all violent, not all excellent fighters, they are not defined by their dismissal or avoidance of femininity. The problems they’re asked to solve are not resolved by barreling into a situation with all guns a-blazin’. To quote Mac, “I find a way around. Or more than one. Conflict isn’t my nature.” (Julie Czerneda)

All of these women are thinkers, and bring different elements of the intelligence equation to the table. Creativity, analytical thinking, self-knowledge, situational awareness, people-savvy, empathy, leadership, street smarts, athleticism, to name a few of the types of intelligence exhibited in these novels. Furthermore, the wisdom and knowledge of these characters are true to the character, not superficially imposed by the author to justify the character. In short, they are totally awesome role models. “What would Kerr/Mac/Livak/Dana/Del do?”

Oh. And the most important consistent criterion? Every one of these books has me up late reading into the wee hours, shouting and dancing around for the joy of a fab read. From one reader to another, I hope that you will accept my gift of this list of recommendations, and enjoy exploring these authors.

A Confederation of Valor by Tanya Huff The Heart of Valor by Tanya Huff Valor's Trial by Tanya Huff

Staff Seargent Torin Kerr from the Valor Series by Tanya Huff: Kerr’s kickassery resides in her interpersonal savvy and her insight into human nature. She’s the interface between the enlisted marines and the officers, in a future-earth scenario that includes several alien species intertwined into a confederation allied against The Others. Kerr knows her people’s limitations, fears, hopes, family news, personal likes and dislikes. She compiles, processes and re-focuses all this information into an arsenal she uses to keep her people alive in a fight they didn’t ask for.

What I particularly like about Huff’s writing is that these novels are approachable military SF. If you are reading this post at all, it’s likely that traditional Military SF puts you to sleep, too. But Huff’s fighting choreography, her straightforward and “need to know” descriptions of equipment and munitions make the military aspect of these novels part of the story, not the story. I love the banter between the marines, and the quirks that Huff chose to give to the aliens create a situational humor that is just plain funny. The di’Taykan for example, are required to wear a pheromone mask because the pheromones emitted by this species will make a human practically explode into a rutting lust…not a problem Kerr can afford in her tight-knit squad.

Tanya Huff, Valor’s Choice, first in the Valor series, first published 2000, DAW. (Though the later volumes in the series are available electronically, I cannot find an e-copy of Valor’s Choice or The Better Part of Valor. Appears to still be in print in an omnibus edition titled “A Confederation of Valor”.) Also available as audio books.


The Novels of Tiger and Del Volume I by Jennifer Roberson Tiger and Del Volume II by Jennifer Roberson Tiger and Del Volume III by Jennifer Roberson

Del from the Del and Tiger series by Jennifer Roberson: Del’s flat out able to kick the ass of any other sword fighter. From the deep desert to the snow-capped mountains, she’s the best Sword Dancer evah. Taciturn and humble, she employs the “speak softly and carry a big stick” attitude towards her goal, allowing her opponents to defeat themselves with their own prejudices and misconceptions.

Her brother was stolen into slavery and the best path for Del to find him was to train as a sword-dancer and fight her way into the Southlands. She hires a man known as the Sandtiger to guide her through the cultural and environmental dangers of the deepest desert. When she finds her brother, well, suffice it to say that happens in book one, I sobbed, and there are six more books in the series. Roberson has a mastery of emotional investment I don’t think I’ve read anywhere else. Del and Tiger are a team, and the books are as much his story as they are hers. An interesting twist to this series is that the books are narrated from Tiger’s POV!

Jennifer Roberson, Sword-Dancer, first in the Tiger and Del series, first published in 1986, DAW. Still in print in omnibus editions, available electronically.


Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana from Kindred by Octavia Butler: Dana knows how to cede the battle for the sake of the war. She’s able to protect herself by holding on to her sense of self in a time that negates her humanity. If that kind of ragged survival isn’t kick-ass, I don’t know what is. Dana is a fairly unremarkable woman living her life, working a series of temp jobs, trying to justify her latest relationship to her family, you know, stuff…. In a blink, she’s whisked out of this mundane life and into her ancestral past, where she quickly assesses an odd situation and saves a boy from drowning. Flash! Back to her temp job and unpacking the new apartment. Flash! And she’s again swept off into some other time and this time she has to save that same boy from burning his house down. Flash! Back to breakfast, 1976. She’s repeatedly faced with a fate worse than death, and quickly learns to roll with the punches (or whip lashes, in this case) because she knows that her values have zero value here. Fighting, violence, bull-heading her way through, won’t solve the problem. She has to duck and roll, hunker down and protect the core of herself, survive, and keep this hateful boy alive long enough to sire an ancestor of hers.

Kindred, I think, is the perfect example of what speculative fiction can do. “What if something that we know is impossible were not?” Kindred asks the hardest questions we can ask of ourselves, about power and control and our incessant human desire for both of these. Are we truly self-made people or are we just battered into semblance of a self by time, place, skin color, class, history?

Octavia Butler, Kindred, first published 1976, still in print, available in audio. Personally, I got a lot out of an edition published by Beacon Press, which includes reader questions, selected bibliography, secondary sources and a critical essay.


The Thief's Gamble by Juliet E. McKenna The Swordsman's Oath by Juliet E. McKenna

Livak from The Tales of Einarinn by Juliet E. McKenna: Livak has accumulated such a wealth of experience with gambling and thieving, trickery and sleight-of-hand that she’s likely to steal your coffee money from your pocket while you read the book, and then have you conned into thinking you need to thank her for that. Livak’s able to assess a situation, seeing danger, money, exits or potential where others of her team see their next meal or a “doxy maid”. I love especially the scenes where McKenna puts Livak through her paces with her sneak-thievery. The house is dark, she has to work silently and quickly, and she knows exactly what she’s doing: Livak is very good at her job.

She and her buds are a bunch of thieves and con-artists, grubbing a living from Festival to Festival. Meanwhile there is Epic Magic afoot, the kind of magic and wizardry epic enough for 15 novels set in this universe. The wizards have a problem they’re researching, and Livak comes to the attention of these wizards through her fine skills at parting a fool and his money, realize that she’s the pro for the job. They need her to steal something, and offer her a choice she’s hard-pressed to refuse.

I find McKenna’s world-building to be immersive. Not only does McKenna render an entirely unique system of gods/goddesses, politics, calendar and holidays, as well as clichés, proverbs, and cusswords, but she drops in letters, poems, songs “written” by third party characters we never see. Lest I mislead you into believing that The Tales of Einarinn are focused on Livak, let me tell you that Livak is part of a team. The first and third novels are told from her point of view. In the other novels, we’re treated to the continuation of the story from the POV of another character.

Juliet E. McKenna, The Thief’s Gamble, first of The Tales of Einarinn (which is the first set of an additional three sets in the whole huge epic story arc) first published in Great Britain, 1999, available in print and also made available electronically from Wizard’s Tower Books and Weightless Books. I like these books so much I offered to scan and code them into ebooks for McKenna. We’ve been working together on this project and book #3 will be available soon. (for disclosure, this is done in the service of fandom, I receive no revenue from this work.)


Survival by Julie Czerneda Migration by Julie Czerneda Regeneration by Julie Czerneda

Mac from the Species Imperative series by Julie Czerneda: And now we get to the kick-ass scientist, analytical thinker and creative problem solver. Mackenzie Winifred Elizabeth Wright Connor, or “Mac” (of course), is an evolutionary geneticist and director of a research outpost hidden in an alcove in future earth’s British Columbia. Humans have made contact with aliens, but all that outer-space nonsense is neither here nor there when it comes to Mac’s research on “her” salmon…until a big blue rubbery alien sticks his big blue rubbery ass right in the middle of this season’s salmon run. Something is stripping planets of all organic molecules, and the trajectory of this devastation is headed for Sol system. Brymn of the rubbery blueness is an archaeologist and has come to ask Mac for her help identifying and defeating the mysterious plague.

The science here is biology. If you don’t read it for Mac, read it for the aliens. Her aliens aren’t humans in funny suits. They are not human, and a good portion of what we see Mac struggling with is wrapping her (and thereby, our) head around exactly how different an alien can truly be. This is a story about ecology, evolutionary pressures on a population, and genetic mutation.

Czerneda’s genius is often cited as the development of her aliens. And it is, but that’s only one part of her writing genius. Her ability to pace a novel is masterful. The first few pages of Survival are quiet…just like Mac’s life…counting salmon…. Later, we’re allowed to zoom into a scene in which Mac is basically waiting to die. Given a private berth on alien vessel, they’ve neglected to accommodate her different physiology. We count down her water bottles and protein bars, biting our nails and flipping the damn pages faster and faster: is she going to make it? In a frenzied, wild scene of shouting and pissed off people, she finds that her research team has devolved into infighting and bitter rivalry: she has to get them back on task and on target and she has to do it fast. In a terrifying scene, the spit…pop… of claws on the roof breaks the still night: this is an alien no human can see and they’re hunting her. An introspective, quiet moment, watching the sunlight warm her hands, thinking about the refractive quality of light and the possibility of invisible aliens, the peaceful lunchroom scene explodes into chaos…a page later the entire pod is destroyed and many of her research team has died. Woah! That was fast! What the heck just happened?

Julie Czerneda, Survival, first in the Species Imperative series, first published 2004, DAW, still in print, available electronically.

Here are five interesting characters and the excellent writers who birthed them. That appears to be a list of five books, but if you like them and follow the whole series, those five will bloom out suddenly into… 32! And if you go on to read more by these authors? hah! Happy TBR balancing!

These are just some of the fab novels out there that I’ve enjoyed, but to go on, I’d be chewing your ear off like Mac about her salmon. Others that just as easily could have been part of this list until I hit my 2000 word limit include Soz: Primary Inversion (1996), Catherine Asaro; Jenny Casey: Hammered (2004), Elizabeth Bear; Jamisia: This Alien Shore (1999), C.S. Friedman; Ti-Jeanne: Brown Girl in the Ring (1988), Nalo Hopkinson; Fool’s War (1987), Sarah Zettel; Gil, Time of the Dark (1983), Barbara Hambly; Kerrigan, Green Rider (2000), Kristen Britain.  

Who’s next on my TBR? Let’s see, I’m looking at Pamela Sargent, Lois McMaster Bujold, Linda Nagata, R. M. Meluch, Kay Kenyon and Tricia Sullivan. Who can you recommend for me?

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro Hammered by Elizabeth Bear This Alien Shore by C. S. Friedman

Women in SF&F Month Banner

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.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

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!

Women in SF&F Month Banner

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.


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?


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.


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,

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.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

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.)