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Archive for July 2015

Influential Fantasy for Heroines

By Sherwood Smith (@sherwood_smith)

Originally published at Book View Café

Okay, so I’m old, and have been reading a long time. People sometimes ask, What fantasies were you reading before… [before Harry Potter, before The Hunger Games, before whatever-is-popular now]. This discussion sometimes evolves into influence, and popular tropes.

This is especially true when people ask what fantasies do I think have been influential for today’s readers? Sometimes that influence seems obvious—Terry Brooks had clearly read Lord of the Rings before he wrote Sword of Shanarra—but not always. I believe that literature is in constant conversation with itself, and that conversation changes as we age and a new generation of readers comes up.

As that literary conversation ricochets back and forth, it’s interesting to see what patterns become an accepted part of the framework of tales—and then change. For example, after JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings first became popular in the mid-sixties, during the seventies, when fantasy was on its enormous rise, it seemed that every fantasy had to feature the good guys off a vaguely European map to the west, evil guys to the east, and ugly and evil orcs versus super-pretty (pointy-eared) elves. Terry Brooks leading the pack.

The discussion of influence sometimes turns too quickly into pejoratives. This is not new. The term “Tol-clones” has been around since the days when Lester del Rey enthusiastically marketed Sword of Shannara, though I have met young readers who (this is before Peter Jackson’s films) were astonished to hear Terry Brooks, or David Eddings, just to name two, called Tol-clones. These authors might have been their first encounter with fantasy, and their stories read fresh and new to them. Of these, some tried Lord of the Rings just to disparage it as old-fashioned and fusty.

The era of “Tol-clones” seems to have passed. Of late I’ve heard complaints about fantasy going to grimdark rape-fests, which is about as far away from Tolkien’s ethos as one can get, and also about fantastical or superficially science-fictional dystopias (the sciences being as rubbery as the world building). These latter are constructed around an evil government that for murky but story-compelling reasons forbids teens to do X, forcing young people either into the coliseum as blood sport or requiring them to submit to some dire law X as our doughty heroine discovers her special powers and angsts her way between the good bad boy and the bad bad boy.

Much as all these stories have been scorned as commercially motivated pablum, I think there’s something interesting about what tropes become so popular that for a while they seem standard. I think they say something interesting about our cultural development, as our government, whatever else you think about it, is not forcing people to buy and read these books.

One of the aspects that I wanted to touch on today was the evolution of the heroine. Even the heroine and her bad boys (who have become so common they are satirized, as in this example above and to the right here) demonstrate something: we’re seeing females not just gaining agency, but assuming it as part of their birthright.

Even when angsting all over the landscape about her bad boys, today’s heroine has come a long way from her foremother who was relegated to waiting passively for a suitable hero to choose her for her purity and beauty.

So. I picked four novels whose elements I think have ramified out through fantasy, and which I think have been especially influential for female readers and writers. The first two masqueraded as sort of science fiction, but the fantasy elements were very strong.

 

WitchWorld The first is Andre Norton’s Witch World. It came out first in 1963. I read it as a junior high student—and reread it several times, checking that same well-thumbed copy out from the library.

Like all Norton’s early work, the main characters were men, and Norton wrote under a seeming male name, but her heroines became increasingly more prominent as they gained more agency, their powers usually defined by telepathy. Norton was the first that I was aware of who mixed medieval elements with science fiction, and explored shapeshifters as well as telepathic impressment, which gave her heroines more agency though they had little physical strength.

I don’t know how these books read to the under thirty crowd—too often when I bring up Norton’s name I either get “Who?” or “I’ve heard of her, but haven’t read anything by her.” She still has stalwart fans who might be graying, but reread these books faithfully.

 
Dragonflight Like many later writers, Anne McCaffrey, in her Dragonflight, picked up on the impressment and telepathy theme, tying it to dragons in her mix of sf and fantasy elements set in the world of Pern.

This book has undergone an interesting evolution over the decades, specifically with the question of non-consensual sex: when the dragons mate, their riders are drawn into the experience with one another. For Lessa, the heroine, this was her first introduction to sex—and she had no idea what was happening.

As I recall, no one talked about this aspect back in the seventies. We were so used to books that required “good” heroines to be virgins without sexual feelings (the anguish of attraction was okay as they waited for the hero to discover their worth)—in so much literature women were regarded as objects, but all the sexual feelings were reserved for men. For many young female readers in the seventies, it seemed stunning that Lessa actually enjoyed the experience—and was not afterward discarded, but held her position and respect. It was guilt-free sex, because she hadn’t chosen it, which was a trope often found in romances at that time.

For fantasy, at least in my experience as a reader who talked to other women about reading, Dragonflight was a real game-changer. And it was another real eye-opener when younger women during the past decade or two read it and were squicked out by the heroine’s lack of choice! Attitudes toward heroines’ agency had completely changed, heroines choosing partners rather than waiting with maidenly modesty to be chosen.

 
ThePerilousGard Elizabeth Marie Pope: The Perilous Gard.

This one came out in the mid-seventies, and it still reads really well today, I think. The Tudor culture is beautifully rendered, the prose excellent, the characters complex.

It had a tremendous influence on young writers who afterward reflected Pope’s version of the Sidhe, and how they could not create, but only could glamour. Pope’s doctoral work had been done in literature and philosophy of that period, but during conversation once she told me that this book was influenced by Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. The heroine has great moral agency, using her wits to outsmart a compelling (female) adversary.

 
TheBlueSword Finally there is Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, which, printed in 1982, is the most modern of the set.

I think of this one as pivotal: it shows the influence of these earlier novels in the telepathy and powers, and also Georgette Heyer’s influence, but it strikes out in new directions. At least I see McKinley’s Harry was the first kickass heroine, who not only gains powers but trains in the art of the sword, becoming a formidable fighter.

It’s surprising how many people I have spoken to who list this as one of their top comfort reads, and I believe it holds up well with younger readers—at least so far, I haven’t heard it take any hits in the way that McCaffrey’s Pern novels have.

 

Sirens Accepted Programming for 2015: Papers

By Hallie Tibbetts (@hallietibbetts)

I’m pleased to point you toward the papers, lectures, and similar presentations that have been accepted for this year.

Papers and lectures feature one or more presenters talking about a topic. Some speakers may give more formal readings of scholarly papers, with or without time for questions at the end; others may give relatively informal lectures with more audience participation. They’ll analyze, compare, and consider. They’ll present research. And they’ll give you their thoughts for pondering.

After a couple of years with fewer papers submitted for consideration, I’m pleased to see renewed interest from presenters. I hope that if you’re attending Sirens, you’ll make time to try a paper, lecture, or presentation—or two! Follow this link to find out about the presenters and what they’ll be talking about in these presentations:

“All the Queen’s Women”: Female Political Leadership in Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles

Confessions of a Pro Book Buyer

Hermione Granger: Student Revolutionary or Dumbledore’s Enforcer?

Lumberjanes: Comics for Hardcore Lady Types

The Pen Is the Sword: Sara Estela Ramírez, the Revolutionary as Poet

The Princess and the Picture Book

The Revolutionist’s Handbook: Deploying Your Dragons, Sorceresses, Spies, and Economists

Warriors, Philosophers, and Queens: Legendary Women throughout History

If you would like to support both Sirens and our presenters, we invite you to sponsor these (and other) presentations. The cost is $35 per presentation, and we will include your name next to your chosen topic on the accepted programming page. We’ll also list your sponsorship in our program book for this year’s event if we receive your sponsorship by August 21, 2015.

 

June Recap: Sirens News, Book Releases, and Interesting Links

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of interesting links, June book releases of fantasy by and about women, and a quick review of Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Look for this ever-expanding collection of good news to come to you mid-month in the future.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, please get in touch. Send news to (help at sirensconference.org), and see the Sirens Review Squad section below for how to become a reviewer.

 

ON THE BLOG: JUNE 2015

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 7, Issue 8 (June 2015)

Testimonials: Why did you decide to attend Sirens the first time?

Five Amazing Science Fiction/Fantasy Works for Fantasy Readers Who Struggle with Science Fiction

Testimonials: Why do you think Sirens is important?

10 Fantasy Books with Lovely, Lyrical Prose

Sirens Auction and Bookstore

Nine Books with Dragons!

Inverness Hotel: It’s Where You Want to Be

 

YOU’RE EXCITED ABOUT…

Interesting Links:

 

Book Releases:

2015JuneCollage-12015JuneCollage-2

Click each image for a closer look at the covers.

May 26:
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories: 75th Anniversary Edition, Angela Carter, introduction by Kelly Link

June 1:
Girl at the Bottom of the Sea, Michelle Tea
Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, ed. Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer

June 2:
Because You’ll Never Meet Me, Leah Thomas
Briar Queen, Katherine Harbour
Children of the Earth, Anna Schumacher
Circus Mirandus, Cassie Beasley
Deadly Design, Debra Dockter
Descent, Tara Fuller
The Dragons of Heaven, Alyc Helms
The Edge of Forever, Melissa E. Hurst
Fandemic, Jennifer Estep
From a High Tower, Mercedes Lackey
Hidden Huntress, Danielle L. Jensen
The Hidden Prince, Jodi Meadows
The Master Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg
Powerless, Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs
The Shadow Revolution, Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
Saving Her Destiny, Candice Gilmer
Shards of Hope, Nalini Singh
Siren’s Fury, Mary Weber
Spelled, Betsy Schow
Stories of the Raksura: The Dead City and The Dark Earth Below, Martha Wells
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, Sarah Ockler
The Witch Hunter, Virginia Boecker

June 4:
The Changeling, Helen Falconer

June 9:
Alive, Chandler Baker
The Clockwork Crown, Beth Cato
Crash, Eve Silver
Dead Ice, Laurell K. Hamilton
The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
The Mechanical Theater, Brooke Johnson
The Stars Never Rise, Rachel Vincent
Waking the Dragon, Juliette Cross

June 10:
Waters of Versailles, Kelly Robson

June 15:
Almost Magic, Kathleen Bullock

June 16:
Glittering Shadows, Jaclyn Dolamore
Pure Blooded, Amanda Carlson

June 23:
The Blood Curse, Emily Gee
The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler
A Book of Spirits and Thieves, Morgan Rhodes
The Leveller, Julia Durango
Trailer Park Fae, Lilith Saintcrow
The Wand and the Sea, Clare M. Caterer

June 25:
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015, ed. Paula Guran

June 30:
Of Enemies and Endings, Shelby Bach
The Fire Children, Lauren M. Roy
Heat of the Moment, Lori Handeland
The Hollow Queen, Elizabeth Haydon
The Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton
The Princess and the Pony, Kate Beaton
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older
The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath, Ishbelle Bee
Soul Scorched, Donna Grant
Storm, Amanda Sun
Supervillains Anonymous, Lexie Dunne

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

We’d love to have more volunteers contribute short reviews of works they have read and loved. If you think you could contribute a book (or short story, or a work related to fantasy literature) review of at least 250 words sometime during the next year, we would be pleased—nay, thrilled—to have your recommendation for the Sirens newsletter.

Review squad volunteering is flexible; we simply ask that you share information about work you’ve enjoyed. (We are, of course, focused on fantasy books by and about women, and we hope you’ll consider interesting, diverse selections; if you’re not sure about a particular work, email help at sirensconference.org and we’ll advise!) You can contribute once or on an ongoing basis, and on a schedule that works for you. Please visit the volunteer system and, when we ask you what position you’re interested in, type in “Book Reviewer.”


SignaltoNoiseSignal to Noise
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela are struggling with their social status in high school in Mexico City in 1988. Meche, fluent in the language of music (one of the few things she has in common with her father), makes a startling discovery: she can use music to harm a bully. The manifestation of magic is something she shares with her grandmother, but their communication is too strained for Meche to learn from her. Meche realizes that she can feel magic’s power in vinyl, and that with Sebastian and Daniela’s (sometimes reluctant) help, she can make their wishes come true—only, not all of their wishes are for good, and the magic could tear her friendships apart.

Interspersed with the scenes of 1988 are scenes of Meche’s return to the city in 2009 after a long absence. She has come to mourn her father, not to mend old wounds. Still, she can’t escape the evidence of her past, and all of the feelings and memories that come with having once had a taste of magic.

While music is an important theme in Signal to Noise, I am fascinated by the oft-ignored theme of magic with consequences. Here, magic complicates what is already complicated, and its potential for destruction is neither academic nor remote; instead, its dangers are highly personal. I particularly want to chew on the idea of failure, too—failure to reach across generations and friendship fault lines, and what happens when people fail to pass on important information, leaving the followers to draw conclusions that aren’t always kind, or true, or fully understood. Failure to see the outcome of actions. Failure to find self-realization. Still, all of the failures lead to bittersweet reckoning.

If none of this hooks you, consider Signal to Noise for Meche, its angry, flawed heroine. She’s a character you’ll want to both comfort and unravel. –Undusty New Books

 

Six Fantasy Works for Sirens

By Yoon Ha Lee (@motomaratai)

 

GodStalk 1. God Stalk, P.C. Hodgell
This is the first novel of the Kencyrath books, which concern a people who have been fighting a losing battle against an ancient entropic foe called Perimal Darkling ever since their leader betrayed them in exchange for a cold creeping immortality. Ages later, a darkling named Jame escapes from captivity with only shreds of her memory intact, and powers that suggest that she may be part of a prophesied trinity destined either to destroy or revive her people. Jame is both a trouble-magnet (as befits someone who is almost certainly an avatar of Destruction) and a fully-protagging protagonist. Nothing stays the same in her wake—sometimes for good, sometimes less so. My first encounter with this series was actually through the short story “Stranger Blood,” in which Jame appears, and which I found in Imaginary Lands, ed. Robin McKinley; it’s since been reprinted in the collection Blood and Ivory: A Tapestry.
 
TheGoddessChronicle 2. The Goddess Chronicle, Natsuo Kirino
A retelling of the Japanese origin myths from a feminist viewpoint, as a young woman struggles, with the aid of the goddess Izanami, to find out why she was betrayed by her lover. Lush and dark.
 
Uprooted 3. Uprooted, Naomi Novik
A village girl named Agnieszka is chosen by a local sorcerer called the Dragon to serve him in his tower. Her contest of wills with him leads eventually to the uncovering of a conspiracy against the kingdom, and the revelation of an ages-old grievance. Many notable portrayals of women, from Agnieszka herself to her best friend to a sorcrerer-smith to the wood-queen who is the antagonist.
 
DragonsofAutumnTwilight 4. The Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning, Margaret Weis (with Tracy Hickman)
These books were terrifically popular when I was in middle school. I loved the fact that they featured strong female characters—from Tika the barmaid who leveled up to fighter (hitting people over the head with a frying pan!) to Lauralanthalasa the spoiled elvish princess who grew up to become a general and knocked the hidebound Solamnian Knights out of self-destruction and my favorite, the shamelessly sensual Kitiara and the dragon who was her companion. They are not by any means high literature, but as adventures they were a lot of fun, and I learned a lot from them.
 
Claymore 5. Claymore (manga series), Norihiro Yagi
The mangaka is male; the manga itself concerns an order of female half-demon demon-killers called Claymores. The relationships between the women and their rebelling against the Organization that controls them, as well as against the dark powers that control the island where they live, make for a gripping read, with lots of action.
 
AngelSanctuary 6. Angel Sanctuary (manga series), Kaori Yuki
Manga about a Japanese teenage boy in love with his younger sister, but as it turns out, his problems are only beginning: he discovers that he’s the reincarnation of the (female) angel Alexiel, who is condemned to live wretched lives as a human for rebelling against a corrupt Heaven, and his only way out is to take up the fight again.

 

Sirens Guest of Honor Interview: Yoon Ha Lee

We’re pleased to bring you the second in a series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor. We’ll cover a variety of topics relevant to Sirens with each author, from their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature and forms of resistance in both the craft and industry, as befits our 2015 focus on rebels and revolutionaries. We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Amy Tenbrink interviews Yoon Ha Lee.

S15_author_interview_graphic

 
AMY: Your published work is primarily short stories and even flash fiction. What draws you to these shorter forms? How do you think working with shorter forms differs from working with longer forms? I’m thinking especially of your skill in creating boundless secondary worlds in only a few pages and terrifically high stakes in only a few words.

Yoon Ha LeeYOON: My original thought writing short stories was due to the conventional wisdom (as far as I understood it when I was in 6th grade reading what were possibly dated how-to-write advice books out of the library) that you should start with the magazines and work your way up to eventually trying to sell novels. What I should have realized was that you learn how to do something by doing it, so that if I wanted to learn how to write a novel, I should have practiced writing novels. (Which, actually, I did, although they were terrible, as you might imagine of anything written by a typical high schooler.)

What I like about short stories is that they are very good if you want to focus on idea or concept. Orson Scott Card has a framework in some book of his on writing on how most stories are primarily about one of MICE—Milieu, Idea, Character, or Event (plot). (I have differences of opinion with Card, but I don’t see why that should prevent me from learning from him; his books on writing are quite good.) At short story length, it’s difficult to go into depth about a character, and there’s only so much plot you can cram in, but science fiction and fantasy especially are very good at allowing you to explore a single idea and its consequences. There might be examples of Milieu stories but I can’t think of them offhand.

You don’t have room to waste in a short story, and even less so in flash fiction, especially flash fiction of, say, 300 words. Part of this is market considerations. Over 7,500 words it rapidly becomes annoying to find homes for stories, so I try to stay below that length, which means efficiency becomes key. If you need to edit a short story down by 200 words, then you trim adverbs. If you need to edit it down by 2,000 words, you have to start killing subplots–editing the structure, not the small fry. (Although the small fry goes too.)

fox-tower-smallMostly, the difference between shorter and longer forms also seems to be in the kinds of structures you can get away with. You have space at novel or novelette length for character development especially, which is something I’m keen on learning to do; you can braid together viewpoints in ways that are hard to pull off at shorter lengths. At the same time, it seems to me that it’s easier to sell more “experimental” forms at shorter length because they can be exhausting to read at longer lengths. My go-to example for this is second person. I love second person—my first sale was a second-person story—but I would not, personally, want to write a novel in it. Certainly it can be done! But I would hesitate to tackle it myself.

I attended Viable Paradise VIII and one of the valuable lessons I received there came from James Macdonald in a lecture on how to suggest a setting. He gave the example of a dollhouse with paths leading all the way up to the edge of the lawn. (Lawn? Garden? It was something like that.) Basically, the metaphor was that if you suggest something outside the actual dollhouse, people will fill it in with their imaginations. You don’t have to describe everything. Just sketch in the outlines and people will do the rest. The key is to pick a couple of vivid details so that the reader has a kind of template for the rest of the setting. For example, if I talk about a garden full of “snow-laced birds,” that’s going to give a different impression than a garden overshadowed by “white birds of cutting mien.” These are terrible examples, but you get the idea.

As for stakes, the weird thing about universe-destroying stakes (not to poke too much fun! I watch Avengers movies too) is that you have to humanize them. My background is in mathematics (BA) so I am familiar with some of the way that human beings just cannot conceptualize numbers in relation to each other without some kind of aid. We are better able to relate to the deaths of three people we know than 3,000 we don’t partly because of the thread of connection, but partly because our brains don’t handle even mildly large numbers. (And, I mean, compared to the kinds of numbers they throw around in cosmology, 3,000 doesn’t rate!) When I want the reader to connect to the stakes, I try to make sure that there’s an actual character involved so that they can see the effects.

 
AMY: In several interviews in the past few years, you’ve stated that you often build stories as theorems to be proven (A+B=C, so therefore, what is A?) or technical challenges to be overcome (first-person plural, if you please). As a reader with an especial penchant for logic, I’m both utterly fascinated and not a bit surprised: I tend to find that your work comes with a certain logic or even inevitability–even though I don’t usually see it until the end, after my mind has been well and truly blown. Would you talk a bit about how this approach works for you in practice?

YOON: Part of this came about as an unexpected side-effect of majoring in math! And I wasn’t originally a math major; I started out as a history major, then switched into computer science so I wouldn’t starve, then switched into math when I realized math was more fun and I sucked at debugging. History is also a good foundation for writing, but as I said, I wanted to eat. Anyway, many people are under the impression that math is primarily about calculation, but that’s only one small part of math, the application of things like arithmetic or calculus. I was more drawn to pure math, and pure math is about argumentation—proof—rather than sitting there computing things. Some of the other math majors and I would joke that the only numbers we ever saw in our courses were 0, 1, pi, and infinity. (This wasn’t entirely true, but…)

In any case, in a good proof you lay out your axioms, you argue from them, you come to a conclusion, and you try to do this in an elegant and convincing manner. I don’t think this is the lesson that my math professors intended me to take from their classes, but I thought of this as a framework for storytelling. Certainly it is not the only framework for storytelling. It is, in a sense, story as a didactic entity—essay with a thin dressing of narrative. I like reading things with this sort of structure because they’re easier for me to follow, although I should note that I also enjoy very disparate types of fiction, including dreamlike narratives like Patricia McKillip’s novels, or Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.

The other reason I came to this method of writing was that for years I did the headstrong and stupid thing of starting stories without knowing where I was going or what they were about, and then coming to a dead halt because I had no idea what I was doing. If the method had worked then that would have been fine, but it became clear that it wasn’t working. Once in a while I’d finish a story; more often I’d end up with another half-written digital corpse. So I switched methods. I decided to switch to a proof-like method of writing, where I wanted to know what the “theorem”—the conclusion or ending—was in advance, and then I would work out what I needed in order to get there.

Please don’t think, from this description, that my writing process itself is neat! I spent a brief period as a high school math teacher, and I think one of the disservices math teachers often do their students is that they don’t show that the process of problem-solving can be messy and involve dead-ends, so that students get discouraged when their efforts aren’t “perfect” from the get-go. Certainly when I was an undergraduate working on problem sets, I would write out pages and pages of dead ends and go around in circles and copy out lemmas until I finally got the key insight I needed. Then I would rewrite the results into something comprehensible to the T.A. For me, writing is much the same. When I am in the early stages of a project, I thrash around and I half-write a bunch of openings and throw them out and whine to my husband (my husband puts up with an awful lot of whining) and beg him to plot-doctor my incoherent notes based on a set of conflicting desiderata. And after all that, a story emerges. The end product sometimes looks neat, but the process by which I got there—anything but.

As for technical challenges, I have something of an adversarial mindset, which got me into trouble when I was a student. If you tell me that something should not be done in such-and-such a way, then I want to know why, and I am apt to try it for myself to find out why the hard way. I believe strongly that sometimes the only way to learn to fly is to throw yourself off some cliffs until you figure it out. This doesn’t work in real life (well, unless you’re a bird maybe, which I am not), but in writing, you have nothing to lose. You don’t die if the story fails to work. At worst, the story doesn’t work and you have learned something new about writing. If an idea appeals to me, even if it’s completely cracked out, I may as well try it. And this is how I end up writing in second person and first-person plural and other things besides.

 
AMY: Your inspirations range widely: music, linguistics, war, math. What attracts you to certain elements? What are some sources of inspiration for you that readers might find surprising?

YOON: The embarrassing truth is that I get bored easily, so I flit magpie-like from hobby to hobby, and all of this eventually funnels into the writing. The inspirations you mention above are ones that I keep returning to. I loved music before writing; I have perfect pitch and I like to compose as a hobbyist (chamber orchestra, piano, electronica). Every so often I get out my keyboard and fool around on it, but I miss the days when I played viola in my high school orchestra. I also triggered airport security back in the mid-‘90s once, as a kid, because I was carrying half a dozen harmonicas. I guess it was all that metal! (I don’t remember why the harmonicas couldn’t have gone into checked luggage.)

Linguistics fascinates me because I love languages, although I have given up on my long-ago ambition to learn all the languages; there’s not enough time and my brain is tired. My first language was Korean, which is not remotely similar to English, but I am no longer fluent in Korean, and I can only stumble through interactions in it, with vocabulary limited to household phrases like “Where are the chopsticks?” I took French in middle and high school, and German and Latin in college, and am currently struggling to pick up a bit of Japanese. Years back I used to play around with conlanging (constructed languages), which is where I learned most of the linguistics that I know at all. These days I don’t really use conlangs for writing because it’s just inefficient unless the whole point of the story is the conlang, but I do miss it.

I have been fascinated by war for a long time, although earlier on, when I thought I was going to focus on writing high fantasy, I concentrated on medieval European warfare. It’s only more recently that I’ve tried to learn more about war elsewhere. My father was an Army surgeon at one point and I attended two Department of Defense schools when I was a small child. Later on I grew interested in questions of military ethics alongside questions of strategy and tactics and logistics. I read probably more military history than any other single nonfiction genre, but a lot of this is the type of history that focuses on generals, or military food (I have a book with some very hair-raising recipes…), or technology. And alongside those books I keep a couple books that are about wartime atrocities and military ethics explicitly because they look at war from a completely different angle, and I feel it’s important to remind myself that numbers aren’t fighting each other, people are.

As for math, I’ve covered how it helped me structurally, but the other reason I switched into math was its sheer beauty. Math is the language the universe expresses itself in. And people have a window into it! It’s unbelievable. I regret sometimes that I didn’t pursue a doctorate, but it would have meant giving up writing for that period of time and in the end I couldn’t do it. In the meantime, I may not be a mathematician, but I try to show people a bit of what I glimpsed as a math major, the edifices of pure thought.

There are other inspirations I just flirt with. The reanimation system in “Bones of Giants” was based on my fascination with traditional 2D animation. I don’t draw well enough to attempt it myself, but I love reading about it, and I’m in awe of the skill involved. I also get inspiration from things like anime—the two characters in “Bones of Giants” are based on Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell (gender-flipped to Sakera, female) from the anime show Gundam Wing—and video games like Planescape: Torment and Mechwarrior: Living Legends (a Crysis Wars mod). Tabletop roleplaying games too; “Combustion Hour” took some of its inspiration from John Tynes’ fascinating and disturbing fantasy/horror RPG Puppetland, and “Distinguishing Characteristics” was helped immensely by the example of Liam Liwanag Burke’s RPG Dog Eat Dog, which uses RPG mechanics to critique colonialism. I’m not sure it would be a fun game to play, but it’s certainly thought-provoking. “The Graphology of Hemorrhage” came out of a childhood fascination for those dreadful graphology books I used to find in libraries shelved next to the New Age stuff and which would claim to predict things like your bedroom predilections and whether you’re an introvert or extrovert from your handwriting slant. (Dreadful, but fun. I hunted down a bunch for my personal collection.)

Then there’s the jam in “The Contemporary Foxwife.” Strawberry jam was one of the two Western foods my maternal grandmother deigned to learn to make. (The other was spaghetti and meatballs.) It was extraordinary jam, and while I have had many lovely strawberry jams in the United States, I have never had one that matched hers for intensity and sweetness. When I was a child, whenever I slept over at the old family house, I was permitted to go into the kitchen and collect a little dish of strawberry jam, nothing but the jam, and eat it with a spoon for my breakfast. I don’t know if my grandmother’s household ever had bronze fox spoons, but my mother told me once that she’d heard a story that during the Japanese occupation, the Japanese came by and confiscated all the bronze spoons, not because they were dangerous but because the metal was needed for the war effort.

And the dolls in “Wine” came from a more recent hobby, ball-jointed dolls (BJDs), which I found out about because I follow the fairy/fantasy artist Amy Brown. At one point she was selling some used BJDs. I didn’t buy any of those, but I was struck by how beautiful (and, okay, expensive) they were. I did some research and eventually ended up buying four of my own. My husband thinks they’re creepy, which is a point in their favor. (My husband puts up with a lot.) I love how customizable BJDs are, and also how creative people get with them—you can change up the wigs, the eyes (I love that you can take out the eyes and put in new ones!), the clothes, make modifications to the dolls themselves (although if you’re doing this, please pay attention to the necessary safety precautions as resin dust is poisonous)…

On a more frivolous level, any time you see a lizard in one of my stories, that’s a nod toward my daughter, who is now eleven years old. Her nickname is “the lizard” so it’s my way of acknowledging who’s in charge of the household!

 
AMY: You write diverse characters, including many smart, powerful, world-changing female protagonists. How do you choose and create your characters?

YOON: It’s interesting that you mention the female protagonists. I can’t remember when I started doing this, but it was a definite decision—I sat down at some point after I’d started publishing stories, and started counting how many POV/protagonist characters were male and how many were female. And now, how many are nonbinary, but I didn’t know about that then. (I’m working on it now.)

The thing about counting is that numbers are not the enemy. (Of course, a math major would say that.) My reasoning then and now is that if there’s some terrible imbalance in how I’m generating characters, I’m unlikely to be consciously aware of it. But once the story has been written, I can count up whatever statistics and see if they’re trending in a direction I’m happy with, and work toward a goal.

I’m trans and I identify as male and I find it somewhat easier to write male characters because that’s how I myself identify, and for this reason I will continue to sometimes write male characters, because it’s something I can permit myself to have that I am denied in real life, and I am not going to erase myself from my own writing. But at the same time, I feel it’s critically important for more female characters to appear in fiction. I have an eleven-year-old daughter and I want her to have more reading options showing smart, interesting girls and women; I don’t even bother looking for biracial protagonists in YA fantasy (my husband is Caucasian, so my daughter is biracial) because it just narrows the field too damn much when it’s hard enough to find the kid additional things to read and she does things like blowing through all of Harry Potter in a week. (We let her read pretty much anything that she is interested in reading, but we sometimes supply supplemental material.)

In any case, every so often I go through and make an inventory and see if there’s a particular category that I want to work on. Do I expect that the count will be balanced in every category? Frankly, no; I don’t expect to present equal representation in my own work. But I want there to be some representation in some categories, as an earnest of good faith, even if it’s a work in progress.

Sometimes when writing multiple characters, I’ll pick genders (say) for logistical reasons. If I have five characters, it’s unlikely I’ll write all of them as the same gender because of pronoun collision. Sometimes I go through a short story, say, and I’ve originally written certain characters in various combinations of gender or whatever, and then I’ve had to delete a character so it unbalances everything else, and then I have to go through and fix things.

I will add that I have in fact changed the gender of characters in drafts to deal with imbalances that I personally was not happy with. This causes massive proofreading problems because once I decide that, say, Kel Khiruev is a man, my brain forever believes that “he” is a correct pronoun for Khiruev, and won’t flag it as wrong even if it’s no longer currently correct. If I’m going to do something like this I usually flag it in a note to my beta readers so they aren’t confused (and so they can help me catch the stray pronouns!).

As far as roles played, I suspect that I have too much liking for genocide and military plots, so my characters do slant that way (generals, captains, fighters of all sorts). I recently turned in an adventure story for an anthology and it was so unsettling because the anthology wanted a more lighter-hearted, heist-like plot, so I went in for a thief as the protagonist. I never write thieves! Really, it comes down to what best suits the logistics of the plot. On rare occasion the character comes first, but it’s more usually the plot or concept, and then figuring out a character that intersects that plot or concept in a useful fashion.

 
AMY: In interviews, you’ve spoken about both assassinating the reader and cornering the reader, leading me to guess that you consider the reader almost an opponent—which, as a negotiator by trade, I respect deeply, and as a reader, I find delightful. Would you expand on how you view readers, and how you think (or like to think) that they’ll interact with your work?

YOON: I feel odd admitting this, but part of my philosophy toward the reader comes from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, where I’m doing my best to control the “battlefield” by controlling what information the reader has. Of course, as the writer I have a certain advantage; especially since I tend to write secondary worlds, the reader only has the information about those worlds that I choose to give them, plus whatever they may deduce from those worlds’ similarity to our own. For example, if I give the general indication that the characters are human, then it’s unfair for me to suddenly spring on the reader that they actually reproduce by pollination two lines from the ending. (Unless it’s some kind of reproductive twist ending?)

In any case, I generally tend to withhold information unless there is some good reason to give it, although this is not always a great way of going about it, because I am aware that I’m not as good at making my work comprehensible as I could be. But the thing is, I see extremely dedicated readers sitting there nitpicking details in stories, or in Star Trek night skies, or the journey in Lord of the Rings, or whatever it is. I feel that this is unfruitful and it’s better simply not to provide that level of detail in the first place; then they can’t prove things are right or wrong one way or another. Give the amount of detail that the story needs for its existence, and leave out everything else. A proof would be written the same way. If you want to prove the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic, you don’t additionally throw in a bunch of stuff from point-set topology into the proof. (I assume. I didn’t get to algebraic topology so I imagine there’s a connection somewhere for more advanced students of mathematics.)

On my end, I work off a model of the reader as opponent because I’m fundamentally adversarial in outlook. I find it easier to figure out how to do my job if I think of it in terms of outwitting an enemy. One of my friends back in college said that I liked to “punish bad assumptions”; I don’t know if I ever achieve that ideal, but it’s something of the feeling of what I try to do. And as a reader myself, or a viewer of narratives in TV and movies, I enjoy this kind of cat-and-mouse as well. I like playing what I call “plot chess” against the narrative by trying to figure out where the plot will go before it goes there. It’s a game only really suited to certain kinds of storytelling—it’d be fair game in something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, less suited to something that doesn’t give thematic or plot clues to future events.

As for how readers interact with my work, they can do so however they like. I’m keenly aware that not every story is for every reader, which is why it’s a good thing to have a lot of variety in what’s available. Some people will like what I write; some people will hate it; either way is fine. Obviously, I am vain and I would love it if people liked my writing, but I won’t take it personally if someone doesn’t. I will be sad for fifteen minutes and then, because I have no attention span, I will forget about it entirely. Sometimes having a terrible attention span is a decided advantage.

 
AMY: Lastly, tell us about a remarkable woman of fantasy literature—an author, reader, agent, editor, scholar, or someone else—who has changed your life.

YOON: I thought about this for a while, and I have to say it’s someone you almost certainly haven’t heard of, which is my kid sister. She’s read practically everything I’ve written since we were children, and she’s always encouraged me. We both got interested in fantasy and science fiction around the same time because she read everything I was reading despite being two and a half years younger. Even today we consider our book collections to be held in common, although our tastes in literature have diverged somewhat. I probably would still have persevered in writing without my sister’s presence, because I am stubborn, but it sure wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. She’s the only person whose fiction recommendations I trust, not because other people are evil, but because my tastes are so idiosyncratic and she’s the only one who’s known me long enough to have a chance of figuring me out. I also still remember the time when we were kids in Korea and Amazon.com had just come into existence, and we somehow sweet-talked our dad into buying us the entirety of Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber. (It is as well I don’t know what the shipping cost.) When the books arrived, we stayed up all night reading them, all of them, straight through. Or, well, my sister did, because she went first. I got through the ninth one, fell asleep waiting for my sister to finish the tenth, and then read the tenth on the next day. Whenever I get rejection slips, acceptances, anything to do with writing—my sister is the first one to know.

 

Seven Fantasy Books Featuring Non-Western Mythology and Folklore

By Shveta Thakrar (@ShvetaThakrar)

Mythology and folklore are two of my very favorite things. I could eat them for dessert, I like them so much. But instead, I will offer you some titles starring myths and folklore not seen often enough in the West!

 

GhostBride 1. The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo
Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but her father has lost his fortune, and she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family urges her to become a “ghost bride” for their son, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at what price?
 
ThePalaceofIllusions 2. The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Divakaruni
A retelling of the Mahabharat from Draupadi/Panchaali’s point of view: Married to five royal husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom, Panchaali aids their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war. But she cannot deny her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna—or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands’ most dangerous enemy—as she is caught up in the ever-manipulating hands of fate.
 
AkataWitch 3. Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor
Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
 
TheWrathandtheDawn 4. The Wrath and the Dawn, Renée Ahdieh
A retelling of 1,001 Arabian Nights: Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch…she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
 
Prophecy 5. Prophecy, Ellen Oh
Set in fantastical Korea: Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and she’s also the prince’s bodyguard. A demon slayer and an outcast, she’s hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And she’s their only hope…. Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King’s prophecy, but the legendary lost ruby treasure just might be the true key to victory. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, an evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost, while raising a prince into a king.
 
SummeroftheMariposas 6. Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall
A retelling of The Odyssey: When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale. With the supernatural aid of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?
 
TheWoodWife 7. The Wood Wife, Terri Windling
Leaving behind her fashionable West Coast life, Maggie Black comes to the Southwestern desert to pursue her passion and her dream. Her mentor, the acclaimed poet Davis Cooper, has mysteriously died in the canyons east of Tucson, bequeathing her his estate and the mystery of his life—and death. Maggie is astonished by the power of this harsh but beautiful land and captivated by the uncommon people who call it home—especially Fox, a man unlike any she has ever known, who understands the desert’s special power. As she reads Cooper’s letters and learns the secrets of his life, Maggie comes face-to-face with the wild, ancient spirits of the desert—and discovers the hidden power at its heart, a power that will take her on a journey like no other.

 

Sirens: A Love Letter

Today, we present you a love letter to Sirens by co-founder Amy Tenbrink. To those who have have attended Sirens previously, you know Amy’s speeches are legendary. 

 

Dear Sirens,

S15_author_interview_graphicOver the years, we’ve come up with an easy response for people who inquire as to your nature: why, of course, you’re a conference about the remarkable women of fantasy literature. With a name that both demands attention and references the legendary sirens, what else would you be?

In founding Sirens, we knew what we wanted: a place about women and women’s work and women’s passions. A place where a woman can, without shame or irony, declare herself a queen, a dragon-master, a general. A place where women aren’t constrained by what our real-world society demands.

That was the seed of what we wanted to build: a light in a world of stories that frequently exclude us. And we did. Sirens is a blazing sun devoted to discussion, debate, and celebration of the remarkable women of fantasy literature, whether they are readers, authors, scholars, publishing professionals, librarians, or educators.

But, Sirens, you’ve become so much more than that.

Sirens, you’ve become a community. A thoughtful community. A smart community. A warm, friendly community that welcomes people of all genders, sexualities, races, abilities, and identities. A community that discusses, with respect, what fantasy literature by women has done—and what it can and should do in the future. A community that reads. That listens. That disagrees. That celebrates. A community that, to many, many people, now feels like home.

Sirens, women are extraordinary.

And fantasy literature gives us the chance to explore the full depth, breadth, and complexity of that extraordinariness. Without limits. Without boundaries. Without reality. Where success doesn’t look so homogenous and agency isn’t reserved for men. Where women can rise and rule—our way, with our skills and our goals. Where we aren’t too ambitious, too outspoken, too strong, too weak, too collaborative, too afraid. Where we choose, and things happen not to us, but because of us. Where we can celebrate what we are, not excuse what we aren’t. Where we emerge victorious, accomplished, proud. Because we are extraordinary.

Sirens, you are those conversations. You are that choice. You are that complexity. You are the voice of every member of your community. You are that celebration.

So often, people end love letters with “don’t ever change”—which is utter nonsense. Sirens, change. Welcome new voices and new thoughts. Expand your universe. Learn. Become something smarter and friendlier and better than what you even are today.

Sirens, you are extraordinary.

Love,
Amy

 

Saturday Books and Breakfast

In so many fundamental ways, Sirens wouldn’t exist without amazing, popular, controversial fantasy works by women. And yet, between the programming, the author readings, the dance party, and the always-amazing keynote addresses, sometimes we don’t find time to talk about books. Let us help you!

Each year, Sirens selects a variety of books on our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast and have an informal conversation about those books. To be fair, you don’t have to have read the books to come…but we hope you’ll read one or two!

Here are the Books and Breakfast books for Saturday, October 10. Read on, Sirens.

 

AliftheUnseen Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson
Alif the Unseen reads like a tech thriller—at least until it becomes about myth, faith, and politics. Set in the City, an unnamed city in the Middle East, hacker Alif shields his clients (rebels, pornographers, anyone else who can pay) from the prying electronic eye of the state. After being dumped by his lover, Alif designs a program that can identify anyone online, a terrific thing until Alif’s computer—and his program—are seized by the state, endangering the City’s entire underground populace of hackers and dissidents. There it begins, but where it ends is a place where myth, faith, and technology live, logically, magically, hand in hand.
TheGoblinEmperor The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
If political intrigue—lies, machinations, manipulations, threats unspoken, and alliance murky—is your type of rebellion, look no further. Following a purported accident, Maia, the estranged, half-breed son of the goblin emperor, is thrust onto the throne. Maia finds himself at the center of a court willing to control him at best, kill him at worst. The Goblin Emperor is a chess board of a book, played on a board of intrigue and malice, where Maia wants to be the revolution, but needs to protect himself from rebels in the meantime.
TheInterrogationofAshalaWolf The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, Ambelin Kwaymullina
Revolutions sometimes turn on the smallest of things: in the case of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, the ability of the dissidents’ leader to withstand torture. Betrayed by a friend, captured by the government, at the mercy of a mysteriously compelling machine, can Ashala withstand the onslaught and save her people—or are things not entirely what they seem?
TheMirrorEmpire The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley
Sometimes an author writes a book that is, in and of itself, revolutionary. On the eve of a periodic, catastrophic event known to destroy continents, individuals across a variety of cultures jockey for position. Some of these are rebels, some are political opportunists, some are existing leaders, but all of them live in a world where the unknown is about to become known—which might be a very bad thing. Most striking—and most revolutionary—Hurley reconfigures the binary notion of gender in The Mirror Empire, sometimes allowing for gender that changes over time, sometimes allowing for more options along the spectrum.
TheYoungElites The Young Elites, Marie Lu
Magically talented rebels, secret plots, some romance, and a catastrophic conclusion mark the first in Lu’s The Young Elites series. Adelina is a survivor of the blood fever, a disease that left her with white hair and only one eye. When she discovers her father is going to sell her not as a wife, but a mistress, she flees—only to discover that the fever left her with illegal powers she can’t control. Seized by the government, saved by a shadow society, danger at every turn, Adelina has to decide what she wants—and decide if that includes revolution.

For Friday selections, please visit this post.

Friday Books and Breakfast

In so many fundamental ways, Sirens wouldn’t exist without amazing, popular, controversial fantasy works by women. And yet, between the programming, the author readings, the dance party, and the always-amazing keynote addresses, sometimes we don’t find time to talk about books. Let us help you!

Each year, Sirens selects a variety of books on our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast and have an informal conversation about those books. To be fair, you don’t have to have read the books to come…but we hope you’ll read one or two!

Here are the Books and Breakfast books for Friday, October 9. Read on, Sirens.

 

Bitterblue Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore
You can’t talk about revolution without considering a queen who agitates from the throne. Bitterblue, the third of Cashore’s Graceling books (which can be read as a standalone), contemplates just that: a young queen, beginning to rule her damaged kingdom in her own name. Bitterblue must learn, and quickly, whom to trust and what changes she needs to make for the good of her people.
TheBookofThePhoenix The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor
If full-scale revolution complete with infiltrating government facilities is your thing, this is your book. The Book of Phoenix (the later-published prequel to Who Fears Death; it can be read as a standalone) tells the story of Phoenix, a two-year-old experiment in a forty-year-old woman’s body, who starts a revolution. In a world where magic and science have merged, and are continuing to merge, and not in always in ways that anyone can control, The Book of Phoenix examines fear, doubt, freedom, and love.
AnEmberintheAshes An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
Spies? Check. Assassins? Check. Tahir’s debut novel has subterfuge, intrigue, and political power galore. Laia, the spy, is one of the oppressed, someone who has enlisted the help of her nation’s rebels to assist her brother, in exchange for her subversion. Elias, the assassin, is one of his nation’s finest soldiers, upholding the brutality of the empire even while he plots his escape. Threaded, always, with a line of hope, An Ember in the Ashes begins a new series about power, deceit, and rebellion.
FireLogic Fire Logic, Laurie J. Marks
The women in this book will kill you—quite literally, but also metaphorically. Marks has written a trio of complex, capable, fascinating women (and a couple fascinating men as well). Set in a country overrun for fifteen years with invaders, Fire Logic shows us the high cost of resistance. The book, the first in a yet-unfinished series, centers around Zanja, a trained diplomat, as she ends up entangled first in a slaughter and second in a rebellion led by a people not her own. And on the way, she falls in love.
TheSummerPrince The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson
Don’t let the sci-fi stuff fool you: this book is magic. In a post-apocalyptic world where people can turn themselves into data streams, Palmeres Tres is a lush, buzzing, tech-heavy city in Brazil. Ruled by women, a Summer King is selected—and killed—every ten years, his death validating the continued matriarchal rule. In this world, June, like everyone, falls in love with the Summer King—but June and the Summer King use their connection to create explosive, revolutionary art.

For Saturday selections, please visit this post.

Five Fabulous Epic Fantasy Works by Women

By Kate Elliott (@KateElliottSFF)

Excerpted from our Sirens Guest of Honor interview with Kate posted earlier this week.

Any time I start listing recommendations I know I will leave out writers, and it is my considered opinion that one of the obstacles women writers (and writers along other diverse vectors) face is invisibility. Even in 2015 people still say, “but women don’t write epic fantasy.” I’ll be honest. Every time I hear that statement I may roll my eyes, because it’s so absurd, but it also hurts a little because by any possible definition I write epic fantasy and have been doing so for (as you point out) years. (In fact, now I feel old. OLD, I tell you.)

First, how are we defining epic fantasy? Massively long multi-part series set in historical-type settings, but with the addition of magic, fantastical creatures, and an empire- or earth-shattering conflict? Or any long fantasy, maybe in parts but maybe not.

I don’t have a definitive definition and I don’t think anyone does or ever could. I would urge every reader to seek out new worlds . . . and writers new to them. Exploration is half the fun.

Strangely enough, this thread from 2014 over on Reddit mentions a LOT of names. With great trepidation I’m going to mention five names only with the understanding that there are many, many, many works I love out there, and far more I haven’t (yet) read. I’m choosing these as examples to branch off from and it actually pains me not to make a comprehensive list of 100 or 150 writers because I want to salute all the people. Please understand that I bitterly regret each writer who isn’t mentioned here. Please seek them out. They are fabulous.

 

TheTimeoftheDark 1. The Time of the Dark trilogy, Barbara Hambly
Barbara Hambly’s The Time of the Dark trilogy from the 1980s. Grimdark before the term was being used to describe male-written gritty fantasy. This is a portal fantasy about two people from our world pulled into a very dark and grim world indeed. A classic.
 
Daggerspell 2. The Deverry series, Katharine Kerr
Katharine Kerr’s 1986-2009 Deverry series (start with Daggerspell but make sure it is the revised version). A complete series of 15 books with a story highlighting how actions have consequences that unfold across lifetimes (it used reincarnation as a theme before Robert Jordan did). A fully detailed world, memorable characters . . . just read it.
 
TheSunSword 3. The Sun Sword series, Michelle Sagara West
Michelle Sagara West’s The Sun Sword (1997-2004) six-book series. Empires at war, demons invading from another dimension, and one of the most intense examinations of how duty and loyalty bind people together and tear them apart. This is dense and often slow moving, and rich in characterization and setting. There are also both prequel and sequel series to The Sun Sword, but I’m starting you out slow. For “lighter” fare by the same author, try her “Cast In” (Chronicles of Elantra) series.
 
TheHundredThousandKingdoms 4. The Inheritance Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin
N. K. Jemisin: Some might argue that her books aren’t long enough in word count to qualify as epic but her Inheritance Trilogy is about a war among the gods, for goodness sakes. How can that not be epic? Jemisin is a consistently vivid and smart writer, and I loved the Inheritance Trilogy and her The Killing Moon duology, so naturally I also look forward to her new series which launches in August and is about cataclysmic events that shatter civilizations, The Fifth Season.
 
TheYoungElites 5. The Young Elites, Marie Lu
Marie Lu is one of many newer writers who have made their careers in YA when, twenty years ago, they might well have debuted in adult SFF. Her The Young Elites is a strong fantasy with chaotic magic, rival factions, and a girl who may become the villain we should all fear.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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