Sorrow and Joy in History

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from the British writer Jacey Bedford, whose latest book, The Amber Crown, came out January 11.]

By Jacey Bedford

The Amber CrownThe king is dead, his queen is missing. On the amber coast, the usurper king is driving Zavonia to the brink of war. A dangerous magical power is rising up in Biela Miasto, and the only people who can set things right are a failed bodyguard, a Landstrider witch, and the assassin who set off the whole sorry chain of events.

I love stealing from history for my fantasy books. When I was researching for The Amber Crown, which has a Baltic setting, I found some fantastic nuggets from the pages of history that turned into inspiration. I offer two examples, one so gory and grim that it makes you wonder who thought it up in the first place, and whether they were entirely sane. The other is so fantastic that my critique group thought I’d made it up, but I just transplanted it straight from history.

Grim enough to be Grimdark

Let’s get the grim one out of the way first – execution by sawing. I don’t put this on the page in all its gory detail, but sawingone character thinks it might be his fate, another reflects on it after seeing it take place. We tend to know about hanging, drawing and quartering. The drawing by the way was being drawn to the place of execution on a hurdle, not having the guts drawn out of the belly while still alive. So the victim was drawn through the streets, hanged and then his body cut into quarters. So really it should be drawn, hanged and quartered, in that order.

Accounts differ, but sawing, with a two-handed saw, could be across the body, or lengthways down the body starting at either end. The medieval illustration in Wikipedia shows that they tied the victim upside down on a frame, legs apart, and then began to saw them in half, lengthways, staring at the crotch. The theory was that because they were upside down the blood drained towards the head and so they didn’t bleed out, or pass out, quickly, but stayed alive and screaming while being butchered like an ox. It’s hideous, so I reserved it for traitors and king killers. In The Amber Crown it’s a character we haven’t met who suffers this fate, so it’s not as personal as if it’s a character we’ve already become invested in, though, sadly, it is an innocent man. Continue reading “Sorrow and Joy in History”

Finding comfort in reading

Today I want to write about something reassuring, comforting or even cheering. The last few weeks have been isolated and the solution has meant much sleep and a bit too much discomfort and pain. This is more than somewhat typical of the lives of far too many of us right now.

I explored my library for comfort reading. Normally, when in crisis or misery, I’d take a large stack of books off the shelves and pile them to be read until life improves. Tonight I discovered I’ve already done that. None of the books I most needed were there. I couldn’t find the stack I’d put them into and so I thought, “I have around 7000 books. I can find another comfort read to talk about.”

I did better than that. I found my copy of Van Loon’s Lives (written and Illustrated by Hendrik Van Loon). My copy is from 1957, and has the same cover as the one I found in the local library. I first discovered it when I was teen recovering from whooping cough. Or maybe I’m simply linking the two, because I had a vaccination and am full of some of the aches that went with whooping cough. I re-read it again soon after, when I was confined to bed for two very slow weeks because something was wrong with my back.

I thought then, “Why is this like What Katy Did, and yet… not?” One reasons is that Katy addressed her illness by moralising. If she turned into the right kind of person, then she would be fine. By the end of her ordeal, she was over her illness and had become of the centre of the family. Perfect outcome. I got over my illness much faster (and, to be honest, it wasn’t severe, just a shock to not be able to get out of bed without help and to be unable to do most things) but I haven’t been and never will be a central point for my family.

Also, two weeks is not a long time. It feels like a long time for a teenager, but, in the absolute scheme of things, two weeks passes.

All of this meant that What Katy Did is not comfort reading right now. But Van Loon’s Lives is, despite the fact that Van Loon invites Torquemada for dinner but has a lack of interest in fascinating Jews. Even if I were one of the great people of history, I’d not have been invited.

Why?

It’s a book that’s full of historical dreams. Each chapter is a dinner party with famous guests from Van Loon’s sense of the past. I could read a chapter back then and that chapter would lead me to memories of other books and thoughts of what I wanted to learn about history. The first Queen Elizabeth makes an appearance, and, while my body was recumbent, my mind argued for hours about the Elizabethan material Van Loon invented and that Alison Uttley used in A Traveller in Time. That’s the special magic of Van Loon’s Lives. It’s a fantasy novel. The food is wrong, the history is not the history I know today and, even as a teen I as wondering about it, but, back then, it brought famous historical figures to life and made that enforced bedrest less intolerable.

Van Loon’s most interesting historical figures matched mine when I was a teenager. We were taught, in Australia in the 1970s, that there was nothing interesting in Jewish history but that European Christian history was magic. I wanted to meet almost all the people he wrote about. Some I knew about already (Elizabeth, for instance, and Voltaire – Voltaire is someone I’ve read a lot, but cannot like as a person), while others were my newfound lands, and I began to explore who they were and what they did (Erasmus and Descartes, always come to mind). This fantasy book triggered a whole new path of independent learning, a couple of years before university offered me formal tracks. I remember feeling so pleased that I worked out how to cook Van Loon’s own speculaas from his description in the book. It wasn’t the first bit of food decoding I’ve done from literature, but it was one of the most satisfying.

It’s been so long since I first read it that I suspect that I’ve forgotten most of what I discovered back then and really ought to begin again.

A few years ago, when I finally found my own copy of the book, I realised I had changed and with my changes came a new interpretation. As an historian, each chapter and its meal and guests told me much more about Van Loon and the way he saw the past than it told me about the history of any other period. I realised that I had learned to discount myself and my own history. It wasn’t just family I would never be central to. It was part of a reconsideration of what I knew and why I knew it and who I was. This is part of the trail that led me to write The Wizardry of Jewish Women, The Time of the Ghosts, and The Green Children Help Out. Instead of arguing from my sick bed, I argued using my own fantasies.

And now, why is it comfort reading again? Van Loon’s Lives was first published in 1943. Hendrick Van Loon wrote his book under a kind of lockdown. He was in exile from his homeland, which was under Nazi occupation. Nothing like our COVID lockdowns. In its way, this set of dinner parties is an emotional safety net for the war that was then raging. Van Loon himself doesn’t leave the war out of the volume, and the epilogue that one can’t know without investigating his life is that he wrote the book when in exile and died before the Nazis were defeated. He never went home.

It’s a comfort book right now because it’s a reminder that other writers have handled the impossibilities of life. We talk a lot about Camus, because he wrote about plague and we know plague. But the isolation of great change and the memory of how very welcoming and magic life was just a few years before the world turned upside down is just as important. It provides a way to evaluate the world that contains some emotional safety. Hendrik Van Loon sets the novel in the 1930s, when his world was safer and it was fine to invite famous guests from different times and different places.

I wonder if it’s time for another fantasy dinner party book to be written for our own comfort? Who would it include? Who should we leave out? One thing’s for certain, all the food history I’ve done in the last forty years would be useful. I know what to feed Thomas Jefferson and Elizabeth I and, yes, even Erasmus. I don’t know if I’d invite Jefferson or Elizabeth or Erasmus. Time for a new set of thoughts triggered by this single volume.

Exploring the Undiscovered With Robert Freeman Wexler

Undiscovered TerritoriesRobert Freeman Wexler’s novel The Painting and the City was recently released in paperback by The Visible Spectrum and his collection Undiscovered Territories is now out in limited editions from PS Publishing.

Robert and I met at Clarion West in 1997 and have been friends ever since. It helped that we share a love of Texas music and also that we liked each other’s work from the beginning, despite the fact that we are very different writers.

So this will not be an arm’s length interview, but rather a chance to revel in the very different worlds that Robert can create. His is the kind of fantasy in which anything might happen.

NJM: Hi, Robert. Welcome to the Treehouse.

RFW: Hi Nancy. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

NJM: I’ve seen a lot of discussions by writers about magic systems of late. Some writers set up systems of magic as detailed and documented as those used to explain the science in hard science fiction. Others wing it a little more, but still have rules. But many of the fantastical things that happen in your stories don’t seem to fit into any rules of any kind. Why have you chosen to do that?

RFW: This isn’t something I’ve thought about at all, so I can’t say I’ve even made a choice. But I hope that my lack of rules doesn’t make everything feel random, unthought, arbitrary. In my writing, rules, if there are any, grow subconsciously, organically, for what fits the story. Things need to make sense, even if they weren’t created with textbookish thinking.

NJM: If I were going to describe your work, the word surreal would come into it. What surrealist works influence you?

RFW: Salvador Dalí, first, as in the first surrealist artist whose work I saw, because my mother gave me a book of his art when I was young. After Dalí, you could say pretty much everyone else. René Magritte, Max Ernst, Remedios Varo, Yves Tanguy, Victor Brauner, art and writings of Leonora Carrington. And those whose art I’ve seen but can’t remember their names. And others not necessarily surrealist but connected, like Joseph Cornell or Giorgio de Chirico. So, sure, all of them. However, Magritte especially, because I attempted to use his imagery in a lot of early stories.

NJM: I’ve always considered The Painting and the City as a love letter to New York City, though one mindful of theThe Painting and the City contradictions of its history and its difficulties. Was it intended that way? As someone who once lived in NYC, what are some other thoughts you have about the city?

RFW: I didn’t set out to write the city a love letter, but I can see the novel giving you that sense. New York has always been in constant flux, yet maintains its sense of self. Not the public, generic self of the Big Apple or whatever, but as a city that’s an originator, incubator, etc. It’s a big messy place, beautiful and horrible. Ruined by too much money yet not all of it, not all the time. One reason is that it can’t sprawl like other cities, so change needs to conform to geography. Although I just read about a plan to extend the city into the harbor, past Battery Park.

Unlike, for example, Houston, where I grew up, which spreads like a bloated sewer with no sense of self. Or that’s the Houston I remember from growing up there. Maybe it’s different now. Houston has become one of or maybe the most culturally diverse city in the country, which is neat, and way different from when I lived there.

But back to NY. Unable to expand and annex the way other cities do, New York sprawls upward, leveling shorter buildings to build taller ones, usually condominiums for the continual and continually mysterious influx of young people with money. That destruction-construction bothers me, especially in what I consider to be my parts of town, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. I would rather those be preserved, especially Chinatown.

And speaking of rapid change to beloved cities, I recently read a book called Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper—A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop, which is in part a love letter to the city of Chengdu and Sichuan food. She went to Chengdu as a student in 1994. In the late ’90s, during China’s push to industrialization, she saw massive changes overcome the city.

In the mid-nineties, Chengdu was still a labyrinth of lanes, some of them bordered by grey brick walls punctuated by wooden gateways, others lined with two-storied dwellings built of wood and bamboo. (p. 38)

Later, in 2001:

…during the architectural reign of terror of city mayor Li Chuncheng (or Li Chaiqiang—‘Demolition Li’—as he was popularly known). Li was a man determined to make his mark on the era by demolishing the old city in its entirety, and replacing it with a modern grid of wide roads lined with concrete high-rises. Great swathes of Chengdu were cleared under his command, not only the more ramshackle dwellings, but opera theatres and grand courtyard houses…. (p. 41)

One week I would be cycling through a district of old wooden houses…the next, it was a pile of rubble, with a billboard depiction of some idealized apartment blocks overhead. (p. 110)

…It felt like a personal tragedy for me, to fall in love with a place that was vanishing so quickly. My culinary researches began as an attempt to document a living city; later, it became clear to me that, in many ways , I was writing an epitaph. (pp. 110-111)

This kind of change hasn’t happened to New York, yet. But I find the concept interesting, the idea of someone with the power to recreate a city without having to worry about those little people who live in it. And, so, I’ve used this power of destruction reconstruction for a fictional New York, in a middle grade novel that I finished last year. A man known as the Developer is in process of reforming New York in exactly that way.

I set The Painting and the City before 9/11 because that’s when I lived there. I had intended The Painting and the City to be a 9/11 novel that never mentions 9/11, but I must have failed, because no one noticed. Continue reading “Exploring the Undiscovered With Robert Freeman Wexler”

Helicon Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Jeffrey A. Carver!

Treehouse Editor Crow is excited to report that Treehouse author Jeffrey A. Carver has been named recipient of this year’s Helicon Society’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award!

2022 Helicon Award Badge

From his perch in the treetop, Carver responds, “This came to me as a bolt out of the blue. The Helicon Awards are announced each year by the Helicon Society, ‘a collective of SF/F authors and other creators who subscribe to the Superversive approach to creating SF/F media and look to promote good quality sci-fi/fantasy…’ The judges and membership are anonymous. They have been announcing these awards since 2019. I am humbled and gratified that they have found my work worthy of a lifetime achievement award! Thank you.”

Here are the past winners of Helicon’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award:

  • 2019 – Jack McDevitt
  • 2020 – Anne McCaffrey
  • 2021 – David Weber
  • 2022 – Jeffrey A. Carver

Carver is delighted to join their ranks.

See the recipients in other categories here. Congratulations to all of them!

Out of the Silence and into Culture Shock

Today I’m thinking about a group of older Australian science fiction and fantasy books. I’ve just finished writing them up for a magazine (several articles, will appear sometime in 2022) and I am just emerging from culture shock.

There’s a difference between reading something for fun and reading it with intent to analyse. The ‘intent to analyse’ means I have to delve into how the novel is put together, what it carries with it to the reader and a bunch more. It’s where my historian brain tackles my writer brain for my own work, and where my historian brain meets up with my editor and literary brain when I’m thinking more academically. To be honest, I have no idea if it’s possible to shift between different parts of myself in this way. I pretend I do, though, by changing my vocabulary and approach to the novels and working out which audience I’m writing for. Sometimes I go profoundly wrong in this, especially when I’m writing pure literary studies in the middle of writing novel myself, and editors have saved me from myself several times now.

Back to culture shock. The novel in question is out of copyright, so you can find a free copy and argue with what I’m saying here, or nod sagely, or simply get angry. It’s a good novel, but very much of its time. It’s Erle Cox’s Out of the Silence and was first published (as a newspaper serial) in 1919.

The thing about analysing a novel is that I’ve got to get under its skin and see how it works. This brings me up close and personal. When a story has a group of people who decide that their view of their own cultural superiority means they should commit genocide (as Cox’s novel did) I can’t politely distance myself and say, “Thank goodness I am not that person” and put the book down. I have to understand why the story was told in that way and that means reading deeply into it and analysing it word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence… I want to list all the different levels of one type of analysis and move on to another and generally prevaricate rather than address this subject. That’s how bad it is when you can’t say “I’m a superior being.”

The big question is, in this instance, why I couldn’t just say “I’m a superior being and this is something I don’t have to worry about.” I’ve seen any number of reviews and articles implying just this.

Firstly, a century later, it’s easy to see Cox’s prejudices. It’s easy to see that those who actually committed genocide were the baddies as Cox intended, but that all the good human beings were equally potentially culpable. It’s not so easy to see my own bias. Who do I condemn to a secondary position when they’re in my vicinity? How do I do this? I can explain Cox’s novel, but I’m in no position to judge Cox.

Secondly, as I said just a moment ago, Cox is of his time. He was born in 1873. During his lifetime his home state went from being a colony to being a part of Australia. In chronological order, during that same life, Ned Kelly (is Australia’s Jesse James a good description? Maybe…) was tried an executed. Women were given the vote. Many, many people Cox would have known would have died in World War I and then from the influenza pandemic after it. The Russian revolution and so many other world events changed the world as he knew it, and he saw so much of it, as a journalist. All of this was before he serialised the novel.

After he serialised the novel the world changed again and yet again. 1873-1950 is a heck of a time for a science fiction writer to live though. By the time the last edition of Out of the Silence was published (1947), Cox had seen more than one attempted genocide. His novel wasn’t prophetic – it simply turned into story what a journalist saw.

That’s the thing. We write science fiction about futures and about strange worlds. They always include us and are always about us. I can’t know if I have Cox’s level of prejudice against some people or his capacity to be honest about racism. I can say, having looked closely at his work, that he intended his novel to reveal uncomfortable truths and to help address them. I doubt if he saw his own biases clearly.

I need someone to analyse my work if I really want to know these things about myself. I do. I want to know.

It’s moments like this when honesty about ourselves when we read and analyse can bring the most uncomfortable truths into daylight, where it’s very hard to ignore them. This is the culture shock. It’s not the first time I’ve suffered from it, and I sincerely hope it won’t be the last. I hope I don’t ‘recover’ from it and bury these truths. Insights may sometimes be terribly uncomfortable, but both my own fiction and myself will be the better for this one.

Seeing the old year out with the memory of books

I promised one more old post. This one is also from BiblioBuffet. It was published 10 October, 2011. I thought it matched last week’s post and also it gives you some hints of the kinds of directions I might follow with my new series. Also, it’s very, very hard to go wrong with lists of ten.

Next week is a new year and a new post. This new year is entirely unpredictable, as we’re all sadly aware. The only certainty in it is that it will contain books. I hope, for all of you, that it also contains joy. Health, income, all the things would be terrific, too.

 

Lists of ten – again

I love lists. Today I have a list that’s ten items long. It could have been five, or a hundred, or even a thousand. I want to tell you ten things I love about books and illustrate them using some of my recent reading. Some of the recent reading is hot off the press, and some is less so. I’ve chosen books from the speculative fiction end of the reading spectrum. This might be because they reflect my reading recently. It’s just possible. Let me admit, up front, that I know some of these writers. I wish I knew them all, but I know just a couple. Once there is something in someone’s writing that you love, the likelihood is quite high that when you meet the person in question, that you will get on. I’ve only given examples from writers whose books struck me for these precise reasons before I ever met the writer in question.

My ten things:

1. I love exploring someone else’s politics through their fiction, especially when that fiction is very fine. My book for this is Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. It’s all about freedom and the life of the mind and the limitations that we humans place upon ourselves. A lot of political books written in the 1970s have become dated, for life has changed since the seventies, but this one hasn’t become dated at all. It’s still vibrant and forceful.

2. Lyrical writing couched secretly inside a genre novel. It takes me by surprise and gives me a sense of the world being right, every time. So many of my favourite writers have this flavour in their writing: Hope Mirrlees, Alma Alexander, Mervyn Peake. My example for today, however, is Daniel Fox’s Dragon in Chains because he manages to take a non-Western universe and make it feel particular and its own, while still maintaining that lyricism.

3. Sometimes language and concept and personality infuse a writer’s work. Cordwainer Smith and Roger Zelazny are two writers who don’t seem to be able to write a word of fiction without that word somehow defining the universe anew. My example book for Zelazny is probably the least of all the writings of either author: The Last Defender of Camelot. It is, however, the one I re-read most recently. When I get some time, I intend to re-read the whole Amber cycle, plus Smith’s Norstrilia books. Which means, of course, that my example for Smith is Norstrilia itself. Time is the limiting factor. Their worlds and their words haunt me even when I don’t go near the writing for years on end.

4. The historian deep inside me (well, maybe not so deep, in fact maybe just the one who shares the same skin as the rest of me) loves a book that explores another world that breaks with what we accept as normal reality and that does so in such a way that the reader accepts things that are unacceptable or understands things that are usually conceptually too difficult to grasp. Not that I want to accept the unacceptable, but that I really like writing that’s strong backing world building that’s even stronger. Aliette de Bodard’s Harbinger of the Storm is today’s example of that. An Aztec society, with gods and belief systems and treatment of women that are very uncomfortable for me, and yet I must read and continue reading for she makes it real. Lord of the Flies was the same but more so ‑ hate the world, but must believe it can exist.

5. There is happiness in small things. Grumpy fairy tales and twisted minds. When I was a child I read James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks and The Wonderful O. They rang truer for me than most other children’s literature at that time. The other book that I fell in love with (and have a lion’s head doorknocker right now, to prove that doorknockers are crucial to grumpy magical existence) is William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring. The bizarre fairytale is still my favourite book by Thackeray, and this despite me having read Vanity Fair at least four times.

6. There are warped and twisted books for adults, also. There is Shriek. An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer and there is almost anything by James Enge. I was reading Enge’s The Wolf Age and I finally realised that it’s not the sharpness of these books or even their views on society that make them so delightful, it’s their inventiveness. Enge’s imagination is always one step beyond my mind’s reasoning ‑ he manages to think of places I’ve never thought of and make fantasy worlds look fresh and new.

7. There are trilogies. There are sets of trilogies. What there are, too, are occasional authors who manage to write one big book that has been broken up into parts that make coherent narrative sense but that are nevertheless mere aspects of one big book. I always find one of these near my desk, for I have a weakness for them. Right now there are two books by Joe Abercrombie, and there is Ravensoul, part four of James Barclay’s Legends of the Raven.

8. I love it when the people of two worlds meet. There’s always a book in my vicinity that shows the clash of cultures or someone who was brought up in two worlds or is touched by two worlds and has difficult choices ahead. The most recent book that touched on this (and leaves it unresolved ‑ I must read the next book!) is Jon Sprunk’s Shadow’s Lure.

9. Steampunk! Right now, for me, steampunk is alone enough to make me look twice at something. From the reasonably standard romantic approach to machines and villains and changing worlds expressed in Andrew P Mayer’s The Falling Machine to the steampunk romance of Katie MacAlister, but the best encapsulation right now, for me, personally, is in the work of Cherie Priest.

10. New approaches to something that I thought I knew. Eye-opening and making the whole world new. This is the most exciting writing of all. My example is Kafakaesque, and I shall write about it properly in due course. Some books demand attention of their own, and this is one. The editors’ genius in placing Carol Emshwiller, Kate Wilhelm and Theodora Goss in the same volume make it something that shifts what thought I knew about short stories. This is my current reading, and it’s wonderful.

What the Humans have been Up To

Bright MorningThe humans have been busy working on a book together. This is something we crows have not seen them do before. The book is in honor of someone they knew who died. We do know about honoring the dead.

They call this book Bright Morning, and they have filled it full of stories. Being the resident editor of the Treehouse, I looked it over. There are no stories about crows, but there are some about horses, dogs, and dragons, so that’s all right. At least the humans are thinking about beings other than just themselves.

Here is their announcement about the book, and a picture of the cover. There will be a paper book with a shiny cover next month, they say.

Vonda N. McIntyre preferred to keep her author’s biography short and sweet: “Vonda N. McIntyre writes science fiction.” While true, this modest claim conceals accomplishments that earned her multiple accolades and an enduring place among the most influential fantasy and science fiction writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Even more important to the authors of this tribute anthology, McIntyre was a kind and generous supporter of other writers. In Bright Morning, eleven career writers of science fiction, fantasy, and other genres share stories of hope in her honor, along with their memories of working with McIntyre. Profits from the anthology will benefit a charity that promotes literacy for children all over the world.

Bright Morning
An Anthology of Hopeful Tales
In Honor of Vonda N. McIntyre

from the Treehouse Writers
edited by Deborah J. Ross

Order Bright Morning from your favorite bookseller

 

Award-Eligible Works by Treehouse Residents

As 2021 draws to a close, writers in the Treehouse want to call attention to the new works they published this year. These works are eligible for writing awards based on year of publication. These works include three novels, a novella, and three short stories that are already in print.

Additionally, four of the stories in the forthcoming anthology Bright Morning, which will be published on December 20, 2021, qualify as short stories. Bright Morning, edited by Treehouse resident Deborah Ross, honors the late Vonda N. McIntyre. All proceeds go to Room to Read, a nonprofit supporting literacy and education for girls.

Novels:

A Valentine for One – book 8, Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. August 2021.  (mystery)

The Green Children Help Out, by Gillian Polack ( (fantasy)

For the Good of the Realm, June 2021 by Nancy Jane Moore (fantasy)

Novella:

Intermezzo – Household Matters” – novella, tie-in to Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. January 2021. (mystery)

Short Stories:

“Mannikin,” by Madeleine Robins in the March/April 2021 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (science fiction)

The Missing Forget-Me-Nots,” – mystery short story, tie-in to Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. August 2021. (mystery)

Karen’s Secret Story,” by Gillian Polack (science fiction)

Original Stories from Bright Morning (forthcoming December 20), all science fiction:

“Sanitizing the Safe House,” by Leah Cutter.

“More Lasting Than Bronze,” by Judith Tarr.

“Panacea,” by Pati Nagle.

“Harden,” by Gillian Polack.

A Psalter for Our Times

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A few years back, when Becky Chambers was a guest of honor at FOGcon, I checked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet out from the library and promptly got hooked. We ended up with a complete set of the Wayfarers books.

So despite the teetering piles of unread books cluttering every flat surface in our place, I got a copy of her new novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which is the first in a new series of Monk and Robot stories.

The dedication page reads:

For anybody who could use a break.

And while I knew I needed a break, I don’t think I realized just how important that was until I read this book.

There are two good reasons why this book provides just the kind of refreshing break that we all need these days. Continue reading “A Psalter for Our Times”

Something worth celebrating

I’m sorry I’m a bit late this week. Instead of a long post, you get a short thought.

I was totally caught up in meeting deadlines and then I met them and I took a break and I found myself asleep before I’d written my post. Why did I need to do so much catching up? I’m just emerging from a stint with the historical fiction side of things. I was at the Historical Novel Society of Australasia’s conference. It was wonderful and has set me thinking a great deal about what I need to do with my own research.

I’m taking a break from my own research at this precise moment: I will return to it in fifteen minutes. Instead of reviewing literature that analyses fantasy and fairy tales and rhetoric and related subjects, I’m thinking about the research I did on historical fiction and fantasy, a few years ago. It’s one of the reasons I attend the HNSA conference every two years.

The conference itself reminded me that different genres require different styles of research and use different techniques to integrate that research into their fiction so that the novel reads like a novel and not like a failed academic treatise. I got to see some wonderful writers talk about their work and gently I realised that it’s about time to admit to a terrible truth.

Writers who successfully cross genres and write mysteries as well as historical fiction as well as science fiction as well as different kinds of fantasy are doing something intellectually very difficult. Hidden beneath the entertaining novels are some frighteningly good brains doing amazing amounts of exactly-the-right research and thinking.

I’m taking a moment to toast all these writers. I’m toasting them in very fine coffee.