Reading: Elizabeth Bear — Shoggoths in Bloom

Elizabeth Bear is a writer I’ve heard about for some years, possibly from the attention she received for the short story, Shoggoths in Bloom, which won the Hugo in 2009. At any rate, a name that’s reasonably pervasive in the skiffy/fantasy world. Possibly for that reason – because of the high frequency of disappointment I experience reading authors who are hyped – I’d avoided her till now. Actually I have something of an unconscious self-regulating ‘Do Not Purchase’ protocol when it comes to authors who are receiving a little too much breathless and enthusiastic praise, so it says something about the author that I’d bypassed said protocol and slapped down lazily-earned euros for this collection of short stories.

Once again, Saladin Ahmed is to blame; once again by way of the Fearsome Journeys anthology. Bear’s story, The Ghost Makers was one of at least four that caused me no end of curiousness about the authors and a visit to my regular bookshop. I was somewhat reluctant when I reached her story, I’m really not sure why, possibly I’ve picked up books of hers in the past and given the first pages a whirl then put them back down. Turned out to be rather good.

The third then, from the anthology, after K. J. Parker, and Scott Lynch (slipping in my reading blogging here, three books at least I haven’t gotten to yet). Stories that go from fantasy to near-ish future sci-fi to speculative history, none of which so far follow the deeply worn standard path of any of them. It’s a very good thing I can read fiction at such a frantic pace as I expect I’ll be reading more of her.

Reading: K. J. Parker — The Folding Knife

I hold Saladin Ahmed largely … hmm, entirely responsible for my current fantasy reading. Well, I’m responsible for the whittling down of the choices, but nonetheless, I read his Throne of the Crescent Moon, thought it was brilliant, plundered the internet for what else he’d wrote, which caused me to read the Fearsome Journeys anthology, where I found several delightful authors, and lalala off to the bookshop! Anthologies, the best way to find new authors.

K. J. Parker, then. Gender non-denominational. A pseudonym even. Possibly living in England, just read an interview with them and there was something of the Banks (that’d be Iain) in the smart, quiet, droll intelligence. Fantasy, also. -ish. Well, obviously, given the anthology I first read them in. Knows how to wield semi-colons and blacksmith hammers.

There were a few stories in Fearsome Journeys I liked enough to look up the authors, and of those four or so I thought would be worth reading more of. KJP’s story, The Dragonslayer of Merebarton somehow got me through the writing. The story also, but the writing and the person behind the words. When The Folding Knife arrived, I had no recollection of who they were or why I decided to buy it (not so unusual), and writing this, a quick return to the Dragonslayer wasn’t enough for me to conjure up the story in its entirety, but I did remember the feeling of it, smart (that word again), also melancholic, tragic even.

Now I’m a few chapters in and ooh yes, expect if it keeps on at this rate I’ll be doing my “Collect the Whole Set!” routine on Parker. (Though I do have four other fiction works to get through, as well as a reading list that is heavily skewed towards gender stuff for the next couple of months, and several other fiction pieces after that which fall into the filling in the gaps category, so I might not be returning to Parker until spring.)

Reading: Ytasha L. Womack – Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

As usual, I didn’t read the blurb closely enough. I thought this was an anthology of Afrofuturist sci-fi and fantasy; turns out it’s an anthropological history of it. Which is actually probably better for me to read anyway. As to why I’m reading it …

There is a definite correlation with my reading decision in skiffy a couple years ago to actively read women authors – something I’d been musing on that also was prodded into deliberate action by a post on Charles Stross’ blog asking the question, “What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)? All male authors are disqualified.” (first comment: “This is going to be brief, and interesting…”). This obviously begged the question, “Where are the non-Anglo-American skiffy/fantasy writers?” a question I’ve felt much more of an urge to answer as the monoculture of the white male writer presents a stunningly limited worldview and range of possibilities for fiction.

Enter Saladin Ahmed, writing some kind of Arabian fantasy (Lovecraftian 1001 Nights-ish), which was so refreshing just for the different setting: no crypto-euro monarchism here. And between reading him and now, I have fallen into a rich world that appears to be on the cusp of becoming mainstream – well, as mainstream as reading sci-fi and fantasy printed on dead trees has ever been. Which led me to reading about Ytasha L. Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, and thinking, “Ooh, I’ll have some of that!” and so off we go, another book on my shelf.

I was hoping for an anthology though; that’s always been my reliable way of finding new authors (of which I currently have far too many and they are proliferating), but there are enough references in this that there will be at least one who will pique my interest. It’s also very United States focussed, but I’m a few chapters in and finding it a fun and quick read, and as well it’s causing me to think about how a conception of Afrofuturism is applicable to finding other ~futurisms: Islamofuturism, Persofuturism, Turkofuturism …

Reading: Scott Lynch — The Lies of Locke Lamora

erm, yes. Finished 560 pages of Charles Stross’ The Bloodline Feud one long Saturday of reading. Lucky I have more! Not the remaining two of the Merchant Princes Omnibus, they shall have to wait till next month. Instead I have the beginning of newness, courtesy Saladin Ahmed.

First I read his Throne of the Crescent Moon, which I loved very much and is high on my list for book of the year, then discovering he had nothing else published except in an anthology decided to buy that: Fearsome Journeys, which I read last week. And there I discovered some utterly brilliant stories that made me head to the internets to see what else they’d written, do a bit of rummaging to find something I’d like. Fantasy writers have a habit of penning series, cycles, trilogies, sequences, and so on, which I don’t like starting mid-way. I also don’t have much patience for stuff older than 10 or so years, so sometimes it takes much said rummaging to find something that fits which also has received at least reasonable reviews.

Short stories are a very good way to find new authors, though not an infallible method. But considering most of what I’m buying in the way of skiffy or fantasy is approximately the cost of a couple of coffees, it tends to not be such a loss if the experience turns sour.

So, Scott Lynch, partner of Elizabeth Bear who was also in the anthology and is also vaguely on my list, was one of the first to arrive, so is what I’m now reading. It’s the first of The Gentleman Bastard Sequence, which I like just for the title. The cover suffers from a pox of embossing and gilding (or perhaps coppering), but otherwise isn’t horribly embarrassing. But today is the German elections, so I am mostly distracted with that and probably won’t finish this today. Possibly good if I restrain myself.