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People Like What They Like

So, the 2014 Hugo finalists came out. And the usual furor ensued about which authors are pushing which agendas--which is always an interesting conversation. Over at Tor.com, Liz Bourke posted "Sleeps with Monsters: How about Those Hugos?," and I found the comments section to be an interesting cross-section of SFF fans. I found one of Liz's responses to a reader, who claimed one author promoted no agenda in his work, telling. She wrote: "You don't see the message, perhaps, because you agree with it. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, nor that it doesn't alienate as many readers as it entertains."


Best novel nominee Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, which has been recommended to me a ridiculous number of times, and which I'm looking forward to reading.


There are a lot of accusations about how nominees for the Hugos are selected because they promote certain PC agendas. These usually come from readers who enjoy traditional SFF elements, in novels which are frequently led by a white-cis-male protagonist. Disclosure: I like a lot of traditional SFF stuff myself, and I'm a fan of shared-world fantasy, which tends to revisit a lot of the old tropes over and over again. (Sometimes in new and interesting ways, but that's a conversation for another post.)

I also like books with female protagonists. I like books that show different cultures and different worldviews, and I like books in which the diversity of opinions and worldviews and ethnicities reflects the same sort of complex world we live in, rather than assuming one unified cultural identity. I have sometimes surprised myself by liking books that stray outside my normal relationship comfort zones. (Triptych by J. M. Frey was one of the novels that most impressed me in 2011. If it hadn't been recommended to me, I might not have read it, as I'd have thought it wasn't my sort of thing--and I'd really have missed out.)

I think that what people who talk about "diversity checklists" may not realize is that people don't nominate those books because they promote a certain agenda (though that might be part of it). People nominate those books because they like them. They enjoy reading that type of story. Those books provide the same level of entertainment and emotional arc for readers who like that sort of thing as traditional novels do for readers who like that sort of thing. And for people who are bored of the white-cis-male-led stories, there are still plenty of people who enjoy those books, and there's not anything wrong with that (so long as those books aren't the only thing being published).

People like what they like. As long as the world continues to be a diverse place, we're probably going to keep disagreeing about what we like and what's good. And as long as we can disagree respectfully, I think that's okay.

Grizzly Bear Dancer

Today on Powwows.com, I discovered one of the coolest Powwow dancers I think I've ever seen: Laura John, a St’át’imc dancer from British Columbia. I've never seen a Grizzly Bear dancer before, and she does an excellent job of really evoking the movement of the animal. (We talk about mimicking the movement of animals in kempo, but this is on a whole different level!)



I don't have much to add other than that you should read about her here, and definitely check out the linked videos to see how she dances. It's kind of amazing to watch her!

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Hugo Nominations, Part Deux



Only 11 days until Hugo Nominations are due, and I'm still sorting through my list of titles, deciding what I'm going to nominate, figuring out what authors I read compulsively had titles out in 2013, etc., etc. I'm used to nominating for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, which require a single-book nomination to stand alone, so entries in the "Kate Daniels" series or the "Kitty the Werewolf" series aren't eligible. Not so with the Hugos! The stand-alone quality is not a judge of merit. (Notably, I'm behind on the Kitty books, which is why I haven't listed one below. I've no doubt that the two published in 2013 are awesome and worthy of consideration!)

Taking into account what a "typical WorldCon voter" is expected to be like (see Jim Hines on Larry Correia on Alex Dally MacFarlane; my comment is, of course, tongue in cheek), here are some of the pieces and people currently on my whittling-down list:

Campbell eligible:
Max Gladstone
Shawna Mlawski
Mark H. Williams
Brian McClellan

Short stories:
"Drona's Death" Max Gladstone, xoxo Orpheus
"The Best We Can" Carrie Vaughn, Tor.com
"Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy" Jim Hines, Unidentified Funny Objects 2
“The Life Expectancy of Cockroaches” by Michelle Muenzler, Crossed Genres
"Galatea Odysseus" Madeline Miller, xoxo Orpheus
"The Squid Who Fell in Love with the Sun," Ben Loory, xoxo Orpheus

Novels:
Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
Sleepless Knights by Mark H. Williams
Pen Pal by Francesca Forrest
Codex Born by Jim Hines
Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
Cold Copper by Devon Monk
Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews
Hammer of Witches by Shawna Mlawski

Graphic novels:
RASL by Jeff Smith
Saga vol 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Hawkeye vol 1 by Matt Fraction and David Aja

Editors:
Moshe Feder
Marco Palmieri
Stacy Whitman
Erika Tsang

Dramatic Long Form:
Choice of the Deathless by Max Gladstone -- notably, this is an interactive novel game app, which may mean this isn't technically the category for it, but there's some buzz this year about nominating games for this category, and I'm all for that.

I'm still poking around the Internet to make sure I haven't miscategorized 2013 titles in my head as belonging to other years. What books and stories are appearing in your nominations lists (if you're voting), or which would you pick (if you're not)?
Happy International Women's Day!

DSC_0008

Back in 2006, Lindsay Archer and I sat (and sang, and entertained passers by) together at GenCon, selling copies of Into the Reach and other Chronicles of Ramlar RPG books. Now, with the final book of the Redemption Trilogy on the horizon, we've almost come to the end of the journey that started there.

To celebrate International Women's Day, DriveThruRPG is featuring games and novels by female game designers, writers, and artists. There's a lot of great stuff there, including quite a lot of Firefly RPG content from Margaret Weis Productions. Into the Reach and Departure, by virtue of being written by me and illustrated by Lindsay, are also included in the feature. I think this is a fantastic way to point out just how many women are creating works in the role playing game industry (thanks in part to leaders like Margaret Weis, who have been there since nigh on the beginning). It's nice to be a part of this community!


I've sent in my final nominations for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards jury that I've been serving on for the last few years, and I just got the e-mail that Hugo Award Nominations are open. Exciting stuff! I'm not shy about sharing books I love here, but I'm not always up on what's eligible and what's not. Here are a few highlights of folks and books I think deserve to be recognized (with the note that I have not fully researched their eligibility):

  • Fellow Substrater Max Gladstone is in his second (and last) year of eligibility for the Campbell award. His novel Two Serpents Rise is eligible for Best Novel. There is no question in my mind that he's getting nominations for both from me. Go Max!

  • I'm not sure if Shana Mlawski is eligible for the Campbell, since her first novel is a YA, but if she is, she's also on my list. I'm a little surprised there's no YA/children's category for the Hugos, but I guess that's what the Nortons are for. Shame I'm not an SFWA member (one day!) and thus can't weigh in on those.

  • Mark H. Williams's Sleepless Knights is both brilliant and, I believe, eligible. I'm pretty sure he could be nominated for the Campbell also; it's his debut novel, but he is also a playwright and television writer, and I don't know how that plays out with the Campbell award.

I have to go back through my list and figure out which books I read last year were actually published in 2013 so I can determine what's eligible. I read so much stuff for review before it comes out (and catch up with so many books in the couple of years after they're published) that I always have to go back and look.

Who are your nomination choices this year? Who should I be paying attention to who's eligible for stuff? (And please, don't be shy about recommending your own books!)
For awhile, I was burned out on vampires. I'm still not 100% back in the fold; as I told editor Rose Fox back when I was reviewing for PW, I'm running out of things to appreciate about vampire novels in paranormal romance and urban fantasy. (Which is not to say that the appearance of a vampire is enough to irk me; I don't mind vampires, but I've stopped picking up vampire novels, if that makes sense.)

Vampires are problematic. Even at their most civilized, they're either predators or parasites on humanity, and a good vampire novel should give me some cool insight into that, or insight into what it means to be a predator or parasite (if told from the vampire's point of view). That's what I'm looking for, anyway. I know the whole smexy vamp scene works for some, but there's nothing inherently cool about fangs or blood that draws me.



Unless the story is going back to vampires older than Stoker's popular Dracula icon. What prompted this post today is that I was reading a kids' folklore book about vampires for SLJ and I remembered a YA vampire novel I'd really loved--because it was based on older-than-Vlad-III Eastern European folklore. But I couldn't, for the life of me, remember the title, and since I read it before I started my book log spreadsheet, I didn't have a record to check. After some searching, I found this excellent review by Christina Chavez over at CSUF YA Book Reviews of Marcus Sedgwick's My Swordhand Is Singing. This, my friends, is the book whose title I keep forgetting, and it is an excellent and scary modern novel based on some of the spookiest vampires I've read. These walking corpses are out to kill the family members they left behind. Tricks like crossing water to prevent being chased, or throwing millet seeds because vampires can't help but stop and pick them up, feel fresh, not because they're new ideas, but because they're not as frequently used as so many other elements in vampire lore. The story is ultimately about the relationship between teen hero Peter and his father, rather than about the relationship between Peter and vampires, and I think that's part of the strength behind this book in a genre that so often identifies with the monsters instead of fighting them.

A friend posted on facebook recently about how much horror (mostly talking about film) has changed since the pre-90s creature features fell out of style. I noted that because a lot of horror and urban fantasy novels use the point of view of the monsters, the stories tend to focus on different themes:

  • identity politics (esp. for vamps and weres--what does it mean to have a secret identity as something despised by humanity?)

  • coming to terms with the drudgery of modern life (because how many of us have had jobs where we're "office zombies"?)

  • embracing/taming the violent sides of ourselves (mostly weres)

  • humans can be more monstrous to each other than any horror monsters

I love exploring those themes (and I'm sure there are others), but sometimes it's nice to sit back and watch humans be the heroes, and legitimately scary monsters be the villains. Sedgwick's My Swordhand Is Singing is satisfying for that reason, for its really excellent use of folkloric elements, and for creating a sense of historical period that feels concrete. I highly recommend it--and I hope I won't forget the title again!

A Firefly kind of day

Some days are like this:

idothejob

Some days are more like this:



Today was the second kind of day.

(Credit to Leaky News for that animated gif. Just what I was looking for!)

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Guest Blog: Andrew Schneider

This guest blog is a first for Myth, the Universe, and Everything, as the following is an excerpt from an original short story by friend of the blog Andrew Schneider being hosted at my home page, Virgil and Beatrice -- the first piece of fiction written by someone other than me to be hosted there.

Andrew and I have worked together on a number of projects, from the old Empty Room Studios days to Living Kingdoms of Kalamar and Living Forgotten Realms. He's a heck of a writer, and, tomorrow, he's launching his career as a self-published novelist with not one but two titles: Undercaffienated and Overexposed: The Tale of a Coffee Shop Princess and Nothing Left to Wish For, with a cover designed by the exceptional Sarah Schanze. (That's the cover featured here.) The following short story excerpt takes place before Nothing Left to Wish For; I hope you'll click through to the full story and check out the full novel!

You can learn more about Andrew's books in an interview with John "Ross" Rossomangno, another fellow D&D writer. And now, without further ado, Andrew Schneider!

andrewnovel
--

"Cool, With Plenty of Water"
by Andrew G. Schneider

It was a simple task.

Haul and cleat, steady the sail. "Six points to spinward, Mr. Harris." Steady my old bones on the rail and watch the arm of the galaxy stretch away into the sky. "We're to swing wide round that dune."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Briggs." Not captain, never captain, even if it's just the two of us.

I close my one good eye and listen to the sand playing over the hull, the cold wind cutting through my clothes. We're a small craft, nimble and smooth. Just me and the pilot, Jase Harris, though there's space enough for three.

"Ware starboard!" Mr. Harris sings out.

The bulk of the sky goes black behind the prow of a fat freighter, speeding through the deep valleys between the dunes. She's running dark and fast in the middle of the night, low and heavy on a dozen blistering thrusters. Contraband. Smugglers for sure.

"We have right of way, sir?"

A mammoth wedge of wood, steel, and sail bearing down without care or cause. She'll run us down and burn the evidence.

"Right o' way, Mr. Harris. That's the spirit." The kid's got talent. Got what it takes to be the best pilot in the Endless Desert. "Let's show these smugglers some proper piratical courtesy."

"Sir." Mr. Harris grins, his fingers dance across the wheel. Our little ship groans, her thrusters spin high and hot and we're rising, up and up. I throw my weight hard against the rail for counterbalance as we cant sideways, skate the side of the freighter and score a gash in her flank she won't soon forget. Skip off her tail and let a smattering of shots and shouts follow us into the sky.

Then the freighter's gone and we're left high and lonely. Naught but the wind for company. "You ever been to the Crescent Cities, Mr. Harris?"

"No, sir. Can't say I've had the pleasure."

"Then hand off the wheel and step lively, port side down." I call it one of the wonders of the world. A jewel, nestled in the broad bosom of the Endless Desert. Viridian. Tourmaline.

They call it a lake. A body of water as large as I've ever seen, sickle shaped and calm enough to flip the stars on their face. Trees and farms hug the outer edge and the inner rim, holding off against the ever-present sand. Here and there, like the bones of some buried giant, towers stretch up out of the green; wizards' playgrounds. Bah, wizards and their flying carpets, always reaching for the stars.

Seven cities, seven ports, and seven thousand ships in and out every day. Landing lights dot the sands, calling me home. "Drink it in, Mr. Harris. Topside's too pricey for the likes us. We'll be berthed down under."

Aye, my bones ache on nights like this.

Read the rest of the story at Virgil and Beatrice.

Guest Blog: Bill Bodden

A few weeks ago, Bill Bodden, one of my fellow contributors to Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror, graciously hosted me as a guest post on his blog. Today, I'm delighted to return the favor! Bill is a fantastic writer and was a driving force behind getting Haunted attention online, and it's been a delight to work with him. So without further ado: here's Bill!

--



Myths and Mysteries

I've been thinking about mythology quite a bit lately. Much of my more recent writing work has involved the Cthulhu Mythos; I've been doing quite a bit of work for Modiphius Entertainment at their Achtung! Cthulhu tabletop role-playing game line. This mythology, created by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton SMith, August Derleth and many others, postulates that the universe is a vast place and that human beings are not the center of it, as we had supposed for centuries. This was a new concept in the 1930s, and as one can imagine, not a popular one with scholars, academics and the clergy. Regardless, it caught on with readers to some degree, and was rediscovered -- thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of August Derleth to keep Lovecraft's writing alive -- in the late 1960s.

One of the more interesting aspects of this mythos is its inclusivity; anyone can add to it. There are no official high priests to declare what is and is not canon -- only self-appointed ones. That others could build on his work was Lovecraft's wish, stated explicitly in letters to friends who had also contributed stories and ideas. I believe it was the first shared-world concept in literature, and remains a successful one to this day. That inclusivity has brought new blood and new ideas to the fold -- not all of it good, of course, but the vast majority of the material is well worth reading, if you like reading that sort of thing to begin with.

I cut my teeth on classic mythology: the Greeks, the Norse, the Egyptians, the Aztecs, all had fascinating stories designed to explain why Things Are The Way They Are. In this day and age we have a greater understanding of science -- mostly -- and have a better grasp of which things are natural phenomena and which are not. Science itself has nearly become a religion, supplanting the hazy explanations of the past with facts and logic of today. As our knowledge increases, we will doubtless learn more about the supernatural and paranormal, and when we do we may find, like so many of the protagonists in Lovecraft's work, that the real story is both far more interesting and vastly more terrifying than we had imagined.

***

Bill Bodden has been writing in the tabletop gaming industry for more than a decade. His latest works include material in the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's Guide, and is currently working on a project for White Wolf Publishing/CCP. His most recent fiction is the story "In The Shadow Of His Glory" in Sidekicks! from Alliteration, Ink. Visit Bill's website at www.billbodden.com

Regaining Home draft complete!

Back in May 2007, I wrote this:

Regaining Home's first draft is done an in to my editor! Of all of the novels, this is the one where I wish I had a little more time to think about the structure and decide what actually works and where things could be better. Usually I turn in the second draft to my editor, as well, so I'm feeling like this one is a bit more raw compared to the others I've turned in. But deadlines are deadlines, and I know Shawn will find those places where I can do the least number of changes to greatest effect.

Almost seven years later, that better draft I'd been wanting to write is finally turned in to Shawn. And again, I know he'll be finding places for improvement. But I'm proud of the effort that went into this revision, and I'm very grateful to the beta readers who weighed in on a couple of issues that I think improve the novel. For the rewrite, I added in a character from Departure, and I took out two characters and changed their role into a new one. The result is that I like the characters better, and I think that Nara's story in particular becomes stronger in this version. Ultimately, she's the main character of the whole series, and I'm glad to see her have come through with a stronger end story than she did before.



I'm also pleased with the Trickster work I did in this novel, which I'd largely forgotten about until I was in the middle of the edits. I'd originally written the myth of Hamatanis the Porcupine stealing fire for the people for a sourcebook that never came out; in Regaining Home, Taru retells the story to Nara. I have a fondness for Trickster stories, and hopefully that element does those tales justice.

And now--back to editing and making progress on Choice of Pirate!

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