royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779I’ve sold a story to Canines (a vampire anthology) from Supposed Crimes. Watch for it to appear about October of next year!

Besides being about vampires, of course, it takes on bulemia and lesbian relationships.

Fascism and freedom of speech


WarriorSome of the comments on the recent “safe spaces” blog pointed out issues I skimmed over, one of which was about not ever having to hear anything you don’t want to hear. This is the issue where Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment come into play related to convention policies. This amendment is actually a bit more limited than what is popularly assumed. It only protects anyone from censorship from the government. School administrations that take funding from the government are required to comply, but private institutions are not. Still, most people expect that freedom of speech is a right granted by the government and that private institutions need to follow the same ethical standards.

So, as pointed out by RP, you’re at the local SFF convention and attending a panel on magazine covers. If you like sexy gals in skimpy, sexist costumes on your magazine covers and say so in the discussion, this may annoy some members of the audience. They claim to management that they feel threatened and harassed by your comments and you are ejected from the con. This, in effect, censors your viewpoint. It also costs you money in lost convention and travel fees, etc. You actually have no legal grounds for complaint. Unfortunately, the con is a private institution and management is legally unencumbered by the First Amendment, so you have no recourse about your treatment. However, they are in violation of what most people consider the ethical standard on allowing anyone to have their say on skimpy costumes, even if it is an unpopular viewpoint.

This kind of censorship is a form of fascism, a dangerous type of political intolerance preferred by police states and dictatorships. This means it is something we need to watch carefully.

RP also points out that trending convention policies may have no provision for appeal, which makes them even more fascist. This means all anyone has to do to get you thrown out is to complain. This violates the US standard for due process as outlined in the US Constitution, which says that everyone deserves a fair hearing.

Besides RP’s comment, I recently covered Ann Rice’s on fascist trends in book censorship. In this case, books with unpopular viewpoints are trashed on the Internet with poor reviews, threats against publishers, etc. You can look for the full blog in the archives.

Review of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

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55327_girl-writing_mdThis novel was published by Tor Books.

Karen Memery lives in an alternate steampunk Seattle. She works as a whore at Madame Dammable’s Hôtel Mon Cherie, where the girls are treated well, unlike other establishments where immigrant girls are enslaved. When women start turning up dead, she meets Marshall Bass Reeves and his Comanche posseman and joins their investigation of Peter Bantle and his evil cohorts.

This didn’t work for me. I had serious disbelief issues early on. For example, Karen describes herself as “plump,” but then she’s athletic enough to defeat a man in a knife fight, considers jumping over the rail and running away and is saving money to buy a horse ranch. It doesn’t go with “plump.” The steampunk is questionable, too. Bantle has a mind-control machine and circus performers have jet packs, but they’re still using horses and wagons for transportation. And how does a steam-powered mind-control machine work, anyway?

There’s lots of diversity, as the cast includes Chinese, East Indian, Native American, black, gay and cross-dressing characters. However, they remain pretty much flat and undeveloped. All the white men are either villains or stupid while the Asians are stereotypically brilliant. Also, I don’t understand Karen. She’s is a lesbian, working as a whore to get a stake for the horse ranch. She’s two-faced, putting on one face for men and another for women. She apparently likes her work, but we get no insights into the sex trade as she sees it. There’s lots of social commentary here, but I didn’t like everything the novel said. Some of it seemed sexist and offensive.

I was more impressed with the Author’s Note, where Bear explains that she was trying to feature characters that have been ignored by history. Madame Dammable and Marshall Bass Reeves are real characters from the Old West, and Merry Lee is loosely based on Tye Leung Schulze, first Chinese woman to cast a ballot.

Two stars.

Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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FeatherPenClipArtI’ve actually already reviewed Uprooted, but I’ll repeat it here:

This is a young adult fantasy about a land called Polnya in the shadow of a poisoned wood. Agnieszka’s village is one of several protected by the Dragon, an old and powerful wizard who lives in a white tower at the base of the Western mountains. Every ten years, the Dragon chooses a young girl to serve as his domestic, and this year he chooses Agnieszka. This is a surprise choice, as everyone has been sure he would pick the beautiful and capable Kasia. At the tower, Agnieszka find the Dragon to be cold and terrifying. Instead of expecting her to just cook and clean for him, he seems to be trying to teach her magic. In a system where young wizards are identified early and educated in the ways of magic, Agnieszka has somehow escaped notice, and now the Dragon has found her. Her training is only brief, as things are changing in the kingdom. A group arrives from the capital, and Agnieszka is carried off to be tested by a board of wizards. They’re skeptical of her magic, which seems atypical, but her raw power eventually frightens them. The Wood is plotting to take the capital, so Agnieszka is called on to use her barely trained magic in a tense and frightening confrontation.

This is a story apparently based on Russian and Polish folklore, and under pressure, Agnieszka and her friend Kasia grow up fast from untested girls into strong and capable women. The story turns out to be darker than you’d expect, and the Dragon harder to crack. Agnieszka is an intrusion into his solitary world, and only makes a dent in it through the surprising power of her magic. On the negative side, it’s a little hard to believe that Agnieszka could be so effective as a wizard with so little training. Once in bed with the Dragon, she seems awfully experienced for such a young girl. The darkness and sexual content make this likely unsuitable for younger teens, but it’s still a well-constructed and entertaining coming-of-age story for girls. It’s a bit long for young adult, but well worth the read.

Safe spaces and personal self defense


WarriorThere was some fall out over “safe space” at WorldCon last summer, and surfacing from the book reviews for a while, I see the discussion is continuing. Some of this is the ongoing feud between John Scalzi and Vox Day. However, the issue of “safe spaces” is something that’s appeared elsewhere in the news headlines as something students are demanding at schools and universities. I’m feeling a need to check in on the issue.

Reading through the proposed convention policies, safe spaces apparently mean that no one can annoy you. When some evil lowlife approaches and says something that disturbs or upsets you, then you should be able to just say “no, go away” and they are required to do so. It means that you can cruise through the convention experience without worrying about anything. If anyone fails to do what you ask, then all you have to do is complain to management and they’ll take care of the lowlife who’s bothering you, pitching him/her out on the street. This is really an ideal situation, where nobody ever has to hear things they don’t want to hear, or deal with situations they don’t want to be in.

However, when you always depend on management to protect you, then you’re not taking personal responsibility for your own well-being. You end up with no self-defense skills. Punching someone in the nose is frowned upon, but there are other ways to deal with conflict. A few years back I bought this great book called The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin (aka SF&F author and founder of the SFPA). It’s still for sale, and there are also other books in the series fitted for particular situations. This series provides real, working techniques for dealing with pushy and overbearing people who annoy you. Highly recommended.

Holiday break!

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Cedar Springs concert 2015I suspect no one will be reading the blog for a few days, and I need to get some things done, so I’m going to put the SFWA Recommended Reading List novels off until I’ve got time to get through them. I’ve actually already read Uprooted, so I’ll post it soon.

I’ll also be out of town until after the New Year. The blog runs on autopilot, but I’ve still got to get the posts up there.

Happy holidays, all!

Review of Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

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reading-clipart-6This novella is fantasy and published by Spectrum Literary.

Young Lord Penric is on the road to his betrothal to Preita, the daughter of a cheese merchant who will bring wealth to his brother’s house. However, Penric never makes it to the ceremony. He and his groom have an encounter on the road where a Learned of the Bastard god dies and her demon possesses Penric. His life falls apart immediately. The betrothal is off, and he is spirited away to the city of Martensbridge where the Bastard’s temple lies. It turns out the elders of the Order aren’t pleased with what’s happened, as there was a suitable vessel, well-educated and prepared for the demon. Apparently it prefers Penric. Because of this, he faces immediate dangers, not only from the elders, but also from ambitious noblemen in the city.

This is a very professional young-adult story from a well-established writer—apparently part of a series. It’s smoothly written, and the characterization, imagery, world-building and theme are well-developed. The message is similar to others I’ve recently reviewed in young-adult, that being kind to others will make you successful against adversity. However, this story stretches the bounds of reality less than some. Drawbacks: Bujold puts me off a little with a tongue-in-cheek treatment for her characters. There’s something to be said for the irony, but it suggests she doesn’t take the stories seriously. I prefer real drama. I’ll give this one 4 stars.

Review of Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson

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royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779This novella is published by It’s also fantasy.

In 1838 Sylvain de Guilherand is a courtier at the count of the King of France. Sylvain has caught a water sprite and put her to work managing a reservoir and plumbing system for the palace. This pleases the king, elevates Sylvain’s status and sets him up for favors from the ladies of the court. One of these is Annette d’Arlain, who is bored with her husband.

Sylvain’s servant Leblanc dies, who had been managing the sprite, and Sylvain has to take over dealing with her himself. He struggles with trying to please everyone, and Annette points out that he is a “striver” for social position. As requests for marvels mount, he is faced with the realization that he is only a trained monkey performing for the court. What should he do?

This is a long story to make just this point. The pace seems a bit frantic, especially at the beginning, when Sylvain runs from pleasing Annette to worrying about leaks in the plumbing. He’s fairly callous about using both people and sprite, but suddenly sees the error of his ways. The theme is admirable, but it might be better framed in a different story. Obligatory picking: Do they have rifles in 1738? I don’t think so. Average characterization and imagery. The conclusion is meant to be emotionally satisfying, but it doesn’t snag me. Three and a half stars.

Review of The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik

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FeatherPenClipArtThis novella was published by It’s fantasy.

Salman and his family live in a trailer park in Florida. His grandfather tells him a story about his own childhood in Lahore, where a pauper princess had a tea shop under a eucalyptus tree that she said held a jinn that protected her family. Years later, Salman is working as a college professor when his grandfather dies. He flies to Florida for the funeral. Helping his parents clean out Gramps’ room, he finds learned textbooks and finally a journal. His grandfather has been researching theories of creation and has left a strange story in the journal. Infected by a need to understand, Salman flies to Lahore to search for his grandfather’s past.

I started off complaining about this one being another of the sentimental stories that gets by on the emotion they generate, but I can’t pick this one apart. Not only are we absorbed by the characters, but we get to meet the jinn and have a look at earth, water, wind and fire. Malik is an excellent writer. The prose flows well, full of imagery that lets us get to know Gramps, smell the rain and see the flashing colors of the Lahore marketplace. Drawbacks: Slight loss of purpose and clarity at the end. High diversity. I’ll give it a 4.5. Recommended.

Review of Our Lady of the Open Road by Sarah Pinsker

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mikeThis novelette was published in Asimov’s. Near future, mundane SF.

Luce, Silva and Jacky are a dying breed, an independent band that’s not signed to StageHolo. That means they’re broke and living in a 23-year-old diesel van they run on vegetable oil. They beg for oil and dumpster dive for food, drive cross-country to gigs booked in dumps of independent clubs. The gigs are still rewarding, and they’re recognized by both older and young fans. They play a gig in Columbus, Ohio, where Luce is approached by a StageHolo rep, but she angrily refuses to sign. The band is invited by a group of bike kids to spend the night at an abandoned barracks. When they wake up in the morning, someone has stolen their van with most of the equipment and swag. What should they do?

This feels like a nostalgia piece. StageHolo could very well be a stand in for Netflix, iTunes or MTV, and Luce is a Luddite about technology. She doesn’t have a cell phone, a self-driving vehicle or Google maps. She’s concerned about music being an authentic experience where she is actually in contact with fans. She views a contract with StageHolo as selling out to commercial interests. Unfortunately, I think this question was answered back in the 1980s or 1990s.

Well written with good theme, characterization, imagery, LGBTQ diversity. There’s not enough science or technology to pick at it. Average story—3 stars.

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