Right-Before-The-Deadline-Hugo-Nominations

[okay, apparently wordpress published this post… and then unpublished it. I don’t even know. If you’re getting an update twice, let me know?] 

Oh, hi everyone! Enjoying the beginning of March? (SNOW, URGH, PLEASE STOP)

Hey, what day are we? The tenth?

Why does that sound ominous?

OH CLAUDE, THE HUGO NOMINATIONS ARE DUE MARCH 10TH! TODAY! TODAY! TODAY!

Now would be a good time to panic!

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

I meant to put my recommendations up, oh… weeks before? But I’ve been having blog troubles (and real life troubles, which tend to lead to blog troubles), so you’re getting these much later than I would like. But hey, if you’re seeing this post, it means I managed to get my nominations written up before the deadline!

At this point, that’s a pretty major victory for me.

(we’re just going to forget the fact that it’s FOURTEEN HOURS before the deadline, okay? MAJOR VICTORY OVER DEPRESSION = forgetting how close the call was)

So! First things first! If you have no idea what these bloody awards are, let me explain!
The Hugo are arguably the most prestigious speculative fiction awards in the world. Sure, it says “Science Fiction Awards” on the tin, but let’s face it, these awards are as much for Fantasy as they are for SF, or authors like Neil Gaiman, NK Jemisin and Catherynne Valente would never be nominated.

(I do think it’s harder for fantasy material to win the Hugos, but that’s another post).

Here’s the crucial bit: the Hugos are a fan award, which means that Random Fans can, in theory, influence the process.

… Hey! Are you a fan? Do you care about awards? Do you complain about nominations for days after they’ve been announced? Consider voting (and nominating for the Hugos)! More voters = better.

Details! Important details! You need to be a member of WorldCon to nominate and vote . And the way you become a member is by paying $60.

No joke, $60 is a pretty hefty sum for the privilege of voting. At least it is for me, your friendly neighborhood feminist batwoman student blogger. There are, however, some benefits that offset the cost. As a Hugo Voter, you get the voting packet, which contains almost all the novels, short stories, novellas, movies, shows, fanzines etc. nominated for the Hugo awards. It would cost you a shitload more than $60 to get all those books/movies/novellas etc. on your own.

Another fun fact! If you buy a membership for a WorldCon, you get to nominate for the next year’s Hugos. I was a member of last year’s WorldCon (ChiCon), so I get to nominate this year, even though I haven’t bought a membership for 2013 yet.

Reminder to any fellow ChiCon members: if you paid to nominate/vote last year, or if you paid to go to ChiCon, YOU CAN NOMINATE THIS YEAR. You can’t vote without a new membership, but you can nominate. So nominate! In the next fourteen hours! Because you only have until 11:59 EST.

For everyone else – it’s too late to sign up to nominate, but if you are interested in voting this year, there’s more information on how to sign up here.

Okay! Now, without further ado, the fun part: MY super-last-minute nominations for the Hugos.

(note: not all categories are filled out, because I am just one woman, and I have not read/watched everything in the SF/F field. I’ve tried to restrict my recommendations to fields that I actually know something about).

Novel: 

1. The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

At first, I thought I only had one nominee in the novel category because I just hadn’t read enough 2012 books. But looking back over my reading log… nope. I actually have read quite a few 2012 books. I just haven’t been impressed by very many of them (oh, BURN) (sorry, China Mielville and Elizabeth Bear. Better luck next time!)

There was one (okay, two) notable exception.

NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and the sequel, The Shadowed Sun.

The Killing Moon NK Jemisin

Honestly, if NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon doesn’t make it onto the ballot, I will side-eye fandom forever. For my money (if I had any money), it’s not only the best book Jemisin’s ever written, it’s the best novel published in SF/F last year. Jemisin’s worldbuilding and magical systems have never been better. And the plot. GAAAAH, THE PLOT.

A digression here: I think there’s a big difference between a book that should win the Hugo, and a book that CAN win the Hugo. Two years ago, I thought that Feed (Mira Grant) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (NK Jemisin) SHOULD have won the Hugo over Blackout/All Clear. But I didn’t think The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms COULD win the Hugo (too much sex! Plus, politics).
Moreover, a someone fairly engaged in social justice, I’m always interested in seeing books nominated that deconstruct, or challenge the more conservative aspects of the SF/F genre. At the same time, I recognize that those books aren’t likely to win, precisely BECAUSE they challenge conservative (and popular) aspects of the genre.

The point of the digression? I think The Killing Moon is one of those rare books that both SHOULD and COULD win the Hugo Award for best novel.

Whenever I think about The Killing Moon, I keep coming back to one word: tight. The plot is tight. The worldbuilding is tight. The characters are tight. The prose is tight. Everything is crafted with such skill that I think the more challenging aspects of the book can just – slide by, unnoticed. Jemisin’s first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a much more obvious confrontation and reconstruction of the epic fantasy genre, which is why I think it was so controversial. Don’t get me wrong – Jemisin’s Dreamblood books are just as engaged in challenging the epic fantasy genre. But it’s – quieter. The progressive politics of The Killing Moon can probably slide by more conservative voters in a way the politics of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms could not.

It’s sneakily political.

The second book in the duology, The Shadowed Sun was also published in 2012 (and I also loved it), but NK Jemisin specifically asked that fans nominate The Killing Moon (so her books aren’t in competition with one another), and I’m following her wishes.

I would also be very interested in seeing Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There and/or Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass on the nomination ballot. I have not read either book, although I enjoy both authors and I’ve heard good things from people I trust about these particular works.

I’d like to see one of them on the ballot because they’re young adult fantasy novels written by women. While young adult novels occasionally make it onto the ballot (and win), it’s my impression that those Chosen Few tend to be by men (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book). Again, this is just a theory, but I think there’s a tendency to assume that young adult novels written by men can still be Serious Literature, while young adult novels written by women cannot, even if those women have written Serious Literature in the past.

Thus, I would not be surprised if China Mielville’s foray into YA, Railsea, made it onto the ballot, but I think Valente or Hardinge’s novel would be far more interesting choices.

Best Fan Writer:

Wait, that’s not the category after Best Novel!

…Except for me. Because Best Fan Writer is the category I care about the most.  I love cultural criticism. YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED… since I started an entire blog for just that purpose.

Best Fan Writer is also a category that I’ve found drearily boring in past years – the same writers are usually nominated year after year after year. And, to the surprise of no one, the nominations tends to be dominated by white men (it’s been six years since the final ballot included more than one woman).

Point being: there are tons of brilliant, diverse, interesting writers talking about SF/F. More of them should be recognized.

1. Foz Meadows.

I want to be Foz Meadows when my blog grows up. Her work on racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in SF/F is unparalleled. She’s articulate, passionate, and thorough: her arguments are brilliant, her research is impecable.

Oh, and she’s extraordinarily entertaining.

Examples: PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, Politics, YA and Narrative, Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, Rape Culture in Gaming

2. Mark Oshiro of MarkReads and MarkWatches

When someone suggested Mark Oshiro for this category, I went “Oh duh, why didn’t I think of him?”

How do you even describe Mark? He’s been reading – and watching – lots of the most important shows and books in SF/F for his two sites, MarkReads and MarkWatches. His reviews are simultaneously insightful and hilarious. He’s perpetually unprepared for plot twists, and perpetually prepared to fall madly in love with new books.

You have not lived until you’ve read – or watched – a Mark Oshiro review.

I can’t tell you how much I love him. He just brings such JOY to his work (while also calling out problematic shit!)

It’s a rare writer who can critique a genre while simultaneously reminding you of why you’re in love with it.

Examples: Mark Reads Revealing Eden (if you want to see Mark dying over terrible writing and racism), Mark Watches Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan, Mark Watches The Legend of Korra: The Revelation, Mark Reads Wild Magic Chapter 3

3. Ana Mardoll of Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Ana Mardoll’s website is filled with smart, thorough deconstructions of important genre books – Twilight, the Narnia Books, Buffy, The Hunger Games etc. Her coverage of disability in SF/F is particularly interesting. Like Mark Oshiro, she’s incredibly thorough with her analysis – her deconstructions often go chapter by chapter, and each post can go well over 2000 words.

I suspect she’s overlooked by the SF/F community because she doesn’t fit our model of a fan writer – she’s a feminist/social justice blogger who writes about genre fiction a lot. And that’s part of the reason I’d like to see her and Mark Oshiro on the ballot – their very presence would expand what we see as “fan writing.”
Plus, I am personally a fan of bloggers like Ana Mardoll, who talk about genre fiction in one post, feminism in the next, and the wives of Henry VIII in the third. Because fuck, that’s the kind of blogger I want to be – so I do love seeing it done well.

Examples: “L” is for Madonna-Whore Complex (deconstructing an article about Twilight that is, if possible, EVEN MORE problematic than Twilight), Twilight: Carried in the Arms of Assholes (fascinating exploration of the appropriation of disability in the Twilight series), Buffy: Freebird (talks the character of Joyce and emotional abuse, and WHOA, I DID NOT SEE IT BEFORE, BUT NOW I DO), The Hunger Games: A Question of Agency

4. Catherynne Valente

I am a huge fan of Catherynne Valente as a fiction writer – but I am, if possible, an even bigger fan of her as a non-fiction writer. No joke, I’ve re-read her Guest of Honor speech for MythCon… five times?

Valente is particularly important as a commentator on fandom and fan writing itself. Yes, very meta of me! Christopher Priest ranted about the Clarke Awards; Catherynne Valente looked at the fan reaction to his post, and turned it into an entire discussion of sexism in fandom. Her post on the Readercon debacle reminded us that Genevieve Valentine’s experience was actually workplace harassment. And when people attacked Valente for refusing to repudiate Requires Hate, Valente wrote a post that simultaneously explored her own problematic behavior (cultural appropriation), and discussed a wider fandom problem. 

Valente does not write often, but when she does, she is on fire.

Other examples: Girl Grit: Feminism, Westerns, Sherlock and Erasure

5. NK Jemisin:

I almost didn’t put NK Jemisin on my final ballot, because I didn’t want more than two professional authors in the fanwriter category. And then I was all “What are you even doing, Suzanne?” because Jemisin’s voice is so critical to the way I think about the field. She, like Valente, has some of the best commentary on fandom on the interwebs. Her posts on sexism, racism and oppression in fan spaces are brilliant and provocative (example discussing racism in fandom)

She also wrote smart posts about video games, on why magic doesn’t need to make sense, and on the use of  sexual violence in her own books.

Yes, it’s frustrating that Jemisin can simultaneously be both a brilliant fiction writer, and a brilliant fan writer. But she is, so I must recognize her.

Honorable Mentions: I read so many people who deserve a nomination, and sadly, not all of them can end up on my final ballot.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, for her discussions of Domesticity in Doctor Who, her series on Women in Comic Books, her Xena posts, and her article on Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy.

Liz Bourke, for her series Sleeps With Monsters on Tor.com (The Smurfette Principle is a good example of the series)

Abigail Nussbaum, for being the essayist and reviewer I wish I were, and for her spectacular, worldview-changing article Women and Horses, which asks: “Why are we, on the one hand, outraged by the deaths of horses on the set of Luck, and on the other, casually accepting of the potential mistreatment of human women on the set of Game of Thrones?” (particularly when those women are underage).

Best Related Work: 

Chicks Dig Comics edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis. Has lots of very fun, very smart articles, and is responsible for introducing me to Kelly Sue Deconnick, Amanda Connor, Greg Rucka and Marjorie Liu.

Best Graphic Story:

1. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Saga is… strangely unepic, for a story named “Saga” that opens with a tale of star-crossed lovers from warring civilizations. Rather than aiming for obvious epic themes, Vaughn makes the comic an intimate, almost domestic, story about an odd couple escaping from the forces that want them dead… all while trying to take care of their newborn (urgh, diapers!)
The plot is weird and brutal. The worldbuilding is ridiculous, and I mean that as a compliment. Staples and Vaughn’s worldbuilding strategy seems to consist of throwing random stuff at the wall, and seeing what sticks – but they’re talented enough that it works out beautifully. And the characters are both atypical and compelling.

2. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

A ridiculously fun, well-drawn webcomic I stumbled on a few weeks ago. It chronicles how the adventures of Lord Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in Supervillainy, go terribly wrong when he takes on a sidekick: Nimona, a shapechanging teenager.

It’s hilarious and it has lots of fun meta-commentary about superheroes, epic fantasy and villains. I’m in internet love.

Also, Sir Ambrosius Goldenlion (Lord Ballister Blackheart’s greatest enemy) has The Best Hair. Nomination for that alone, quite frankly.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: 

I’m not going to talk about my reasons for these, because they’re not strikingly different from what I’ve seen on other lists.

1. The Hunger Games
2. The Avengers
3. The Dark Knight Rises
4. Brave
5. The Legend of Korra, Season One.

Okay, about the last: I had some SERIOUS problems with the first season of The Legend of Korra (LOK). In fact, I just finished it last night, and spent a good hour ranting at my boyfriend. But I still think the series had incredible animation, some brilliant plots (alongside less-than-brilliant-ones) and wonderful characters (Tenzin! Chief Bei Fong! Korra! Asami!)
Is it perfect?
No.
But I would like to see it on the ballot. 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: 

I have zero nominations here, because I am so not caught up on current SF/F television. I will say that I would be very happy to see episodes that AREN’T from Doctor Who on this list. Have you considered The Legend of Korra, My Little Pony, Community or Fringe for nominations? You should!

Best Professional Artist: 

Listen, I’m not an expert on art, and usually, I wouldn’t care about this category. But because I am a professional misandrist and I hate all men* – and also because very few women are ever nominated in this category – I wanted to find women artists who deserved a nomination.

And yes, this is rather necessary. From my cursory research, I don’t think a single woman has been nominated for this category in the last DECADE.

*(May Not Be A Factual Statement)

1. Julie Dillon (AKA: Why The Hell Hasn’t She Been Nominated)

I regularly use her art as wallpaper for my computer. Can you blame me?

Julie Dillon breaking through

Breaking Through

The Dala Horse (Julie Dillon)

The Dala Horse (Julie Dillon)

2. Fiona Staples

Stapes is responsible for both the interior illustrations, and the covers for Saga. I don’t usually notice the art in comic books, but Staples’ work is so richly, gloriously bizarre that I can’t NOT notice.

Saga Issue one cover fiona staples

Saga, issue one

Saga Chapter 3 Fiona Staples

Saga chapter 3

Saga Fiona Staples

The Stalk (Saga)

3. Kathleen Jennings 

I’m a huge fan of Jennings’ lovely, whimsical book covers – I particularly love how she uses wraparound effects. Her illustrations for Eclipse Online are also wonderful.

Kat Jennings

The Memcordist by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Kat Jennings

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Cover and Dustjacket for Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

4. Amy Reeder 

I’ve been a fan of Amy Reeder’s for a very long time – even though I wasn’t aware of it. My wordpress icon? The Batwoman picture?

Amy Reeder Batwoman

Batwoman by Amy Reeder

Yep! Drawn by Amy Reeder.

Although the Batwoman franchise tends to be known for JH Williams’ artwork, some of the most iconic covers come from Reeder’s pen (I am using one of them as my wallpaper right now). And her artwork on the creator-owned Halloween Eve is stunning. I wish I’d known I was a fan of hers before!

Amy Reeder Halloween Eve

Halloween Eve

Batwoman Amy Reeder

Batwoman, Issue 9 by Amy Reeder

5. Ana Juan

Hat Tip to The Book Smugglers for this recommendation – I was trying to find a fifth nominee, to no avail, when their post on Hugo nominations came out. I’ve loved the artwork in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books, but I never looked up the artist. Juan’s work is beautiful, whimsical, and a bit off-kilter.

Fairyland Ana Juan

Ana Juan

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There by Catherynne Valente

Best Fan Artist 

1. Kathleen Jennings, for all her daleks on her blog – and specifically, for drawing Daleks into all of our favorite books and movies.

2. Noelle Stevenson for Nimona (not a professional work – she’s not, as far as I can tell, getting paid). Because her work is fun and beautiful and witty, and reminds me of nothing so much as Kate Beaton

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Best Semi-Prozine: 

The Mary Sue: A guide to geek girl culture. I love The Mary Sue, and they serve my primary source of SF/F news. The writers are funny and incisive, the coverage is wide-ranging, the politics are feminist and progressive.

Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers: I am counting The Book Smugglers as a fanzine rather than as fan writers, because there are TWO writers on The Book Smugglers. And they deserve a nomination for all the work they do. My god, they publish a post a day, and although Ana and Thea don’t cover speculative fiction exclusively, they do write a whole lot about the genre. Their book reviews are wonderful and incisive, and their genre commentary is always on-point.

Ana and Thea also host an annual blog event called Smugglivus, when they invite authors and bloggers to talk about the year past. It is responsible for introducing me to waaaaaaay too many good books.

Best Fancast: 

Galactic Suburbia (and not just because they put me on their award honors list!)

Galactic Suburbia is a feminist podcast, and thus I am contractually obligated to love them. Fortunately, they make it easy on me, by being perpetually wonderful, and funny, and outraged. Plus, they keep me up to date with all of the Australian Speculative Fiction news (important, since I am a provincial USian).

Last year, I said I was nominating them “because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.”

And they are still awesome, and making me read all the good books. I really hope they make the ballot again this year.

****

PHEW.

And with that, my friends, my Hugo Nominations are in!

*****

A couple brief announcements, for those of you who haven’t fallen asleep yet!

1. For the purposes of me not getting super-confused ALL THE TIME, I’m now going by the name I use in non-internet life (Suzanne). I get SUPER-CONFUSED whenever anyone uses the name “CD” to refer to me. And although this is a pseudonymous blog, I don’t think using my real name will cause anyone to figure out my ultra-secret identity.
So yes, from now on, I am Suzanne (and my preferred pronoun is “she”).

Of course, you are also welcome to refer to the blog name, full stop (Culturally Disoriented), or to call me The Feminist Batwoman (even though I am NOT the Feminist Batwoman. LET’S BE CLEAR).

2. I have a tumblr! Which has absolutely zero original content. I just reblog a lot of kittens and GIFS. But if you’re interested, I’m over at Feminist Batwoman (although, again, I AM NOT THE FEMINIST BATWOMAN).

3. Content has been slow here! For lots of reasons. Mostly, but not solely medical. I switched antidepressants over winter break, and unfortunately, the new medications caused some pretty brutal side effects. So I am now OFF those antidepressants, which means I am off antidepressants completely, and the transition has been… rough. I also ended up at the ER twice for totally unrelated reasons, because my body hates me right now.
Anyway, content is likely to REMAIN slow for a bit. But I am still here, so bear with me! There’s a GIANT POST OF DOOM coming up. It has lots and lots of statistics! About women in SF/F television! IT IS GIANT! The research is DONE. So it is ALMOST READY.


I Never Wanted to be a Boy (A Tribute to Authors)

[This post is a companion piece of sorts to my “How Power Rangers Made Me a Feminist” post, although you don’t need to have read that post to read this one. In the Power Rangers post, I discussed how sexism in TV shows had a negative effect on me growing up, while in this post, I discuss how the awesome books I read when I was a kid had a good effect on me as I grew up. You see, I don’t hate everything! Just the terrible stuff]

***

I never wanted to be a boy.

And it turns out, that’s somewhat of an unusual experience.

***

Back during my finals season (*shudder*), a series of interrelated blog posts penned by female speculative fiction authors went up. First it was Stina Leicht. Then Kate Elliot. Then Kirstyn McDermott. and N.K. Jemisin. There are probably more I missed.  I was, of course, dying of finals, so I couldn’t do anything more than gather links. But there was something so powerful, and so disturbing, about these women’s stories, that I kept on going back to them.

Let’s see if you can spot the common thread, shall we?

Stina Leicht: “[Girls] are barraged with the knowledge that the world is a dangerous place for them specifically at an early age. I have memories of such information filtering down to me at age eight through ten. So much so, that I went through a phase of denial. I took on male behaviors, thinking that would make me safe. (I was a tomboy.) I also went through a phase of not wanting to be female (…) because I was beginning to understand what was ahead and that the world did not like females.”

Kirstyn McDermott: “I was a tomboy for most of my childhood. Thankfully, I have a wonderful mother who I can’t ever remember saying that I couldn’t/shouldn’t do something or like something or be something just because I was a girl […] I do remember being told such things by lots of other people, though — including some male relatives. Although I didn’t think I ever consciously took that on board when I was a kid . . .  I reckon it did manage to seep in. And I reckon I reacted to it just the way Stina Leicht did, by rebelling against everything girlish[…] Because being a girl isn’t safe.”

Kate Elliot (guest-posting at The Fantasy Book Cafe): “What I saw was that the things I yearned for–adventure, travel, sword fights, the excitement engaged in by characters in the fiction I loved to read–and the things I had–ambition to strive for lofty goals, an inner drive, a questing mind that wanted to discover–were things that society and literature and film told me were reserved for boys. When I was in 7th grade and twelve years old,  my Language Arts teacher […]  gave us a questionnaire of “fill in the blank” questions meant, I suppose, to make us think about our selves and our lives […] The last question was the most open-ended one: “I wish . . . ”
I wrote: I wish I was a boy.
What it meant to me was that it wasn’t worth being a girl.
Being a girl was second-class, even in some ways shameful. Boys got the good things, they were clearly seen to be better, it was obviously better to be a boy, and furthermore, the dreams I had and the desires and hopes were boy dreams, not girl dreams.”

N.K. Jemisin (guest posting at The Fantasy Book Cafe): “I did what I could to reject the GIRL box whenever I could. To that end I’d started reading science fiction — but never fantasy, because fantasy was girly […] Fantasy was full of women in scraps of stupid-looking armor, being rescued or having relationships or healing people or something. Science fiction was full of men going places and doing things […] Then I clearly remember thinking, but I’m a girl. And that was it. It wasn’t an especially shocking realization, but it was a profound one. In that moment I began to understand: the problem wasn’t that some books were infested with girl cooties; the real problem was my irrational fear of girliness. And myself.”

Did you spot it?

It’s fairly obvious, but I’ll paraphrase it for practicality’s sake. When they were young, these women all went through a period where they wanted to be a boy and/or they hated being a girl.

[Cue Sigmund Freud jumping out and yelling “PENIS ENVY” at the top of his lungs. Calm down, Freud]

I don’t know about other people, but I find these stories very hard to read. To me, they show how, from a very young age, we teach girls to hate themselves, to think of themselves as second class, as worthless, as unsafe. Even smart, strong, successful women like Kate Elliot, N.K. Jemisin, Stina Leicht and Kirstyn McDermott – women who I might (stupidly) expect to have been unaffected by the negative effects of sexism (again, very stupid assumption) – had to go through a long, sometimes painful, phase where they reconciled themselves to their status as women.

And no one should have to reconcile themselves to their gender.

[Quick side-note: Obviously this particular “I want to be a boy” phenomenon is quite different from transgendered people, whose gender identity does not match their birth sex. But transgendered people shouldn’t have to reconcile themselves to their birth sex either; they should be able to safely live as the gender they identify with.//End side note//]

But this phenomenon is not restricted to the four women listed above. If I take a moment to think about it, I can list at least two or three close female friends who have admitted to going through “boy” phases. I can certainly think of more who have deliberately rejected anything “girly.” And then, when I talked to my mother about these stories, she said she’d felt exactly the same way when she was a kid. She’d gone through a phase where she decided she didn’t like being a girl, so she dressed like a boy, talked like a boy and adopted “boy” mannerisms [I saw the pictures. There is proof]. Which shocked the hell out of me, because I’ve always thought my mother was extraordinarily comfortable in the way she expressed her gender identity.

When I think about it, it’s staggeringly common, this desire to be a boy. And on an intellectual level, I completely understand it. Being a girl in our society means not being safe. Being a girl means being judged according to norms which, for all the changes in the past fifty years, are still very traditional. Being a girl means your body is public property. Being a girl means that your rights are a political ping-pong ball; a”hot-button issue.” Being a girl means people feel free to tell you to shut up, sit down and make them a sandwich.

Wanting to be a boy – or at least, not wanting to be a girl – makes total sense.

So why didn’t I ever want to be one?

Because I never did. I’ve thought about this a lot in the past couple weeks, and I cannot, for the life of me, think of any period in my life where I wanted to be a boy. I can’t even think of a period when I really rejected “femininity” (whatever that means) [ Sure, I went through a phase where I decapitated my barbie dolls and buried them in the backyard… but I was always a morbid child]. I have a lot of moments where I wish I were as free as a boy, or where I wish I could walk at night and be safe like a boy, or where I wish that women were paid the same amount as men. But I never wanted to be a boy.

Which is strange. When I was a kid, I read tons of science fiction and epic fantasy – traditionally “male” genres. For years, my greatest ambition was to be – I kid you not – a warrior. I spent hours practicing side kicks against an tree in our backyard. I still have a big heavy stick in my room I used to practice “staff fighting.” Somewhere in my house ( I will not reveal where) is a diary where I recorded my “training” sessions (Hey, don’t judge me, okay? At least I wasn’t plotting the nuclear apocalypse). I wasn’t quite a tomboy, but I was pretty close.

So given how much of my identity was “male” oriented, why didn’t I ever want to be a boy?

On some level, I think I knew, even from a young age, that girls could do anything they wanted to, and the problem wasn’t with girls, it was with people and institutions who didn’t get that. So yes, I could read science fiction as a girl, and yes, I could beat a tree to a pulp as a girl, and there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

But I don’t think this belief came because I was smarter or wiser or better educated than girls who did go through a “I want to be a boy” phase.

I think it was because of books.

Kate Elliot: “After that, at the tender age of 15, I decided I had had enough of there not being anyone like me even in my own stories. I decided to write about girls, about women–about men, too–but women in equal space and equal importance to the story. This was not a small decision. It went against what I saw when I read; it went against received wisdom, especially in adventure stories […] I realized that in my own small way I might help overturn this diminishment of female lives not only by portraying women in diverse ways that allowed women a full range of personalities, occupations, roles, and stories, but also by respecting the centrality and importance of the women’s work so often considered (often by women) trivial, demeaning, and lesser.”

Tamora Pierce: “Why do I write so many strong female characters? When I was a kid, 7-8 books out of all books written for kids through teens had boy heroes. Those that had girl heroes showed them at “feminine” pursuits, or if they were a little feisty, a male hero had to bail them out by book’s end (…) When I encountered fantasy, I had the same problem: virtually no girl heroes. The ones I found, adult women all, settled down, hated other women, or died. I didn’t understand why there were no girls (or those that existed were severely compromised) in the adventure books, so I began to write what I wanted to read: adventure books with girl heroes.”

Kate Elliot and Tamora Pierce didn’t see female characters, so they started writing them. You know who else did that? Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., Patricia Wrede, Louise Fitzhugh, N.K. Jemisin, Gail Carson Levine, Robin McKinley, Seanan McGuire, Nancy Farmer – the list goes on. And on. There are droves of female authors who grew up reading books with almost no female protagonists, and who turned around and said: “Screw that. I’m writing about chicks.”

And guess who grew up reading those books?

I did.

I read Tamora Pierce. I read Robin McKinley. I read Madeleine L’Engle. I read Harriet the Spy and Ella Enchanted and Dealing with Dragons. I read The Babysitter’s Club (yes, The Babysitter’s Club, you gotta problem with that?). I read Nancy Farmer. I devoured Sailor Moon and Yoko Tsuno. I read Hope was Here and Born Confused.

In these books girls were the heroes – all kinds of heroes. They were knights and policewomen, spies and politicians, ordinary students and fashion experts, electricians and caterers, waitresses and magic girls, aliens and historians – oh my!

So if I didn’t see my girlhood as limiting me, it was because in the world of my reading, there were no limits to what a girl could be, or to how she could save the day.

You know why I wanted to be a warrior when I was a kid? Because I was reading Tamora Pierce. You know why I didn’t see being a warrior as a “male” pursuit? Because Tamora Pierce’s warriors were female. Even in the Alanna series, when Alanna was the only female knight, there were other women warriors [Thayet and Buri, to name a few]. So when I was pounding that tree into a pulp, I was doing it in the grand tradition of Keladry of Mindelan, Buriram Tourakom, Alanna the Lioness and Daja Kisubo (although I’m sure none of them would be silly enough to practice kicking on a tree).

Eventually, my warrior ways (god, this is embarrassing. I’m so glad this blog is under a pseudonym) – prompted me to take Tae-Kwon-Do lessons. Which was lovely, except for the fact that the instructors would always try to goad male students by saying:

“Are you going to get a girl beat you?”

[Spoiler warning: Yes]

Or: “You hit like a girl!”

[No shit, Sherlock. I am a girl]

But you know what? Even though that bothered the hell out of me (and it went straight into my growing realization that “Wow, people are kind of sexist”) – I knew better. I knew no one could joust like Keladry of Mindelan or swordfight better than Alanna the Lioness. I knew no one was stealthier than Harriet the Spy or braver than Usagi (AKA: Sailor Moon) or more loyal than Dimple Lala. I knew no one was cleverer than Ella and no one was smarter than Yoko Tsuno.

I knew that there was nothing shameful with being “like a girl.”

And someday, everyone else was going to figure it out.

So to all those authors who grew up wishing to be boys. Who grew up knowing that being a girl was unsafe, that being a girl made you “lesser than.” To all of you who then turned around and said: “Screw this, I’m writing about chicks.” Who said “girl can be the heroes.” Who were brave enough, and strong enough, and determined enough, to fight the good fight. Who told the people who thought there was no market for girl heroes “You’re wrong” and who got those books published anyways.

To all those authors, in short, who made it possible for me to have a shelf upon shelf of fantastic books with smart, strong, independent women as heroes.

Thank you.

I have never wanted to be a boy. I have always been happy to be a girl. And it’s because you showed me that being a girl was great.

Thank you.

And to all those people who say “but it’s just a book/a video game/ a comic book. It’s not real. Everyone knows it’s not real. So it doesn’t affect you. Now stop complaining about the lack of female/queer/people of color/ disabled/etc. characters and go make me a sandwich.”

I say: “You’re wrong. And go make yourself that sandwich. Git.”

The End

[Giant disclaimer: the state of fiction is nowhere near equitable enough, either when it comes to female characters, or to other marginalized character s(queer, people of color, trans, disabled etc.). In fact, even though I read a lot of books with female protagonists as a child, I still read more books with male protagonists (and that was with me actively trying to FIND books with female protagonists). We’re not there yet. But the fight is worth it.]

Related Posts:

How Power Rangers turned me into a Feminist

Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women (an Alternative List)

WisCon 36 Wrapup: Please Don’t Tame the Shrew

The Return of the Secret Feminist Cabal


Home is where the Library Lives (College Edition)

[Content note: I have put Cat Pictures at the end of this post in a shameless attempt to get people to read the whole thing. Then again, you could just scroll to the bottom. My super-evil plans would then be FOILED]

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t buy a lot of books.

Oh, sure, I read a lot. But I don’t buy that much. Most of what I read comes from libraries. I do feel quite guilty about that (although NK Jemisin argues I shouldn’t) – I know authors need book sales, and it’s important to me to contribute to the book publishing industry.

At the same time, I read a lot of books. Like, over 150 books a year. And if I bought over 150 books a year? Yeah, I wouldn’t…eat. I’m a college student; I don’t have that kind of disposable income. And I like eating. It keeps me alive.

So yes. In the interest of eating, I don’t buy that many books.

You can thus imagine my shock when I was packing to go home for the summer, and realized that there were books on every single wall of my college-home room.

Apparently I do buy a lot of books.

I blame the major. You can’t be a literature major without buying a lot of books. Five books per class minimum, multiply that by four to five classes a semester… mucho books. And I do resell a lot of mine, because I’m callous and I need the money, but I keep ones that I think will be useful.

Just so you know? I think all the books will be useful at some point.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so surprised. I’ve always accumulated books one way or another, mostly because I’m terrified that I’m going to run out of things to read. When I visited my family in France as a kid, I developed a super-secret (and effective) method of lining my suitcases with books (as I recall, I mostly took Tamora Pierce novels. You can’t travel without Keladry of Mindelan. You just can’t). I usually take three to four books with me on plane trips, even if the trip itself only lasts three hours. I never go anywhere without a book or two in my backpack. I start freaking out whenever my to-read pile dips lower than four books. And when it was time to move to college, I insisted on sending two huge boxes of books across the US border so I could fill the bookshelves of my dorm library.

Small, portable, giant, unwieldy, literate, speculative, diverse or juvenile, I’ve always had some kind of library with me. If only because my greatest terror in life is running out of reading material.

Then again, at this point in my college home (not a dorm anymore, thank the Lords of Kobol), I’m starting to worry that we could just take out the walls of my room and replace them with my books.

Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

Exhibit A: the printer

Printer Books

I used to have a printer. Now access to it is completely blocked off by these two piles of books. Can you see my printer? No.

My point exactly. Trust me, it’s there.

At a glance, I’m pretty sure they’re all books from last semester. A book of Chinese history, two collections by H.D., a film textbook and Ovid’s Metamorphoses… yep, definitely the fall semester. I’ll give a quick shoutout to the one book that wasn’t from the fall semester for my Hardy-obsessed friend, JYP – Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, hanging around the far left with price-tag still attached. This section isn’t even that bad – it used to be triple the size, but I had to bring all my research books back to the school library. Which is good, because now I can open my closet without tripping over Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.

Speaking of my closet…

Exhibit B: The Closet

Book closet

I deny everything

WHY ARE THERE BOOKS IN MY CLOSET?

And why is my window-spray container leaning on top of them?

Yeah, that I have no good answer for.

Returning to the original question: WHY ARE THERE BOOKS IN MY CLOSET?

Oh, wait, I know why. There isn’t room anywhere else. Especially not for my giant textbooks.

Yes, I’ve become the kind of person who hides books in her closet. I’m not proud. I’m even less proud of the fact that there might be an entire suitcase filled with old books hidden in the back of this closet. Might. Might. I didn’t check. I had… other things to do.

Like feel shame.

The bad news is that I’ll probably have to put even books in my closet, since I’m running out of other places to put them. That’s going to be a problem because, you know, my closet actually serves a purpose: keeping my clothes off the floor. I feel like “book stashing” and “clothes stashing” are eventually going to clash. There’s only enough real estate for so much.

Now this! This is a good use of real-estate.

Exhibit C: The Wall

19th century science fiction

This is the wall space between my bed and my closet. Correction: this used to be the wall space between my bed and my closet. Now it’s a miniature library. Hurrah!

I’m actually mildly impressed with how organized my books are (famous last words). I know exactly what’s in this book-section: 18th century British novels, post-war British novels and (American) civil war textbooks. The pile on the far right is made up of my giant cookbooks (it’s not a super-practical arrangement, because I keep needing to use said cookbooks and thus disturbing the entire stack). It also contains two European women’s history textbooks and a History of the Book Reader (which is a great textbook, by the way. Highly recommended. Very interesting). When you think about it, there’s some sort of meta-ironic-commentary being made by the fact that I shelved the women’s history textbooks and the cookbooks in the same place (because obviously all that women did during the medieval era was cook! Am I right, ladies? /sarcasm/).

That was totally planned, by the way. It wasn’t just that the women’s history books and the cookbooks were vaguely the same size. *cough*

On top of the deeply ironic women’s history/cookbook section, I’ve got my small but awesome collection of 19th century British Science Fiction, from one of my favorite literature courses. It’s telling that I haven’t resold any of the books from that class, despite the fact that I had to buy them all new (and with Canadian prices, even the paperbacks cost $15-$20). Well – that’s a lie. I managed to get a great used copy of M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud. It’s from the 1950s; it’s got a buxom lady on the cover and a cigarette advertisement inside. I love it.

Now – here’s what’s interesting about the last three photos. All the books I’ve shown – excluding the cookbooks – were bought for class. Which, er, says something about the classes I’m taking, huh?

Oh, but you say. That’s not that many books (for school)! Only about fifty or so. And you’ve been in school three years now…

Fair point! Then let me show you…

Exhibit D: This Semester’s Books

Class Books Winter Semester

And that’s one semester’s worth of books

These are (almost) all the books I bought for this semester of college. ONE semester. My rough calculations say that I bought 28 books and checked out an additional five from the library (they were on the syllabus, but I was too cheap to buy them. Can you blame me?).

And yes, this is a pretty precarious bookshelf. In it’s defense, it’s not actually tilted – I was taking these photos with my computer’s photobooth (I don’t own a camera), and I couldn’t shoot an untilted photo without hanging upside down from teh ceiling. But I keep fearing that the poor shelf is going to collapse and send all of my school books crashing onto my desk. Which is why I never keep my computer at my desk.

Paranoia saves lives, people! (okay, it saves computer lives. Still)

A few times the books on the right have come unbalanced… and then they slide right into the trash can (I’m not even joking). It’s pretty hilarious. And sad.

Also, note the photo of Shakespeare right under the bookshelf. Hey, I’m a literature student. I have to have a photo of Shakespeare somewhere.

So yes. This is what one semester’s worth of class books looks like in my world (and yes, I did read all of them). My conclusion? Maybe I’m not a book-buying addict. Maybe my classes are trying to turn me into a book-buying addict.

And they say school is good for you.

The worst part is: what the hell am I going to do with these giant piles of books when I need this space for next semester’s books? There’s no more room in my room! GAAAH.

And I can’t sell all of them… they might come in handy at some point.

Maybe I should invest in another bookcase.

No! That’s just the crazy talking. Think of how many books I could buy with the money I would spend on a bookcase (even one of those cheap $30 IKEA bookcases). LOTS of books.

And I do, in fact, sometimes buy books that aren’t related to school. Case in point:

Exhibit E: The To-Read Pile (with an appearance by Mr. Calvin and Mr. Hobbes)

To-read pile

This is my to-read bookshelf (located right above my bed). Usually it’s a lot fuller, but since I was on the point of leaving my college home when I took these pictures, I returned all my library to-read books. Because stealing library books = not okay.

Anyways. The central pile? Those are the “Thank Maud I finished another semester of college without jumping off a building, now let’s go buy some science fiction and fantasy and pretend we never heard of “literature,” shall we?” books. All those books I’ve been eyeing for months, but couldn’t read because I had to finish Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park? Yeah, I… went a little crazy and bought most of them.

THERE WAS A SALE! It’s not my fault. Also, I’d just finished my last final, and I was in a really bizarre state. Nothing I did in those hours can be held against me.

Okay, I have no defense. I’m a horrible person. But look! Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads! Seanan McGuire’s Discount Armageddon! More Seanan McGuire (A Local Habitation)! N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon! Sooo many good booookssssssssssss…..

I admit it. I’m a horrible, no-good, bad book-buyer. I’m an addict. Something must be done.

I actually read all of the books in the central pile between the time the photo was taken and the time I wrote this blog post (about two weeks). Well, almost all of them. I still haven’t gotten around to A Clash of Kings. My friends keep assuring me it’s great; I enjoyed the first book in the ASoFAI series. Besides, I have to read it so that I can get to the rest of the series and vote appropriately for A Dance with Dragons in the Hugos. But for some reason, I really don’t want to read it. I blame the yellow cover.

This shelf also contains my knitting books and my collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics. And my Firefly DVDs. And a bouquet of dried flowers my Marat/Sade cast gave me for being a decent Assistant Stage Manager (because they are awesome). There’s clearly a link between all of these things. Who says my library isn’t organized? *cough*

There’s also another picture of Shakespeare somewhere, if you can spot it. Literature student!

(oh, and yes, I did blur one of the photos under the bookshelf. PARANOIA SAVES LIVES, people. Especially on the internet).

Ahem. Moving on.

(yes, there’s more. Told you I had a problem).

Finally! FINALLY, after showing you all of my “secondary” libraries and book-storage areas, I will get to the central culprit. The true locus of readership and literature.

My actual bookshelf.

Exhibit F: THE ACTUAL BOOKSHELF

Bookshelf bottom

I love my actual bookshelf. It’s wonderful. It also contains no class books whatsoever – all the books here are ones I shipped from my regular home back in Freshman year. They are my very favorite books in the universe (or at least, my very favorite books back when I was in high school). My entire collection of Tamora Pierce books. My entire collection of Tudor history books (most of which are by Allison Weir). The Abhorsen Trilogy. All my Libba Bray novels. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Karen Joy Fowler. The Sparrow. Jane Eyre, The Professor, Wuthering Heights and the Austen novels. Also, all the Young Adult novels that kept me floating throughout my horrid high school years – Born Confused, The Truth about Forever etc. And a bunch of books about US politics like The Nine and The Dark Side, because apparently, I find those fun.

I sent all of these books to my college because back when I was in high school, I didn’t read a lot of new books. I mostly re-read old favorites – and I expected I would continue this pattern when I arrived in college. So having 100 books I already liked that I could re-read was quite important to me.

I still do re-read now, occasionally. Mostly when the world is exploding all around me and I need some comfort. But I love having my old books around, even if I’m not reading them constantly like I used to.

The giant pile right by the bookshelf is yet another “book storage” area. These are my “read” books – the books I’ve finished. Every few weeks I do a purge and bring a bunch of those books back to the library, then freak out over where to put the other, non-library books. There’s no room left on my “for fun” bookshelf. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. Look.

Bookshelf top

Like I said. No room. I’m now stacking books on top of rows of other books, and I’ve still got tons of books in my “read” pile to store.

…I really have a problem, don’t I?

From this not-so-brief survey of my college room, I have concluded a few things:

1. I buy a lot more books than I think I do

2. WOW, I buy a lot of books for class

3. I am quickly running out of real-estate, and am going to need to find some kind of radical solution next year. Like selling books (NO) or buying a bookcase (maybe). Or getting rid of my bed to make room for more books (yes!)

And since you have made it to the end of the post, I shall reward you with some obligatory cat pictures.

Look! Cat!

Cat with Books

The Cat is Judging Me

The Cat has been sick, and as a result, she has been spending a lot of time in my room. I think it’s because I keep the temperature pretty high. The Cat is also a very, very black cat, so it’s hard to get a picture of her where she doesn’t look like a big black blob. She’s absolutely gorgeous in real life, and does not resemble a Big Black Blob. That’s the Photobooth’s fault.

The Cat was in no way amused by me frantically running around my room, taking pictures with my computer. She was particularly put out when I decided to step on the bed – the bed where she was sleeping, thank you very much  – to take a photo of my to-read bookshelf.

The Cat thinks this blog is a complete waste of time, particularly since it involves disturbing her bed (the fact that it’s also my bed is lost on her).  She thinks I should spend more time in worthwhile pursuits. Like petting her. Or acting as her pillow.

But for the record, The Cat also thinks I need a new bookshelf.

(those things are EXPENSIVE, The Cat. Even the cheap IKEA ones)

The Cat with Books

North America’s Next Top Cat Model

The Cat does not like me taking photos of her, because that takes time away from Petting. But she does think this is a satisfactory photo.

*sigh* I miss The Cat.

(I flew home – home home, as opposed to college home – last week. So I have not seen The Cat in a while).

I also miss my books. But the good news is, my home-home has libraries of its own. And I just made two trips to the city library. So I feel pretty good. I’ve got a pile of eight unread books… that should last me for a week, right? Right?

*starts to panic*

Related Posts:

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Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women

Reaction to the Hugo Nominations


“Always Wear Armor When Walking Through the Classics Department”: A Review of Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Hello everyone, and welcome back to your regularly scheduled blog posts – the ones where I try to review all that is Fantasy And Science Fiction before the beginning of the summer. Because that’s totally possible, especially now that my workload has lightened and I’ve only got three essays and two finals to work on!

Oh wait.

But before I start to freak out, I’d like to remind everyone that the Hugo Nominations are coming out this weekend (OH GOD). I will be covering those sometime in the next few posts. I’ll also be posting some kind of rant about the Hunger Games/Trayvon Martin correlation, so watch out for that.

*****

Book: Tam Lin

Author: Pamela Dean

Publisher: Firebird Fantasy

Published; 1991

Tam Lin cover picture

***Mild Spoilers for the Entire Book***

In my University, there’s a tunnel between our Arts Building and our Library of Incredible Inefficiency.*

* (I’m not a fan of the main library. But moving right along).

I love this tunnel. It’s a road out of time and space, made of sharp turns that make you quickly lose sight of where you were, and where you’re going. There’s a hint of the medieval about it – a bizarre gate right in the middle that reminds me of torture chambers and ancient sewer systems. But it’s not all medieval either: the copper piping and the violent fluorescent lights give a 19th century Science Fiction vibe. This tunnel would be a great set for a remake of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Or Thomas Lewis’s The Monk.

And sometimes there’s graffiti.
Over time, I’ve learned not to look at the graffiti. It only disappoints me. It does not match the atmosphere of the tunnel at all, but simply repeats the usual “My Life Sucks” and “LOL’s” that are found at every graffitied location in the school.

Yes, in fact, I judge the quality of graffiti. Is originality too much to ask for in our public defacement?

Absolutely not. Consider the case of Blackstock College, the setting of Pamela Dean’s cult fantasy novel, Tam Lin. Students aren’t writing LOL in those tunnels:

“First ten lines of the Iliad. That’s been there long and long. Somebody ought to touch it up.” (52)

When Janet and her newfound college friends find an Iliad quote in a tunnel on their first day of school, they start arguing over the best translation of the greek, and then exchange quotations for a few lines, before ending with an impromptu recitation of my (second) favorite Keats’ poem: “On Chapman’s Homer.”

“His tone was rather sardonic; but it hardly mattered. Lost, thought Janet. He quotes Keats, too. Well, let’s enjoy it, then. She said, ‘Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo Hold.”
Robin rattled “But never did I breath its pure serene Til I heard Chapman speak loud and bold,” and began walking again. “We’ll miss dinner,” he added.

If the past paragraph or two bores you to death… this book is probably not for you. But if you’re the kind of person who goes through tunnels and buildings and matches them to the setting of your favorite novel; if you fall into friendships with people based on the books and movies they can quote in their sleep; if you long to find the free, passionate discussion that can only exist in a group of similarly obsessed people, the discussion where everyone trips over their words and jumps in on the ends of each others sentences –

Tam Lin is the book for you.

Janet, the main character of Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, is a new student at Blackstock college. Her Advisor keeps pushing her to be a classics major, but Janet hears (and notices) that All the Classics Majors are Crazy. Besides, she know she wants to be an english major, because “if the thing you liked best to do in the world was read, and somebody offered to pay you room and board and give you a liberal arts degree if you would just read for four years, wouldn’t you do it?”

(there is only one right answer to that question, and it starts with a “y”)

Tam Lin follows Janet and her friends’ four years at Blackstock. On top of all the academic drama and the intellectual, quote-heavy dialogue, there is, of course, a supernatural plot – but it’s so subtle and quiet, you won’t notice it until it hits you in the face. Pamela Dean interlaces the “realism” of the plot with moments of absurdity – for example, Janet and her roommate Molly wake up several times during the semester to find classic books of literary criticism (and when I say classic, I’m not talking Roland Barthes – I mean literary criticism written during the Victorian Era) just outside their window.

They’ve been told there’s a ghost; they have no other explanation for how such rare texts keep appearing. There’s also something strange going on with the classics students, who are all terrified of Professor Medeous, the department head. But all of these mysteries are kept just below the surface, and allowed to grow into full bloom near the end. It is with no particular sense of urgency that we and Janet discover the truth – and by then, Pamela Dean has led up to it so organically that the revelation seems just as realistic as anything else in the novel. Pamela Dean is so skilled with her subtle allusions that the Star Trek Enterprise could have landed in the middle of campus, and I wouldn’t have thought it out of the ordinary.

What makes this novel particularly appealing to me, to English literature lovers, and to nerds of all stripes is that the academic endeavor is the point of the story, not the backdrop. There are lots of movies, books and TV shows that are set in colleges or high schools, but there, the classroom is the setting, and the relationship drama (Gossip Girl), or the action story (Spiderman) is the focus. Here, the opposite is true: the characters are passionately, madly, lovingly enthralled by the work they do and their relationships (platonic or romantic) grow from their obsessions. Janet, for example, falls in “like” with Nick after hearing him recite Keats. Astute reader, meanwhile, note how much better a match she is for Thomas, who takes her to see Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade.**

(another reason I love Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin: I’ve been involved in productions of all three of those plays.)

Janet realizes Nick’s potential herself after watching a play “about two people named Thomas and Jennet (…) she knew perfectly well, that if examined with the eye of logic, these associations would unravel.” (408).

But in Tam Lin, as in life, the associations don’t unravel. Not really. Tam Lin never slips into the (popular) fallacy that art is somehow “detached” from everyday life, that it’s entertainment, that it doesn’t really matter. Instead, Tam Lin treats Janet’s forays into literature with as much seriousness as it does her forays into sex and relationships.

You shouldn’t worry, however, if you don’t have a strong English Literature background, or if you’re not interested in literature in the least. I’m an English Literature major, and I missed about ⅓ of the allusions in the novel. Doesn’t matter.  Despite the specificity of Janet’s dialogue, it’s her passion – her nerdiness – that makes her so easy to like. The novel describes, without mockery, the passions and obsessions that end up shaping our lives, no matter how obscure or “unimportant” they are.

In this vein, one of my favorite scenes in the novel depicts a conversation between Janet and Nick, Janet’s first boyfriend at Blackstock College. Nick has a strong pedantic streak, which leads to a memorable argument where Janet tries to convince Nick that the only writer who resembles Shakespeare is Keats:

“Keat seems so much like whom?”
“Shakespeare.”
“Keats? That querulous, agonizing little emotion ridden pestilence beffudled liverer’s son?”
“All right,” said Janet. “All right.” What in the would could she recite? He knew the sonnet “On Chapman’ Homer”, most of the rest he probably would have labeled querelous.”Not “Ode to a Nightingale” which had illnesses and drugs in it (…) I’ll give you querulous, Janet though, and cleared her throat:
“This Living Hand, now warm and capable of earnest grasping would, if it were cold And in the icy silence of the tomb, So haunt,they days and chill thy dreaming nights That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood (…)”
“Nicks hands had fallen to his side. Janet, looking straight at him now that she had done remembering, and feeling a little smug, realized witha  shock that he had turned rather pale. He pushed his glasses up his nose with a hand that shook. “That’s Measure for Measure,” he said, just audibly. “Or The Winter’s Tale. Or Troilus and Cressida. I always forget what gems are hidden in that dunghep. That’s not Keats, is it?” (…)
“Yes it is,” said Janet. To her fury, she sounded apologetic. “It was written in the margin of The Cap and Bell. His unfinished play.”
“I cry you mercy,” said Nick, getting up. “I’m unwell. No, it’s all right, don’t bother. I’ll call you later.” (116).

This is such a perfect scene. Of course an argument about Keats and Shakespeare is of critical importance. Of course one might need a bit of a lie down after realizing how much Keats does sound like Shakespeare. Of course such a fundamental shift in one’s worldview might take a few hours of bed-rest to get used to. It only makes sense.

Tam Lin understands the joy of finding people who share your language – the moment of recognition when you realize you don’t have to perform your life in a bizarrely constructed vernacular, but can slide into speech that reflects your thoughts.I’ve been lucky enough to be in a few groups like that – where we all speak the same language. Usually they involve theater, and only last a few weeks. Still, there’s something magical about them – about that intensity of communication. Who doesn’t want that?

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I should make something clear. Although I get quite sentimental writing about Tam Lin, and although Pamela Dean wrote it as a love letter to her college experiences, Tam Lin itself is not a sentimental novel. It’s clear and crisp and fast; there’s a sharpness to it that belies any sentimentality.

A big part of the reason Dean manages to prevent Tam Lin from sliding into an overwrought, overly indulgent novel is her brisk, no-nonsense prose. There’s a reason I’ve quoted the novel so thoroughly (and not just because I want to make some kind of obscure “meta” joke about allusion). Dean’s style is clear and concise and crisp. It pulls you along, demands your attention. No pausing, no stopping, make sure you turn the lights on as you go.

I knew I was in good hands when I got the description of Janet’s thrilling escape from her friends:

“Janet crawled along as fast as she could manage, bumping her head and cursing Nick Tooley and his children unto the nth generation, until she found a suitable hollow by catching her knee in it. She removed the knee, saying “shit, shit, shit,” under her breath because there was no time to think of anything creative, and scooped leaves and dry needles out of the hollow. She dumped Schiller into it unceremoniously, covered him over, limped on through the larch grove to the sidewalk, trudged down it to the bottom of the hill, and took off running in plain sight along the edge of the lake just as the chase came howling past the Fine Arts building.” (82)

Dean’s description is masterclass in efficiency, sly humor, and style. Let us all pause to consider how many more words most writers would take to say exactly the same thing (hell, let us all pause to consider how many CHAPTERS more I would take to say the same thing).

The other thing that makes the novel seem so grounded (and this is a supremely grounded novel) is it’s insights into the academic process. Especially if you are, or have ever been, in College.

For example, we have the (invisible, but at the same time completely obvious) fight between the Classics Department and the English Department. The whole thing starts to feel like two armies recruiting students to their cause. Every time Janet goes to consult her academic advisor, Melinda Wolfe, a classics professor, Wolfe tried to steer her into becoming a classics major. At one point, Wolfe goes “if you read science fiction, you’ll like Herodotus,” which made me howl with laughter. Because who hasn’t had a Professor be like “Come to the Biology/Latin/English/History/Dark Side Department. WE HAVE COOKIES/Herodotus/genetic experimentation/Shakespeare/Crazy Department Heads who Might Be Sleeping with Everyone.

Most Professors I know have been more subtle about it, but yeah, I’ve been there. And hey, I’m an English major because of two such pushy Professors. Not going to name names, but they know who they are (actually, they have no idea).

There’s also this brilliant moment from Janet’s father, an English Professor:

“Take it from me,” said her father. “It is possible to get a Ph.D in English while ignoring no less than three literary periods. You must have read something in all of them, so as to fling their names about, but you can be quite ignorance of at least three and still do very nicely.”
“Which three are you ignorant of?” said Janet.
“The moderns, the whole of the twelfth century and the jacobeans.”

Which just explains everything about every Professor I’ve take a class with, ever.

And that’s, maybe, what I loved most about Tam Lin. Every page felt like I was discovering a secret – a familiar secret. A secret I’d always known was there. It’s real life, but it’s real life with that extra-sharp twist of insight – real life with all the magical underpinnings revealed, from Professorial mysteries to the gossip between nerds. Tam Lin lets you in on the secrets. It’s a story that oozes with so much intelligence and acceptance and joy – joy of learning, joy of growing, joy of confusion – that it’s one of the few novels I actually made an effort to read slower. I didn’t want to leave its coy, secretive, joyous pages.

Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is one of the rare speculative fiction novels I recommend without pause to my English Major Friends. Or to my non-Science Fiction reading friends. Trust me. You will like it. Even if you don’t like magic. Trust me. You should read it. Everyone should read it. If the above review has you interested, drop everything and read it. Trust me, it’s a thousand times better than anything I could describe. You will like it. A lot.

And it’s a rare novel that can get me to engage in some public defacement of my own. But in no small part thanks to Tam Lin, there’s now a Shakespeare quote plastered between some of the LOL graffiti on the walls of my favorite tunnel. From Richard III. Maybe it’ll start a tradition (but don’t tell anyone. Can you get expelled for graffiti? Oh God.)

Pamela Dean on Tam Lin:

“It all reminded me of college, where the fear of getting pregnant collaborated with the conviction that you weren’t nearly as smart as you’d thought you were, that you would never amount to anything, even if all the Professors thought you were a genius, and the world was going to hell so fast that you’d be lucky to have a B.A. to show the devil when it got there to produce a sub-clinical state of frenzy; where juggling your love life with anything else was almost but never quite completely impossible, where we all did any number of foolish and peculiar things while surrounded by and occasionally even absorbing the wisdom of the ages.” (460)

Blackstock College, by the way, is based on Pamela Dean’s real college (at least in appearance) – a small liberal arts college in Minnesota called Carleton College. I visited Carleton as a high-schooler (I was deciding where to apply for University) and I can attest to how gorgeous a campus it is. Even under the pouring rain, it was absolutely beautiful.

Carleton College Tam Lin

*** We do have some great graffiti in my college. Mostly in the girl’s bathrooms (can’t speak to the boy’s). The best one is “Books Before Boys Because Boys Bring Babies.” Indeed.

Other Reviews of Tam Lin by Pamela Dean:

Tansy Rayner Roberts: The Lady’s Not For Burning – it was Rayner Roberts’s love for Tam Lin on the podcast Galactic Suburbia that got me to pick up the book to begin with (I owe her a debt of gratitude for that one) and her written review is equally good.

Things Mean A Lot: Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Tor.com: College as A Magic Garden: Why Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is a Book You’ll Either Love or Hate (Jo Walton). (I love Jo Walton)

Related Posts:

Let the Djombi Eat Cake: A Review of Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo

Nebula Nominations are Wearing the Awesomepants

Frantically, Florally February: A Monthly Reading Roundup


Let the Djombi Eat Cake: a Review of Redemption in Indigo

Book: Redemption in Indigo

Author: Karen Lord

Publisher: Small Beer Press

Published in:  2010

Cover of Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Paama is not having a good year.

First, there’s her husband. Let’s not even talk about her husband. No – let’s.  His entire life is about food. When going on a three day trip, he hires eight mules for his bags of food, and takes along two hunters. And he still runs out. When he arrives at his in-laws’ home, Semwe (his father in law) gives him an entire lamb to eat. Which sounds like a lot, but Ansige eats all of it in a few hours, goes prowling around the village looking for more food, and ends by trying to kill one of Semwe’s sheep. Ansige’s gluttony and arrogance have pushed Paama to the point where she’s abandoned him and gone back to her parents’ village – but then Ansige decides to follow her.

Now, Paama has to try to get rid of Ansige (again). But she can’t actually throw him out, since there are Expectations.

Also, Appearances. Let’s not forget about Appearances.

It is, of course, nearly impossible to keep up appearances when your husband is running around killing other peoples’ sheep and stealing peoples’ corn, and falling into wells and getting his head stuck in your mortar.

Fortunately, Paama is up to the task. She lies. She cheats. She cooks extra food. She pretends to love Ansige. She pretends everything (from the sheep killing to the well-falling) is her fault. And she manages to kick him out.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of Paama’s troubles.

Impressed by Paama’s ability to deal with the insanity around her, the Djombi – powerful, undying spirits – decide that she is the perfect person to hold the chaos stick, a magical artifact with the power to control (you guessed it) chaos. They don’t bother asking what she thinks about it. They also don’t bother to let her know that the real owner of the chaos stick, a renegade Djombi with a hatred of humanity and a penchant for comic books, is on his way to take the stick back.

Whoops.

This, in a nutshell, is the setup of Karen Lord’s debut fantasy novel, Redemption in Indigo. It’s an unusual fantasy novel. It isn’t set in a european, or euro-derived landscape, but somewhere in Africa. The magic may be magic, but it might also be science – we get a dose of chaos theory along with the wand-waving. The hero is not a young boy, but a middle-aged woman. Her talents aren’t swordplay and sarcasm, but cooking, cleverness and civility – with a side serving of compassion. Paama isn’t interested in beating people up. She’s not even that interested in being right. She asks questions, and demands answers, and is willing to learn. Sure, she’ll yell at you, or tell you what an idiot you’re being, but only after all other options have been exhausted. And she treats everyone with this brand of tough-love civility, be they her husband, the deadly djombi stalking her, or the giant spider popping up around her town.

It’s also an unusual novel because of the narrative structure. The plot hues closely to the curves of the characters lives and thoughts rather than follow the strict linearity of conflict, climax and denouement. Several reviewers have said the book is like traditional storytelling. I would tend to agree, with some important reservations: I know absolutely nothing about storytelling culture in either Barbados, where Karen Lord grew up, or Senegal, where the folk tale that inspired Redemption originated. So it seems a bit silly of me to claim Lord is writing like a storyteller, since I don’t even know what that means. I agree, however, that there are definite elements of the (universal) storyteller in the narrative – the call and response, the meandering, the opinionated narrator (I LOVE THE NARRATOR SO MUCH. Hem. Will get back there later). Moreover, I think it’s important to note that even if Karen Lord is following a storytelling structure, she’s doing so in innovative, radical ways – she’s reworking a genre rather than just playing into it. Reading Redemption in Indigo isn’t “just like” listening to a story.

I personally am a huge fan of this sort of work. I like novels that rework genre conventions, I like novels that foil my expectations, I like novels that play around with narrative structure, that have unusual heroes, that take place in non-eurocentric cultures. So it came as no surprise to me that I loved Redemption in Indigo.

The beginning – with Ansige’s attempt to take back his wife – is hilarious. I kept trying not to laugh, because Paama’s predicament was so terrible I felt bad about laughing at all, but I couldn’t help it. The rest of the novel was equally satisfying, if not nearly as funny.

I should amend that. The rest of the novel isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it’s still quite funny. Indeed, what becomes funny in the novel is how thoroughly Lord undermines genre conventions. When the Indigo Lord shows up, he demands that Paama give up the chaos stick by threatening her sister. And she immediately hands it over. It’s fantastic!

I mean, seriously, if a giant blue guy was threatening to kill your sister, would you haggle over a stick you barely even knew how to use? No? No. Come on.

Of course, this doesn’t work (because magic never works out like that). In order for the Indigo Lord to reclaim the chaos stick, he must convince Paama that he would wield it better than she is. So the Indigo Lord takes Paama on an intergalactic road trip to show her why she’s unprepared for the responsibility of the Stick. Meanwhile,  he tries to get over his hatred of humans long enough to persuade Paama that he’s not going to kill them all the second he gets his hand back on his powers. The interaction between the Indigo Lord and Paama is priceless – their natures are so different that they really can’t understand one another, but it’s fascinating to watch them try.

Although Paama and the Indigo Lord are the main attractions of Redemption in Indigo, they don’t take away from the richness of the side plots and secondary characters. The spider-trickster who can’t seem to keep a grip on his human form when trying to manipulate humans, Kwame, the tracker whose moral conscience causes him to become less and less secure about the ethics of his profession, the courtship between the failed poet and Paaama’s sister – all of those stories add to the central plot in intriguing ways. My favorite secondary plot, however, involves the House of Sisters, a group of women with supernatural abilities who help Paama handle the Chaos Stick and the Indigo Lord. They’re a very competent bunch – even when a giant spider shows up on their threshold and demands they turn him back into a human, they deal with the situation with calm and good humor. Like Paama, they are rattled by the presence of the djombi, but they’re entirely able to deal with them. The presence of the House of Sisters means that Paama isn’t alone in facing the powers of the otherworld. It also means that she isn’t the “chosen” human, with special abilities that enable her to stand up to the Indigo Lord. While I do like chosen ones (I’m an epic fantasy reader, after all) I also like this storyline – the one where, sure, a chosen one is great, but if she doesn’t work out, we’ve got other options.

My absolute favorite part of the novel – more than the House of Sisters, more than Paama, more than the genre subversions – is the narrator. The narrator is not objective in the least. She – or he – has definite opinions about the story, and she will make them known. And if she thinks the characters are silly, she’ll let the readers know. More importantly, when she thinks the readers are stupid, she’ll let us know. I particularly like how she’s always accusing readers of derailing the story, giving us information in an exasperated manner. It’s her story, damn it, and she’d prefer not to infodump, but we’re forcing her to, with all our ignorance.

“Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they made themselves known? (…) Think!” (Lord 15).

She’s always berating readers for their (supposed) dislike of the story. When she anticipates that readers won’t like the moral of the story, she tells us:” Do you go through life with your eyes blindfolded and your ears stopped? Everything teaches , everyone preaches, all have a gospel to sell! Better the one who is honest and open in declaring an agenda than teh one who fools you into believing that they are only spinning a pretty fancy for beauty’s sake. I was honest and open! Don’t you remember? I told you from the very beginning that it was a story about choices” (Lord 181).

And her discussing of the epilogue is wonderful, and hilarious, and snarky, and I was charmed to bits, because she promised us we wouldn’t get an epilogue (which was quite frustrating, since the story obviously wasn’t over), but then she gave it to us anyways, protesting all the way.

There’s something to that – to the narrator’s question and answer relationship with the reader.  Much of Redemption in Indigo is about question and answer. The narrator asks readers questions. The narrator answers our questions. Characters ask questions of one another, of the universe, of themselves. Thinking about it now, I realize that there’s a chaotic element to the question and answer motif. After all, how do humans deal with the confusion of daily life except by asking questions? Constant, almost invisible questions, about our existence, and where the socks go in the laundry, and why does our sister like that boy, and is there a god, and why do people listen to Justin Bieber anyways? To the anarchy of life, we respond with an equal anarchy of questions. And we get answers, and most of the time, like Paama, or like the Indigo Lord, they’re not answers we’d anticipated, or even answers we can understand. So we ask more questions.

And sometimes, if we’re insistent enough, the world is forced to give us a semi-coherent answer – just as the narrator was forced to give us the epilogue at the end.

When I consider how well the narrative structure works with the novel’s theme, I’m in awe at Karen Lord’s ability. Especially since Redemption in Indigo is her debut novel. Her debut novel.

All I can really say is “Wow.”

And apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. Redemption in Indigo was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for best novel (which is how I heard about it). It’s also successful enough that Karen Lord is writing a sequel. To which I say: Hurrah! I’m pleased to see this kind of work get the attention it so richly deserves – and I’m hoping for a Redemption in Indigo series.

Watch out for this woman. I would not be surprised if she keeps appearing on the major awards ballots. And if her work keeps improving – or even if it stays at this level – we’re in for a serious treat.

Which is why I say :Chocolate cake for everyone! (Even dastardly immortals).

I should also note that Redemption in Indigo is published by Small Beer Press, an independent, speculative fiction book publishing company operated by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. I evidently need to keep an eye out for them, since they published one of my favorite YA novels of last year – The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman.

 

Other Reviews of Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord:

Bibliophile Stalker: Book Review: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

The Book Smugglers: Book Review: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Sx Salon: The Djombi and the Wormhole: A Review of Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo (includes an interesting discussion of the physics in the novel)

 

author Karen Lord

Karen Lord: Watch out for her.

Favorite quote:

“He gave her one of his unfathomable, blank looks. ‘I like to read the paper for the same reason that I like the occasional bit of food – to sample human tastes.’

‘I thought you despised us,’ she said quietly.

His hands squirmed on the folded newspaper. ‘Not despise. Not all of human taste is abhorrent. There are bits that are enjoyable.’

‘Like chocolate cake and comic strip humour?’ she murmured, eyes downcast, sarcasm mild.

‘Are you eating that last piece of cake?’ he asked, unmoved.”


Invasion of the Hugo-Snatcher: Or, How I wish I Were the Only One Deciding the Hugos.

This summer, half my family was in South Africa, half my family was camping – and I was stuck at home working. I’m not bitter at all, can you tell?

Actually, I’m not that bitter. My family being away meant I had the house to myself, which was glorious. I did enjoy the solitude, particularly in late July when I had a most fantastic evening. I cooked myself a nice dinner, I dressed up (I am not even joking. There was makeup. I broke out the good eyeliner). I set my computer up on the table; I turned on the internet and I sat down on the (very comfortable) couch to watch the live-stream of the Hugo awards.

To a passerby, I must have looked nuts – a girl all alone in her house, wearing a poofy lace dress and occasionally jumping up and down like a maniac (I have no shame. I love Mary Robinette Kowal).

As you can tell, Hugo awards are a big deal to me.

When I realized I knew absolutely nothing about my favorite genre – Sci-Fi / Fantasy, in case you were wondering – I went straight to the Hugos, and started reading my way through the Best Novel shortlists.Thanks to this little exercise, I discovered most of my favorite contemporary genre writers. Last summer it was China Mielville and Catherynne Valente. This summer, it was Lois McMaster Bujold,  N.K. Jemisin, and Mira Grant. Oh, and the fabulous Connie Willis.

The Hugo nominees were what got me excited about SF/F again. Before I started reading the shortlist, I was so entrenched in “classic” fantasy and SF that I was beginning to worry that the genre was stale. Or that I’d outgrown it. But no one who has read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Feed, Palimpsest and The City and the City in the space of two years could call the genre stale with a straight face.

This year, however, the Hugos are an even bigger deal to me. World Con is taking place in Chicago, which is only a two hour drive from my hometown. For the first – and possibly last time (at least until I stop being a poor literature student) – I can actually afford to go. I can go to WorldCon. Where there will be awesome people. And fans. And writers. AND THE HUGO CEREMONIES.

I can be there when they give the awards.

Excuse me, I think I need to lie down for a minute or two. I’ll be back.

I’m back. Sorry about that. The Hugos will do that to a girl.

Of course, if I was going to be at the Hugos, I had to buy a supporting membership so that I could NOMINATE for the Hugos. Got mine the day before the deadline, I might add – nothing like putting things off till the last minute!

For me, nominating is almost a bigger deal than getting to vote, in that I think shortlists are a better representation of the field than the winners. I’m in no way implying that the winners aren’t important, but when we make a shortlist, we make a statement about what we think our genre is and where we hope it goes. We reward the kinds of experiments – or the kinds of traditions – that we find valuable. We reveal the kinds of writing we think are worthy, and the topics we think are important.

A shortlist says something about who we are.

Now, I’m about to complain for a bit. And I realize there’s something unfair about complaining about a shortlist that doesn’t exist yet. But – I don’t care. I like complaining. And this way, if I’m right, I get to feel triumphant (especially since I can point to the blog and go “Look! I predicted this would happen in March! And it did!).  And if I’m wrong, I get to feel relieved. It’s a win-win situation.

Last year’s best novel shortlist was glorious, but frankly, I’m a little worried that this year is going to let me down. The Hugo-related chatter I hear on the blogs and the interwebs is heavy on the white male authored, very classic fantasy/ SF. From this chatter, I would put money down on Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin both being nominated, and tentatively guess that Lev C. Grossman and China Mielville will round out the top four. The fifth seat is harder to judge, but Hannu Rajaniemi and John Scalzi both have a decent shot.
I’m not seeing any of the same momentum around female or non-white authors.

(It should be noted that I have not read either Hannu Rajaniemi or John Scalzi’s work (which is pretty pathetic of me), but I intend to remedy that forthwith. It should also be noted that my complaints about the Hugos is in no way a complaint against the individual authors I think will be nominated. I love Mielville. I love Grossman. I think Scalzi’s non-fiction is fantastic, and I’m sure I’ll love his fiction. I am not criticizing these people for being popular or well-liked.  They deserve the accolades they get.)

Classic fantasy and SF is great, and far be it from me to condemn white male authors. Some of my favorite genre authors are white and male: China Mielville, Neal Gaiman, Lev C. Grossman, H.G. Wells, Bram Stroker etc. Hey, some of my favorite people are white and male! (Hi, little brother).

But last year’s shortlist was such a revolutionary statement about the state of our genre. It was everything I wanted in a list – recognition for some traditionally acclaimed writers who were still being awesome (Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis), praise for writers who were taking risks and expanding the frontiers of the genre (N.K. Jemisin, Mira Grant, Ian McDonald); it had more gender and racial diversity (both within and without the books) than we’ve seen in a long time – I was ecstatic. Four of the five nominees were women (I KNOW). One was a black woman (two would have been black women if they’d nominated Nnedi Okorafor (No, I’m still not over it)). Two of the novels were dominated by characters of colour (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Dervish House). We had a post-colonial epic fantasy, a post-modern zombie apocalypse, cyberpunk set in Turkey, time travel, and a Vorkosigan novel. The only way I could possibly have been happier is if they’d also nominated Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m a perfectionist.

“Wow,” I thought. “All those people who say SF/F is a staid, conservative genre can go eat my copy of the Lord of the Rings. This is a popularly nominated shortlist, and look who and what is on it! And those people who say SF/F is a “male” genre? They can go jump in a lake.”

And call me crazy, but I was hoping that this would start a trend. I’m not saying that a year’s worth of reversion to the default white male will stop SF/F’s evolution in its tracks, but I was crossing my fingers for another surprising, interesting ballot, and right now I’m worried that it’s going to be “well, that was expected.”

We’ll see. I could be paranoid. But just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss aren’t trying to kill my shortlist.

Damn them.

(For the record, I do like George R.R. Martin’s work. I’ve only read Game of Thrones, so I’m not yet on the bandwagon. But I think he’s quite good. I do not like Patrick Rothfuss’s work, and I don’t understand the hype around him, which makes the fact that he’s probably going to get nominated and win all the more irritating. At the same time, it is entirely possible that I’m missing something important about Rothfuss. If so, forgive my idiocy).

Ah, my readers, I can hear the your complaints already. “Well, if you don’t like the shortlist, why don’t you nominate? Also, why are you complaining about a shortlist that doesn’t exist yet?”

I refuse to address the second question. We’ve already established that I’m a chronic complainer, and that no logic in the universe can stop me. But to the first question: Fair point! I thought of that myself. And having spent my hard-earned money to buy a supporting membership, I did, in fact, nominate.

But what did I nominate? Good question! I know you are all dying to know the answer, but if some of you would prefer not to die of boredom, turn back now, or forever hold your peace.

Novels:

The Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin: it’s everything I never knew I wanted from an epic fantasy series. For me, at least, this series has completely changed my idea of epic fantasy, and what I think the genre can do. It’s provocative. It’s got amazing characters. It’s got incredible diversity (Queers! Women! Almost everyone is a Person of Color! Gods! Humans! Demons!) It’s got a plot with twists and turns that actually manages to keep my attention (usually after the twelfth twist, I’m done). And it’s that rarity: a last book in a trilogy that actually manages to be the best book in the trilogy. Which is saying something, because The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Probably my favorite book published in 2010.

Among Others by Jo Walton: Another genre-bending work: it’s a story about a young witch who finds her place in the world by discovering science fiction. I have high hopes that this one will actually end up on the ballot. It absolutely deserves to be there. It’s a love letter to reading, coupled with a description of  the awkward, horrible pain of growing up when you’ve already got a grown ups’ maturity and intelligence. It’s smart and insightful, and quietly moving, and you don’t even realize how good it is until a week later, when you have a “duh” moment.

Deadline by Mira Grant: The sequel to Feed. Or: what happens after you shoot your sister (who was transforming into a zombie). Hey, she did ask you to.
All zombie novels have some measure of social commentary, but none of them do it as subversively and intelligently as Feed and Deadline do. On the flip side, NOT all zombie novels have the depth of characterization that Grant’s do. Grant makes you fall in love with characters, and then she throws them on the ground and jumps on them over and over again and makes you watch, and it’s horrible. And wonderful. So wonderful. Deadline had me pounding at my brother’s door in the wee hours of the morning, because I just could not handle the pain Sean was going through (after major revelation 101). I never thought I would care so much about a book about zombies, but I did, and for that, Deadline got a nomination from me.

Embassytown by China Mielville: I’m a huge Mielville fan (he’s my designated male author-crush), but I actually didn’t enjoy Embassytown that much. I did, however, greatly admire it, and I think it’s got a chance to become a classic of the genre. It’s one of the most interesting alien stories I’ve read in quite some time, and reminds me of my all-time favorite sci-fi novel, The Sparrow. Both deal with similar themes – diplomacy, communication, colonialism. Except here, the conflict comes from the colonialism of language.
Embassytown has an incredibly claustrophobic feel to it. Humanity has abandoned the planet  and its human inhabitants to the tender mercies of the indigenous aliens. The human inhabitants, meanwhile, have abandoned greater humanity. The characters are completely and utterly alone. And even in the lulls, the reader can feel the oppression of space all around you.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley: I knew I was going to like this novel before I read it, and I did. Correction: I loved it. Any novel that opens with the heroine selling her womb is going to be a favorite. Heck, the first twenty pages alone are worth a Hugo nomination: I certainly knew it was going on my ballot at that point. It’s set in a militaristic, muslim matriarchy, which seems like a giant oxymoron waiting to happen, but Hurley makes it work. It’s about an assassin. It’s got aliens. It’s got war. It’s got lots and lots of gender examination and body horror and an amazing central character who will sell her womb and seduce your women and assassinate your deserters, and she’ll break a sweat doing it (I love a hero who doesn’t pretend that hard things aren’t hard work) and then she’ll go get drunk.
There are also a lot of bugs. Which I thought I would have a problem with. But I didn’t. I love the bugs. Bugpunk = awesome.

Novellas:

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Confession: I only read three novellas this year, and this is the one I thought was worth putting on the ballot. Kowal confuses the living daylights out of me. I discovered her through her novel Shades of Milk and Honey, which is essentially Jane Austen with Magic.  But her short fiction is pure SF. Actually, it’s SF with a liberal application of hardboiled detective, two genres that are… very different from Jane Austen. “Kiss Me Twice” is absolutely fantastic – it’s about what happens when AI’s stop functioning in a society where police work depends on AI. A great examination both of AI’s as conscious beings, and of AI’s as human technology, which is a difficult balance to strike.

Short Stories:

“Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler:

if you don’t like Twilight, you’ll like “Younger Women.” It’s Twilight from the perspective of the parent. It’s the story that goes: “Hey, what’s with all these thousand year old vampires and these seventeen year old girls?” And it’s fantastic.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: Liu zeros into an oft-forgotten facet of magic: magic as a method of cultural transmission. Magic as something you share as a family. Magic as the way you communicate your culture to other people. The story is quietly, gorgeously emotional.

“The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu: There are wasps. They make maps. They colonize the bees. The bees become anarchists. It sounds insane. In the hands of Yu, it’s completely and utterly realistic. And interesting. Oh, and also a little insane.

“The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne Valente: Oh, Cat, how do you do it? Please, explain to me how you do it? Because I don’t think I’ve read anything of yours that isn’t absolutely exquisite and absolutely monstrous at the same time. I should have known that only you could take the salem witch trials, and puritanism, and new world colonization, and infused them with richness and warmth and canny sarcasm. You’re one of the few authors I know who looks at monstrosity – be it human monstrosity (femaleness, queerness, non-whiteness), or real monstrosity (demons, mermaids and griffins, oh my!) – and manages to look beyond the disadvantages of monstrosity. You write powerful monsters. You write the monsters we are, and the monsters we want to be.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form:

X-Men: First Class: I had so many problems with this movie, but it was still the best SF/F I saw all year. Especially the romance between Charles and Erik. And the makeout scene (listen, I don’t care that it didn’t happen. It did. Everyone knows it did).

Best Editor, Long form:
It’s surprisingly difficult to find out who edited what! Even the internet isn’t that helpful. I had to dig through author acknowledgments and industry blogs to come up with a list of names, but having done my research, I’m quite satisfied with this group of nominees:

Devi Pillai (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trilogy, the Parasol Protectorate and Kate Elliot’s Cold Magic)
Jeremy Lassen (God’s War, Of Blood & Honey)
Anne Groell (Blackout/All Clear, The Game of Thrones series)
Kelly Link – I’m not 100% sure she’s eligible, but if she is, she should get a nomination for her work at Small Beer Press (The Freedom Maze)

Fancast:

There is a special Fancast category this year (what’s a fancast, you ask? A Podcast!), and I think we all know who I’m going to nominate for that: GALACTIC SUBURBIA, FOR THE WIN!
Man, I love that show. I’m going to write a post on it eventually. Because it is made of awesome. I hope they get a nomination – I’m pretty convinced they won’t, because it’s three Australian women talking about SF/F and feminism, which pretty much takes them out of the running. But they deserve it. Because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.

And that’s me done (for now). Any thoughts on my list? Any other Hugo nominators in the house? Will you be at WorldCon? If so, want to be friends?  CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?