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Book Review: THE MIRROR EMPIRE

TheMirrorEmpire_KameronHurley

Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity:
If you’re looking for an epic fantasy that takes diversity seriously, this book fits the bill. Hurley writes across an entire planet, and unlike many writers who do so, she writes most of the planet as people of color. A handful of arguably white people pop up, but the majority of the cast is Black or brown–and I read all of the POV characters as people of color. Contirbuting to that complexity is that two of the POV characters were mixed-race and dealt with the complicated responses to their biracial identity that society reflected back to them.

But that’s not all! One society (Dhai) had a five gender system which emphasized choice; that is, gender was not ascribed to individuals, but instead individuals adopted pronouns and genders as they saw fit. Another culture (Saiduan) had a three gender system with specific pronouns for individuals who did not fit within the binary1; there was less choice presented here, but it was still amazing to see these things called out. It is a rare gem of a book to see alternate genders presented with grace and nuance like this and I, as a genderqueer reader, felt for once like I was actually acknowledged.

Queer sexuality is normal and accepted. Non-mongamous relationships are similarly normal and accepted by at least the Dhai culture.

AND (and!) the arguably most important character in the book has multiple physical disabilities which are never wiped away and which are treated with respect.

Seriously, diversity is firing on all cylindars here.


Review:
I loved this book. It’s a wonderful book. Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire is essentially what I wanted Game of Thrones to be: it’s a truly epic fantasy which grapples with fraught ethical questions while immersing me in a meticulously built out world of wonder. But where Game of Thrones was full of White men and rape and ponderous descriptions of what people were eating, The Mirror Empire was full of brown women and consent2 and really good dialogue.

Like Game of Thrones, The Mirror Empire follows mulitple POVs, but nearly all of these characters are women and I read all of them as people of color. They are strewn across the world, and slowly their stories intersect as it becomes clear that their entire world is beset by a force from without, brought to bear by an ascendant star and the magical forces that star brings. It’s a convoluted narrative, and if there’s anything to fault the book for it’s that the book races forward and trusts the reader to follow. But I followed. I didn’t have any troubled keeping pace.

The Mirror Empire is notable for so many reasons. It has entire societies led by women, and they are not peaceful, loving societies. It has unabashedly ugly women in it who are not punished for being ugly. It has fat women in it, and their fatness doesn’t matter. Hurley deconstructs so many things in this book it’s impossible to touch on them all in this review without spoiling the book itself, but suffice to say she slices the idea that women are inherently more gentle or nurturing to ribbons in the case Zezilli. She destorys the idea that people with disabilities are fragile and incompetent with Lilia–while adamantly maintaining that those disabilities should be accommodated.

The book serves as the beginning of the Worldbreaker Saga, and it’s a beautiful start. The ending leaves a number of questions open, and I’m dying to find out what happens in Empire Ascendant.

Honestly, this was a book I was waiting to read, and I didn’t even know it. It’s a long story shot through with gender weirdness, questions about autonomy, obligation, and redemption. It’s a challenging story full of challenging characters, and I highly recommend it.

5 stars
1In Saiduan, it seemed implied that this third gender category was fixed and assigned to intersex individuals.
2Dhai culture, especially, is focused on issues of consent. Casually touching another person without verbal consent given is a taboo. I loved this. Loved it. I wish we had this in our culture.


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Debrief: MATTERS OF SCALE

MATTERS OF SCALE is available for purchase here

Moshel has hidden himself away for years, trying to keep the emotions of others from driving him mad. It’s in mechanics alone that he can find relief, the reliable tick of clockwork his escape. It’s only when he meets his counterpart, Tovah, that he realizes all may not be as it seems in his world, and there may be a way to change it. It’s all a matter of scale.

Publication date: April 13, 2015

Completion date: January 18, 2014

Number of times subbed:
Four–but only out of miscommunication (bear with me). Matters of Scale was, like most of my shorter fiction, written in response to a call, this time a steampunk call put out by Inkstained Succubus press. I immediately had an idea for it, banged out a story, and subbed it. The editors at Inkstained got back to me quickly: good idea, but the story felt cramped. They gave me a Revise & Resubmit with guidance to expand the story. so, I expanded it, subbed it again, and waited.

I confess, between working a day job, parenting, and sleeping I don’t often follow up as thoroughly or in as timely a manner as I should have. February spilled into March, which meandered into…holy shit, it was September and still no word. I assumed the anthology was dead. I subbed the (now novellette) elsewhere. One market rejected me with a letter expressing interest in future stories. Another gave me a form rejection soon after. I decided to table the story, not sure what to do with it. At 10k words, it was a decidedly odd and somewhat unmarketable length.

And then, out of the ether, voila! A note came from Inkstained saying that their editor was happy with it but had some line edits. I said I was happy to make them. Just like that, things were back on track.

BUT LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES! Always actually get that a dead end is a dead end in writing before you move on, because it might actually be that those editors are working hard (for months!) in the background, and you just don’t know it.

The story of the story:
Again, this story more or less wrote itself. When I hear steampunk, I think clockworks, and when I think clockworks, I think about the Semadran elves in Aerdh, my secondary fantasy universe. And no Semadran elf is more Seamdran than Moshel Atoosa’Avvah.

It was a particularly natural fit to got with a Moshel-centered story for an Inkstained call because Moshel was first introduced as an important secondary character in my debut novel, Resistance, which the fine folk at Inkstained published. This story works as an odd sort of prequel to some of the events of Resistance–but with clockpunk background.

Placing the story:
Ultimately, the story landed exactly where it should have. I never mind it when a story I write for a specific call winds up elsewhere, but I always feel an extra edge of accomplishment when they do. I wrote Matters of Scale for Inkstained, and Inkstained published it. Simple as that.


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Roundup: August 24-30, 2015

CropperCapture[118]

Wanderings on the Internet

  • Ever wonder what Ariah, Sorcha, and Shayat look like in my head? I popped into the #CastYourMC tag on twitter and fancasted Ariah. I put it all on Storify for the curious among you.
  • Haven’t picked up your copy of Brian C. Baer’s Bad Publicity yet? Maybe my fan fiction will inspire you to grab one!
  • If you are so inclined, browse the Supernatural Haikus.

Writing Update

  • Much progress was made on The Search! While on my merry public chariot, I cranked out an additional 4k words this week, bringing the total thus far to 98k words. Sorcha brimmed with self-discovery, and Shayat strong-armed a pirate king into some social reformations.

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Guest Post over at Blog Z!

CropperCapture[114]Hi folks!

The lovely people over at Blog Z published a piece of mine today! Well, it’s not really a piece, so much as it is fan fiction. Literal fan fiction I wrote inspired by fellow Zharmae author Brian C. Baer’s Bad Publicity, which I read and loved…and then wrote fan fiction about and then posted on our publisher’s blog like a goddamned grown adult. 

Go have a gander if you’re so inclined.

-B

Book Review: THE MARK OF NOBA

The Mark of Noba banner
This is my stop during the book blitz for The Mark of Noba by GL Tomas. This book blitz is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The book blitz runs from 25 till 31 August, you can view the complete blitz schedule on the website of Lola’s Blog Tours. My review is posted below the blurb, author info, and giveaway info!

The Mark of Noba Cover

The Mark of Noba (The Sterling Wayfairer Series #1)
by GL Tomas
Genre: Fantasy
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: 25 August, 2015

Blurb:
Sterling Wayfairer has one goal for his senior year: make his mark. He’s been slipping into the background his whole high school career—distracted by his mother’s mental health, unsettled by the vivid dreams that haunt him at night, and overshadowed by the athletic accomplishments of his popular best friends. But this year is going to be different. He’s going to break a few rules, have some fun, and maybe even work up the nerve to ask his crush out on a date.

But things don’t go exactly as planned. Students are disappearing, Sterling starts losing time, and it all seems to center around Tetra, a girl no one else seems to notice but him. When he finally tracks her down for answers, they aren’t what he expects: He and Tetra hail from a world called Noba, and they’re being hunted by a Naga, a malevolent shapeshifter that’s marked them for destruction.

Tetra and Sterling have distinct abilities that can help them fight back, but their power depends heavily on the strength of their bond, a connection that transcends friendship, transcends romance. Years apart have left their bond weak. Jumpstarting it will require Sterling to open his heart and his mind and put his full trust in the mysterious Tetra.

If he doesn’t, neither of them will survive.

You can find The Mark of Noba on Goodreads

You can buy The Mark of Noba here:
Amazon
Amazon Paperback

GL Tomas Author picAbout the Author:
Guinevere and Libertad go by many superhero aliases. Whether you know them by G.L. Tomas, the Twinjas, or the Rebellious Valkyries, their mission is always the same: spreading awareness of diversity in books. Oh, and trying to figure out the use for pocketless pants! They host other allies and champions of diversity in their secret lair in Connecticut.

You can find and contact with GL Tomas here:
Website
Facebook Author
Facebook book blog
Twitter account Libertad
Twitter account Guinevere
Twitter account YA book blog
Twitter account NA, romance and adult books
Goodreads
Author Pinterest
Pinterest Book Blog
Book Blog Tumblr

There is a tour wide giveaway for the book blitz of The Mark of Noba. These are the prizes you can win:
– $10 Amazon Gift Card(US) or A book of your choice via The Book Depository up to $10(INT)

For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js


B’s Review

FTC disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Notes on Diversity
Given that the authors of The Mark of Noba are so deeply involved in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, I set my expectations high in terms of diversity. I am happy to say they delivered!

The book starts with Sterling Wayfairer, who is a blond, blue-eyed cishet straight dude, but he is basically the only one of his kind in the book. And unlike in The Windup Girl, where this viewpoint dominates the narrative and makes the diversity surrounding the central White dude ornamental, Sterling Wayfairer is not put in a position of power or privilege in his world due to his Whiteness/cis-ness/het-ness. Virtually all of his friends are teens of color, and their presence is not especially noteworthy. Like with Niko, G L Tomas pushes back against White supremacy by creating a world where people of color are thoughtlessly acceptable, desirable, perfect just as they are. Racial tensions where Sterling lives seem not to exists, and this in itself is a strong pro-diversity statement 1.

AND THEN WE GET TETRA. Tetra is Black, like very dark Black, and she’s beautiful and strong and smart and flawed (so flawed) but so redeemable. AND she is offhandedly queer, which made my heart flutter. (You can already tell I have a massive thing for Tetra, huh?). Tetra is a great character, and she is an especially great Black woman character. That she is so dark-skinned and consistently seen as desirable is another example of G L Thomas going the extra distance here in terms of visibility and diversity in their work.

But wait! There’s more! With Sterling’s mother we get a character grappling with mental disability, and with Sterling himself we see how that affects the people she loves. Laurel, Sterling’s mother, was written with such nuance. As both the child of a parent with severe mental health issues and as a parent who struggles with mental health themself, the delicate and fraught relationship between Sterling and Laurel really got to me. That kind of relationship is very easy to write badly in fiction, and I’ve seen it written badly more than I’ve seen it written well–but G L Tomas got it right. They captured the layers of dependence and complication that the mental illness of a parent causes–the way it turns a child into a caretaker, and the way that muddies the relationship between the child and the parent.

Noba teaser 1Review
Sterling Wayfairer is just trying to make the most of his senior year, but all he actually seems to do is get in trouble. And then things start to get weird: there’s a girl at school in all his classes that only he seems to remember. He starts losing time. And then this girl, Tetra, moves into his house, convincing his parents that she’s a ‘foreign exchange student.’ She says they know each other. She says they are bonded. She says their from some other world? And things get even weirder after that.

From Tetra’s perspective, she’s stumbled into a foreign world to get her bonded Traveler up to speed, but he remembers nothing. Literally nothing. And there’s a monster loose, trying to find them to eat their souls. She has to protect this entire world, get Sterling up to speed, and protect him from the monster literally all by herself. While blending into at a local high school.

The book bounces back and forth between Sterling and Tetra’s perspectives, giving us insight between how each of them is dealing with this enormously complicated situation. What’s lovely about the back and forth is that both Sterling and Tetra have clearly defined and very, very different voices. Sterling is so young, and untempered, and so casual. Tetra, by comparison, is much more formal, and more wary, and starts of more focused on the task at hand. But, over the course of the book, she loosens up and relaxes into Sterling’s space, his circle of friends, his family. Both of these characters grow a lot of the course of the book–Sterling matures, and Tetra seems to get younger and looser and warmer. I think we don’t see Tetra’s sort of reverse-arc enough, especially in YA books. It’s especially meaningful to me because I feel like I’ve gone on a similar emotional journey as Tetra.

All the hallmarks of a YA high school book are here–midterms, prom prep, party hookup–but with the threat of a sci fi monster in the background. If there’s one thing I would have changed about the book, it would have been a better balance between the high school foregrounding and the monster quest background arc. The hunt for the mysterious Naga hunting Sterling and Tetra slips in and out of the foreground to the extent that by the time the requisite showdown happens the stakes don’t quite feel high enough. It’s foreshadowed well at the beginning, but there’s a lull in the middle of the book where the Naga seems to go into hibernation while Sterling and Tetra hang out and do high school things (which is great fun and excellent for their character development). Still, a better balance between both sides of the plot would have added tension all the way through the book and added even more emotional punch to an already gut-wrenching ending. Whoo boy, that ending is killer.

Even with the uneveness in the pacing and tension, this book is well worth the read. I am excited to see what Tomas does with the second book. The characterization is so strong, and the writing is lovely. The teaser chapter for the second book had me so intrigued!

Also, and this is a small but important point, the book design is beautiful. Just lovely to behold, from the cover to the chapter headings.

4 stars

1For examples along other axes of this, see Malinda Lo’s statements of writing fantasy worlds without homophobia.



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Writing Tip: Figure Out Your Comfort Zone And Go From There

comfortzones1

Three domains for awesome reading: good characters, good plot, good prose.

I would contend that truly stellar writing excels in three domains: it has excellent characterization, the plot keeps you coming back for more, and the prose itself is to die for.1

I would also contend that generally writers tend to have a comfort zone–one of these three domains is easier to write and comes more naturally than the others.

When I was just starting to write, I got really hung up on trying to nail all three domains right out of the gate every single time. Because that’s what it took, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, that what it takes for a finished piece of writing to succeed. But that will pretty much make it impossible for me, personally, to get through a first draft of anything. So, in order to have something to polish, something to finish in the first place, I had to stop overthinking it. I had to get that first draft done, get it out, on paper, all the way through.

The way I see it, you’re not going to get to what I call “optimal writing,” or that primo grade-A book-hangover read-until-way-past-your-bedtime stuff until the polished final draft anyway. By then, you already know what kind of book you’re writing. See how in that graphic up there the optimal writing is buried deep in the center? That’s because it’s hard to get to. You have to chart a path.

My advice is this: in the first draft, play to you strengths and write fast by starting in your comfort zone. In the second draft, when you have a better idea of what you’re actually doing with the piece, fill in the gaps with the thing you’re second best at. Save the hardest for last. That’s the the part you wait until the endgame for. That’s the polish. You do that third, very hard thing while you’ve really nailed down the other two. By then you know the book like the back of your hand. You’ve got the rhythm down, the themes laid out. You know what you’re doing with it. Your writing isn’t exploratory anymore, so with this last piece it’s more targeted revisions.

An Example: How I Wrote Ariah

Start with characters, take a sharp right at plots, just barly squeak into good writing. BAM! That's how I wrote ARIAH.

The B R Sanders: Start with characters, take a sharp right at plots, just barely squeak into good writing. BAM! That’s how I wrote ARIAH.

I’m a very character-driven writer. Virtually all my narratives start first with an idea of a character, then with a complication in the form of a relationship. The cast forms, radiating out from one or two key characters who I understand in minute, intricate detail. I often don’t even have notes about these central characters. I just know them. Ariah, Sorcha, Shayat–I never had to write anything down, or plan anything out, or keep anything straight. I just, weirdly, knew them.

But all the other characters in Ariah had dossiers as I started drafting the book, because they were fuzzier and needed filling in. They were less organically alive, less vibrant (which is maybe why it wasn’t their story) so I made those notes.

I didn’t really get the plot of Ariah right until the second draft. I didn’t really know what the book was about until then, but I sure as hell knew who was in it. I wrote it, let it sit for a while, and re-read it. I made notes to myself on the re-read about plot stuff. Again, it happened naturally–I think of the three domains plot building is my second best. And I outlined a better, stronger plot for the book, which I followed almost to the letter in the revisions.

And then there was description. Not my strong suit. I…punted. I do not consider myself a stylist. I would say I have a sturdy, workable prose style. I tend to read my own writing for grammar and comprehension. I do not fiddle with my sentence. That way, for me, lies madness. They will never be perfect enough. So, I made sure the draft was coherent (in that the action seemed descriptive enough, and the dialogue was easy to follow, as it had tags that told you who was speaking–things that my first draft lacked in places), and subbed the book. My truly excellent editor was wonderful at pointing out which places needed more description and which needed a little less. Where my writing hit the Optimal Writing Zone instead of lingering in the murky green good characterization/satisfying plot wilderness, she probably had a hand in.

Ok, So What Does This Mean For You?

The Raymond Chandler: You start with the plot (a wicked detailed outline, mayhaps?), then branch out into characters. Polish up that prose, then head straight to the promised land.

The Raymond Chandler: You start with the plot (a wicked detailed outline, mayhaps?), then branch out into characters. Polish up that prose, then head straight to the promised land.

But lo! That is just one way to get to the Optimal Writing Promised Land. Your route might be different. The technique–start where it’s easy, and push through to where it’s hardest–might be the same, but your starting point and ending point are likely different than mine. I’ve come up with a couple of alternatives in the graphics here, but really, the possibilities are endless.

The beauty of writing–of any art–is that there’s no one way to do it. There’s as many ways to get the art done as there are artists. But getting started is always hard. Writing a book is a daunting process. Breaking it down into those general steps–First Draft, Second Draft, Polish–makes it more manageable for me. And assigning a general skill to each one to focus on and get right in the draft–Characters, Plot, Description–helps make it even more manageable.

Ar you Anne Rice? You write very long descriptions of furniture before venturing into Prairie of Plot. You edge into Optimal Writing picking up characterization almost by accident.

The Anne Rice: You write very long descriptions of furniture before venturing into Prairie of Plot. You edge into Optimal Writing picking up characterization almost by accident.

It’s made me a better writer in the long run. I trust my characterization more with each first draft I crank out. I know, with certainty, that’s my great strength as a writer. I know I’m getting better at plotting: it’s easier to manage every time I do it. And I’m growing as a stylist, too. I’m getting a knack for knowing what to include and what not to include. I am sometimes impressed by my turns of phrase when I read my own first drafts. The reason I’m improving is because this system helps me write more–get to the finish line and cross it. It exercises all three skills, which means everything gets a little better every time.

~

1Your mileage may vary as to what each of these actually consists of, but good writing generally has all three present for it to work.


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Interview: SIMONE SALMON

I’m excited to have Simone Salmon stop by my blog today and answer a few questions about her novel, Drafnel! 

CropperCapture[108]Simone Salmon, a Jamaican born New Yorker, is the mother of two sons and a Jack Russell terrier.

Simone is still working on her exit strategy from Corporate America, but in the meantime she writes novels, poetry and expands her multisensory perceptions. She is also a spiritual truth seeker who appreciates psychic phenomena and timelessness.

Music of all kinds, warm weather, lounging on the beach, and experiencing the unknown are just a few of her most favorite things.


Drafnel Cover

Pre-order the book at: Amazon | BookGoodies | Goodreads

DRAFNEL launches 8/28/2015!

There are so many moving pieces in DRAFNEL, and it’s all the more complicated by the fact that, as presented, the book is non-linear. How did you keep everything straight? What was your writing process like?

This is a fantastic question and I hope that my answer explains why. I have always wanted to write a book or poetry or short story…just about anything. After receiving a C- from my freshman English professor, I decided that maybe the writing dream needed to be shelved in pursuit of a more realistic profession: something having to do with computers. Fast forward 20+ years later, with a limited career in word processing, the writing itch started to take over again. I found a great online writing coach, the late Debra Rigas. She understood my aversion to using an outline, after my many misses with a slew of “How to Write a Novel” books. She encouraged me to not worry about where paragraphs or even chapters would end up. For instance, the last chapter that I wrote is the beginning of the first chapter in Drafnel. To be honest, many chapters and paragraphs were moved around as the story unfolded. As a matter of fact, my original intention was to write a ghost story based on very real events that occurred while living in a New York brownstone after graduating from college. However, something different unfolded the more I connected with my characters and glimpsed their worlds. The only real process I can admit to having is a commitment to non-stop writing during three one-week vacations at the Jersey Shore. The majority of the book got written by the beach over a three-year period during each of those vacations.

My best answer for your first question is that I followed Debra’s very astute suggestion and just wrote. This novel is a literal creative purge. There was no methodology for keeping everything in logical sequence. I did not have lists or journals, nor were there any character mappings. Some of the characters chose to remain undeveloped because they will appear in subsequent books in the series. I followed their energetic flow, otherwise the narratives sounded forced and felt mechanical. I found myself filled with genuine delight or surprise upon discovering why a certain event happened or even the name of a particular character. I knew nothing of implementing plots or plot twists, but that didn’t seem to matter because, as you hinted, a variety of intricate and complex moving pieces somehow weaved their way into the story.

A writer writes. So I just wrote.

I was captivated by the sections narrated by Camille’s grandmother, Catherine, which were set in Jamaica. Catherine’s character–both as a young girl and as an old woman–came through so strongly. Can you talk a little about her and how she came to be included in the book?

Catherine’s character is based on my maternal grandmother, Mavis, who passed away several years back. My grandmother, like Catherine, was adopted from India and knew very little of her own family history. The people who raised her, in Jamaica, treated her like a housemaid instead of an adopted child or sister. She shared many tragic stories of mistreatment and loss. An example is when her two year-old son was permanently removed from her care. She never knew where his father had taken him or how to locate the family. She searched for him throughout the years and did not connect with him again until a little before her death. So there are many similarities between Catherine, the character, and my grandmother.

I spent countless hours on the phone or lounging in my grandmother’s living-room couch, during occasional visits, captivated by her answers to my questions about her life. She had the best sense of humor and always made me laugh. She helped me to write this book in many different ways: through her gift for story-telling and the presence of her magnificent spirit.

Another standout for me was Kristle Franz. I won’t get into spoilers here–folks really should read the book–but that was a narrative thread that slowly built momentum and weirdness throughout. What were some influences for you? How did that character come to be?

It’s so interesting and satisfying to hear how a character affects the reader. As I wrote the story, Kristle seemed to prefer staying in the background. I guess that’s why her narrative has that slow, yet deliberate momentum you mentioned. She is loosely based on the stepmother of an acquaintance. This acquaintance happens to be the product of an extra-marital affair. She ended up being raised by her father’s wife who, understandably, resented being burdened with the daily reminder of her husband’s betrayal. Unfortunately, the child bore the brunt of this man’s deception, both in her lack of acceptance within the family and the rejection by her own mother. Kristle’s character is composite of perceptions from an outsider witnessing some of the weirdness in those relationship dynamics.

What are you working on right now? What should readers look for from you next?

I am currently working on the next book in the series entitled, Caleb. This will be based on Catherine’s brother, who we learn little about in Drafnel. Like this book, I really won’t know much more until the story unfolds.

I’ve also been working on a non-fiction book about my experiences trusting intuition and following higher guidance. I’m hoping to get both books completed over the next twelve months.

How can readers stay in the loop and get news about your projects and releases?

Folks can look for upcoming events such as giveaways and book signings on my website: www.ssalmonauthor.com.

On social media I can be found at:

Anything else you want us to know? Shout-outs? Words of wisdom?

Don’t wait for the right time or inspiration. If you want to write a novel or do something outside of your comfort zone – just do it and be ready to experience the miracle of co-creating with the universe. Listen to your intuition and follow your gut. That guidance will open up new doors and change your reality in ways that you cannot begin to comprehend or conceive.

Shout-out to:

  1. BR Sanders for this interview and awesome review;
  2. Solstice Publishing for taking a chance on my book;
  3. Solstice editor, Laura Johnson, whose editing was everythang;
  4. Cat Castleman who brought the characters to life on the book cover;
  5. My sons, James and Jordan, for being constant inspirations and motivation;
  6. My angels, both here and beyond, for all of their assistance and guidance during this process.

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Roundup: August 17-23, 2015

click through for image source

click through for image source

Wanderings on the Internet

Writing Update

  • Not a ton to report here, this week: did more editing than writing. Some was for my own writing, most was for a project I’m doing developmental edits on. Stay tuned, as I’ll be hopping on the writing wagon next week!

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Book Review: THE WINDUP GIRL

TheWindupGirl_PaoloBacigalupi

Amazon | Goodreads

Notes on Diversity:
On the surface, this book looks diverse. It’s set in Thailand, and at least two of the viewpoint characters (Lieutenant Kanya and Emiko) are not only people of color but also women. Lieutenant Kanya is also queer. I read this book because it was a high-profile well-respected award-winning diverse science fiction book. At least, this is what it purports to be.

This is actually a case of diversity-gone-wrong. Anderson Lake, a White cis-het man, is the dominant POV and the most developed character. Thailand is largely seen through his eyes, and the rest of the cast exists to add color and spice to his story. This is a case where, in spite of the fact that Anderson Lake is one of the few White characters in the story, basically all of the people of color suffer from tokenism. They are painted in broad strokes, and those broad strokes are guided, unfortunately, by stereotypes.

The Windup Girl is one long diversity fail.

Review:
The environment is in shambles. Espionage in the 23rd century, at least as embodied by Anderson Lake, takes the form of swiping the location of a Thai seedbank. Along the way, we are introduced to Emiko, the titular Windup Girl, a Japanese New Person sex slave, and Lieutenant Kanya, a policewoman embroiled in some very complicated politics.

It is a setup that makes for an interesting book. And Paolo Bacigalupi is a good writer. But the book fails, and it fails because there is actually very little that is new here. The spec fic stuff in it is just bells and whistles, but the ideas are actually just rehashes of Orientalist male fantasies that have been around for centuries.

This is not a book about biotechnology or Thailand. This is just another book about how an East Asian woman (Emiko) seems so foreign to a White man that she appears soulless, but that she hold immense and disruptive sexual appeal to him anyway. And, of course, she is bred to be submissive and obedient. Name a trope related to the fetishization about Asian women and it’s here, but it’s played completely straight.

Honestly, the only reason I gave this book two stars instead of one was Lieutenant Kanya. She appeared on the page as a queer woman of color with at least some interiority, and she was a reprieve from the unrelenting Orientalist assault that was the Anderson Lake-Emiko storyline. Like Emiko, Kanya is not free of stereotypes: she is a butch lesbian who is humorless and who ultimately ends up alone1. But, hell, at least Kanya got some interesting things do to plot-wise. At least she wasn’t, quite literally, a lab-grown sex-slave for a White man to ogle who played into harmful stereotypes rather than dismantling them.

It was strange reading this book, because it was so well-received. There are times when you read a book and it’s truly like the rest of the world is reading an altogether different book. Yes, Bacigalupi can construct a nice sentence. Yes, thinking about a world populated with dirigables and armed genetically enhanced elephants is pretty cool. But the titular character2 is a damsel in distress in the worst possible way; Emiko’s storylines start antiquated and continue to be so throughout the book. Bacigalupi has nothing fresh or new to say about her. This book is far from feminist or intersectional.

I expect more from fiction. As a reader on the margins, I demand more from fiction, especially well-regarded fiction. Well-regarded fiction should treat its vulnerable, exploited, marginalized characters with at least a modicum of respect. They should be granted a shred of agency.

2 stars

1Because Lesbians Can Never Be Happy

2That the title is the slur used against the New People really sets the tone for Emiko’s storyline in hindsight.


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