Daily Reads: 5 May 2015

BM bag

Sjoe, I haven’t done one of these for a while! Time to get back into the swing of things. The past month was a bit slow in terms of reading, but I do have a review of Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes in the works and I got my sister Ruth to take a few shots of the book, as you can see above and on the cover of my Facebook page.

I’ve been slacking on my online reading, so yesterday I took some time out to see what had been posted recently. One of the most notable things to pop up on my feed was Cat Hellisen’s new novel Charm, which is available for FREE on her blog in serial form. Here’s the synopsis:

Irene Kerry thinks she’s dealing with her mother’s suicide just fine until the day her best friend Rain falls in love with a much older man. A man who knew her mother, and believes Irene is a magician like her. In order to protect her friend and family, Irene must hunt an ancient magician who steals and eats magic, and discover the truth behind her mother’s life and death.

The first chapter of twenty-two went up on Friday, and subsequent chapters will be posted every Wednesday. If you don’t want to wait, you can buy the whole book on Smashwords.

If you enjoy read-alongs, you’re a Jacqueline Carey fan, or you’ve always wanted to read Kushiel’s Dart, there’s a great read-along starting this week with some of the awesome bloggers who I’ve joined for previous read-alongs. You can find the schedule here. Leave a comment if you want to be added to the mailing list. If you’re interested in this and other read-alongs, you can also join our new Goodreads group – SF/F Read Alongs – to keep in touch.

Then I went trawling for interesting articles on sff. I loved Jennie Goloboy’s article “Never Enough Farmers! Class and Writing Fantasy Novels” in this month’s issue of Apex Magazine. She writes about the way fantasy authors tend to project their modern, middle-class values onto pre-industrial societies where those values or assumptions would never fit. For example, there’s too much focus on towns and cities, given that most people would have been farmers. Too many characters focus on time even though people in that sort of period wouldn’t have had the technology to keep track of time – “none of that ‘I have fourteen summers’ please – that’s still too precise!” she says.

Goloboy proposes a fantasy about a farmer who never leaves the farm. It probably wouldn’t be epic fantasy, but there are lots of place-bound genres – horror, mystery, Gothic, romance. And I think that sounds like a great idea. I think an author like Tom Holt, who also happens to be a historian, could do something amazing with that.

Finally, Foz Meadows has an article about The Importance of Writing Sex Scenes, and things to consider when writing them. I particularly like her comments about the way scenes of positive consensual sex are typically considered gratuitous or taboo while scenes of bad sex, sexual assault or rape are not:

it’s often assumed that positive, consensual sex scenes serve a strictly pornographic function, such that, unless you’re actively trying to titillate your audience, the only sex that ought to appear in other genres is bad sex, or sexual assault, or rape. The logic here is maddening: that only violent, unpleasant or non-consensual sexual encounters can have such a transformative, narratively relevant effect on the characters that you’re justified in showing them in detail, rather than simply fading to black or leaving it up to the reader’s imagination.

[…] if you feel comfortable including rape, sexual assault, bad sex or sex that only one party enjoys in your stories, but aren’t similarly willing to write positive, consensual sex scenes, too, because you think they’re too porny or irrelevant, then you’re a hypocrite.

[…] to the extent that you’re willing to include sexual content at all, it makes no sense – and is, I’d argue, actively problematic – to restrict yourself to purely negative depictions across the board. Sex in all its forms can serve a narrative purpose, and if it also happens to be titillating sometimes, then so what? Literature is meant to make us feel things, and I see no reason bar a culturally ingrained sense of puritan shame that arousal should be considered a less valid, worthy response to evoke than fear, or grief, or horror.

And that’s it from me today guys. I hope I’ve given you some good reads and interesting ideas to chew on. It looks like it’s about pour with rain on this grey day in Cape Town, so I’m going to brew another cup of coffee and get into the grim details of Broken Monsters.

Happy reading!

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments.

Photography for this post is courtesy of Ruth Smith. You can view or buy her work here, follow her on Facebook or contact her at photobunny24@gmail.com.

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Daily Reads: 27 February 2015

Morning everyone 🙂

My Daily Reads don’t have a lot of actual reading today; just some cool stuff that’s popped up recently.

Academic ExercisesIf you haven’t already done so, you should really take advantage of Subterranean Press’s Humble Bundle sale. You can:
– Pay what you want and get seven ebooks.
– Pay above the average amount and get an extra twelve ebooks
– Pay $15 dollars or more and get EVERYTHING, which amounts to $123 of sff ebooks.

I might have bought this for the K.J. Parker collection alone, but it’s also got a ton of short fiction by authors I’m really excited to read – Elizabeth Bear, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Joe R. Lansdale, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard, Tim Powers… Yeah. Best. Deal. EVER.

In case you didn’t know, Subterranean Press is a specialist publisher of sff and horror, producing exclusive titles by some of the best authors in the field. Their print copies are all special editions (hardcovers with leather or cloth binding, often signed, sometimes in slipcases, etc.). They also have loads of ebooks and used to have an excellent magazine, which you can still access for free.

Three Parts Dead

Hopefully that won’t keep you too busy just yet, because Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog and Susan from Dab of Darkness are hosting a readalong of Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1) by Max Gladstone, starting in March. I’ve got a copy that I’ve been meaning to read for a while, so I signed up. It’ll be a very relaxed pace (about 100 words per week), and you can sign up on either blog by leaving a comment. You can blog along if you want, or just blog hop and comment on the weekly discussions.

Finally, Cat Hellisen is doing us all a huge favour by compiling a list of spec fic by South African authors.  Let her know if there’s anything she should add.

Happy reading!

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments.

Daily Reads: Malinda Lo on perceptions of diversity in book reviews

Glasses Journal

Today I was reading author Malinda Lo’s wonderful series of articles entitled Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews. Her goal was to discern and critique the way reviewers think about diversity in fiction, and how that informs their opinions. Lo focuses on the shorter trade reviews of YA books, but the issues she raises can be applied to all kinds of reviews of books in any genre.

 

Part 1: “Scarcely plausible”
The first post includes the introduction to Lo’s topic and some notes about her methods, but the main issue is the way reviewers sometimes criticise a novel’s diversity as being “contrived”. This seems to be a fundamental problem, so I pulled a few quotes from Lo’s article (emphasis in bold is my own):

The critique of The Doubt Factory‘s “perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible” reveals a deep-seated belief that a group of people are unlikely to be ethnically and sexually diverse. As in Stranger, this diverse cast is read by the reviewer as contrived — as something constructed in a less-than-subtle manner by the author, and thus as unrealistic. In the review of On a Clear Day, the statement that “Effort has clearly been made to diversify this cast” suggests that this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.

 

What disturbs me more than a review’s denial that diversity is realistic, however, is the belief that purposely creating — contriving with “effort” — a diverse cast is pandering to the diversity movement that has been simmering for decades, and has exploded in YA and children’s literature over the past year.

 

It reveals a belief that simmers beneath all those critiques of diversity as implausible: the belief that nonwhite, LGBT, and disabled characters are simply unnecessary; that adding in these perspectives derails a story; that “reality” is white and homogenous.

 

Part 2: So many (too many?) issues
This post addresses the idea that including too many issues gets in the way of good storytelling. Reviewers often want things to be simpler and easier, but one of the problems with this is that it excludes people who have to deal with multiple minority identities (e.g. black, gay, Muslim).

 

Part 3: A lot to decode
This is a particularly interesting issue, which I’ve struggled with more than the others – if a book is written from the POV of a non-dominant culture, to what extent should it cater to those outside of that culture (typically white or westernised readers)?

Lo finds that many reviewers criticise diverse books for not explaining unfamiliar cultures to readers, and for using unfamiliar slang and non-English words. The underlying assumption here is that most readers are white and westernised, and thus it is of utmost importance to cater to them, rather than anyone else (who might not need or want all those explanations). As she politely suggests, you could just try harder – if you stumble at something unfamiliar, look it up, figure it out from context, or ignore it and keep going. Just like you would do with any other word or concept you don’t know.

And maybe take a moment to consider the validity of your opinion as a reviewer:

Instead of demanding glossaries and criticizing a book for including non-English words and non-Western cultures, reviewers who find these kinds of novels “frustrating” should consider whether they are culturally informed enough to review the book properly. Not all books are meant for white/Western readers. This is not a problem, and I hope that reviewers and review editors will realize this.

 

Part 4: Readers may be surprised
This one addresses cases where the limited or bigoted perspectives of reviewers affects reviews. For example, a reviewer might criticise a minority character for being unrealistic because they do not fit the reviewer’s idea of that identity. Or, a reviewer might express surprise at the existence of a certain community, because the reviewer’s understanding of the world is pretty narrow.

 

Overall, these articles have me thinking about how I’ve handled issues of diversity in my own reviews, and how I should do so in future. On the one hand I do want to highlight diversity and related issues for readers, to spread the word about more diverse books and capture the interest of those who are looking to read more widely. But in doing so, am I also portraying those books as non-standard, with dominant cultures as the norm? Or is it fair to argue that that’s just the way things are anyway, so it helps to single certain books, characters or themes out in the hope that the literary scene as a whole eventually becomes more diverse?

Mind you, I often feel a bit odd when pointing out diversity in novels, as if I’m pointing at someone and going “OMG look! This guy is black and gay! Isn’t that just wonderfully exotic and therefore awesome?” There have been a few occasions when I was treated as kind of exotic or weird (How can you be (South) African, your skin is [the wrong colour]! Oh, you speak English!), which I found ridiculous and annoying if not offensive. Still, I think it’s ok to say that you find someone’s identity new and interesting and you’d like to know more about them. I suppose it’s a matter of approaching them with respect rather than just curiosity?

Then I got to thinking about books with a lot of unfamiliar content – words, cultures, etc. I see no problem with looking things up, but having to do it too often really is going to get tiresome. But if I don’t know enough about the context, should I be writing a review? Well, I think there’s a loophole here – make it clear that your opinion comes from a position of general ignorance, and don’t automatically turn your failure to understand something into a criticism of the book. Trying to read out of your comfort zone is admirable, but it doesn’t lend any kind of authority to your opinion.

Anyway, I’ve blathered on for long enough now. Does anyone else have any thoughts on discussing issues of diversity in reviews? Or is it something you feel safer avoiding?

 

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments.

Photography for this post is courtesy of Ruth Smith. You can view or buy her work here, or contact her at photobunny24@gmail.com.

Daily Reads: 16 February 2015

I’m just going to avoid talking about how very very long it’s taking me to finish my current review, and instead give you a moment to appreciate the Joey Hi-fi cover of my current read – Fletcher by David Horscroft, published by Fox & Raven.

FletcherDavid Horscroft is a South African novelist and Fletcher is his debut, a postapocalyptic sf thriller with one of the most insanely violent main characters I’ve ever read. I took a break from all its bleeding and screaming to see what was happening on my favourite blogs.

I’ve been seeing the Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear floating around the internet lately, but, for no reason in particular, I didn’t take a closer look. However, I put it on my priority list after reading Bear’s guest post about writing an authentic prostitute character for whom selling sex is a job, not a definition of who she is. Yay for interesting, complex female perspectives 🙂

Then today I learned that Neil Clarke, creator of Clarkesworld magazine, is publishing a new digital-only sff magazine called Forever. I find this both exciting and kind of depressing. Exciting because I’m expecting more wonderful sff from it, and depressing because I feel like I’m being buried under all the short fiction I need to read. But the nice thing about this new magazine is that, for now, it will only have one novella and two short stories. That means I might actually be able to finish reading one in a month! I used to be able to do that with Clarkesworld, but they’ve since expanded to six stories a month, and I never get around to reading all of them. I know I don’t have to; it just feels good to finish the whole magazine.

Finally, there’s this nice, short personal essay by Haralambi Markov on writing queer characters in sff – the fear of doing it, and why you absolutely should do it. The essay is part of Lightspeed magazine’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter campaign. Can’t wait to check out that edition 🙂 Surprisingly, this brings me back to Fletcher, whose raving psychopath protagonist also happens to be openly bisexual… Lemme go see if I can finish that book tonight.

Happy reading!

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments.

Photography for this post is courtesy of Ruth Smith. You can view or buy her work here, or contact her at photobunny24@gmail.com.

Daily Reads: 27 January 2015

Glasses Journal It’s been a slow reading week, and I’m still busy with The Just City by Jo Walton and Sister Sister by Rachel Zadok. The one downside to moving back to Cape Town and studying/job hunting/enjoying being back in Cape Town is that it’s not easy getting used to having a ton of things to do other than read and blog. But it feels good to be busy, as long as I have a to-do list to stop my brain wandering 🙂 And I rounded up a couple of great articles for today’s post:

Francine Prose warns us that they’re watching you read – Kobo recently released an analysis of trends in ebook reading, based on data gleaned from reading devices. You can read more about it at the Guardian, but the gist of it is that many readers don’t actually finish acclaimed bestsellers like Goldfinch or Twelve Years a Slave (although they’re still bestsellers). Prose considers the implications of this and what it might mean for the future of publishing. In the process, she throws out a couple of ideas that would look good in an sf novel (“Will it ever happen that someone can be convicted of a crime because of a passage that he is found to have read, many times, on his e-book?”).

Take a moment to consider the crucial role editors play in bringing you the books you love by reading “Stet by Me: Thoughts on Editing Fiction” (discovered via Aerogramme Writer’s Studio on Facebook). This amusing, honest article describes the delicate but mostly thankless job of getting books from authors to readers.

Not that it would downplay the rather more harrowing work of the author. Kameron Hurley’s recent blog post about working on her upcoming novel Empire Ascendant, depicts the editing process from her POV.

Now, after all that heavy reading, a list! Hurley shares a couple of upcoming sff titles she insists you should be pre-ordering. And I trust her judgement 🙂

Happy reading!

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments 🙂

Photography for this post is courtesy of Ruth Smith. You can view or buy her work here, or contact her at photobunny24@gmail.com.

Daily Reads: 19 January 2015

Hey everyone! Apologies for my recent blog silence, but I have finally moved back to South Africa from Ethiopia (YAY!) and I’ve been extra disorganised as a result. But I’m slowly getting back into my routine, and I’ve got some cool stuff planned for Violin in A Void. This includes lovely professional photography by my sister Ruth (contact details at the end of this post).

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I’m currently reading The Just City by Jo Walton, and Sister Sister by Rachel Zadok, whose gorgeous cover Ruth captured in the picture above. You can get a better look at the artwork on the publisher’s page here, and several people have been telling me that Zadok’s novel is just as wonderful.

But before I go and curl up with that again, here are some daily reads for you.

In “A Matter of Gaze” Foz Meadows offers some practical ways of thinking about the male gaze, and formulates a companion test for the Bechdal as a way of assessing the way women are portrayed in film. A very useful article especially if, like me, you feel strongly about these issues but sometimes struggle to think about or discuss it in a clear, analytical way.

Following his article on why you should write in your books with a pen, Tim Parks wrote an article on how to read critically. I’ve already found it quite helpful in turning my attention to little details that I might not otherwise have noticed, and appreciating writing that seemed lacklustre at first glance. A fantastic tool for writing reviews!

Speaking of which, I recently read some articles on negative reviews, which, as regular readers may have noticed, I have no qualms about writing. Some people don’t like them or don’t like posting them, but these articles argue in their defence.

The G from the blog Nerds of a Feather invited other reviewers to give their opinions about the positive value of negative reviews. If you want to see me get a little ranty about this, check out my comment below the article.

Litreactor also has a post about why readers don’t owe it to writers to finish books they don’t like and how it’s ok to review a book you didn’t finish (provided you review it honestly as a dnf – did not finish). Although I usually slog through books I don’t like, and sometimes get a bit annoyed with dnf reviews of books I loved, I have to agree here. A dnf review can’t offer a valid assessment of a book as a whole, but readers still get a worthwhile opinion from a review that says a book was so bad/slow/boring etc. that the reviewer couldn’t bear to finish it.

What do you think? Is it ok to write dnf reviews? Do you find that opinion helpful? Do you read/write negative reviews, or do you think it’s better to either be more diplomatic or simply keep snarky opinions to yourself?

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments 🙂

Photography for this post is courtesy of Ruth Smith. You can view or buy her work here, or contact her at photobunny24@gmail.com.

Daily Reads: 16 December 2014

DR 16122014

It’s that time of year when people start posting their best-of lists, and I tend to start feeling guilty about all the books I never got around to reading. But it’s a good kind of guilt, if that makes sense, because it helps me prioritise my tbr pile, turns my attention to interesting new books I never took much notice of before, and generally just whips up fresh enthusiasm for new fiction. And since I’m looking forward to another kind of good guilt, the kind that comes with having enjoyed too much delicious food and wine, I decided to post some of the sff lists I’ve been looking at.

Tor.com posted Reviewer’s Choice: The Best Books of 2014. Some very exciting stuff here, especially since the reviewers have listed some lesser-known works. I’m so happy to see SA authors Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz there too.

SF Signal’s recent Mind Meld is about the best sff movies of 2014. I don’t feel guilty about not having watched most of these movies, simply because I can’t (there’s only one tiny cinema in Addis Ababa screening new international movies). Nevertheless, I love film and I’ll be moving back to SA soon, so I’m adding a couple of these to my must-watch list. Interstellar gets a few mentions, of course, but what I’d really like to watch is Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as an old, pretentious vampire couple.

Chaos Horizon is a blog dedicated to predicting the Nebula and Hugo nominees based on statistical modelling. It’s a good place to keep track of buzz books and get a feel for these awards. The latest post is an update on the Nebula 2015 predictions. I feel rather chuffed for having actually read quite a few of these and owning a couple of others, although I’m annoyed that I passed up a chance at a review copy of The Goblin Emperor. Anyway, more items on the list of books to buy.

And finally, not a list, but some awesome news – Saga Press is publishing a Kameron Hurley space opera! It’s called The Stars Are Legion, and ok, it’s only coming out in 2016, but I’m already going all squee. Click through to read Aiden Moher’s interview with Hurley, and find out what kind of mind-blowing weirdness we can expect from the novel. You might always want to start following Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s new sff imprint, launching in spring 2015. Upcoming titles include books by Ken Liu, Genevieve Valentine, and Kat Howard.

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments 🙂