Sleeps With Monsters: I’m Still Behind On My Reading, Send Help

Cover art for Cindy Pon's SERPENTINE

There’s an appalling sense of guilt associated with my to-be-read pile at this point. It’s only going to get worse, especially since I appear to have signed up to read an extra hundred books between now and next March. (Don’t ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time…)

So this week, let me tell you about two books and a short story. I was going to write about a couple of novellas as well, but I ran out of time to read them. Time appears to be in strikingly short supply—Anyway!

You may remember I was pretty enthusiastic about Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings, her new fantasy novel with Fallen angels and alchemists, set in a Paris in decay after a great war that isn’t quite our Great War. For anyone like me, who wanted more after that—or for anyone who isn’t quite sure ...

Sleeps With Monsters: More Books To Talk About Than There Is Time To Read


There are so many books by brilliant authors that I want to talk about, and I can’t read fast enough to keep up. This is immensely frustrating. Just the to-read pile has at least a dozen recent or forthcoming novels (Loren Rhoads, Karina Sumner-Smith, Lisa Goldstein, Nnedi Okorafor, Angélica Gorodischer, Laura Anne Gilman, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Alyx Dellamonica, AND STILL MORE), while the to-read shelves are groaning under the ambitions of my backlog. (Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds, Monica Byrne’s The Girl In the Road, more of the Foreigner novels by C.J. Cherryh, oh, mountains and mountains of things.)

You know, I sometimes still come across people wondering where all the “women who write X”—where X is some subgenre of SFF—are. And depending on the day, I either sigh sadly, or make inarticulate noises of frustration. (Although if you know of new well-written space opera with a military ...

In the Belly of the Beast: Dragon Coast by Greg van Eekhout


Dragon Coast is the third and—for now, at least, it seems—the last novel in the series that began with last year’s California Bones and continued in Pacific Fire. Greg van Eekhout’s trio of capers are really entertaining and dramatic fantasy heist novels. Set in a California divided into two competing kingdoms, where consuming magical creatures (and people) gives osteomancers power, and mages command the power of water, Dragon Coast picks up almost directly where Pacific Fire leaves off.

Therefore be on the lookout for spoilers, since it’s impossible to discuss Dragon Coast without talking about its predecessors. And I think it should be noted that while it might be possible to read Dragon Coast solo, without the context of its predecessors—depending on your tolerance for landing in medias res—it would hardly be ideal. That context provides nearly all of Dragon Coast‘s emotional heft and impact: without it, ...

Defying Categorization: Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland


Cecelia Holland has a lengthy career behind her, including the acclaimed 1976 science fiction novel Floating Worlds. Most of her works are historical fiction, but Dragon Heart, her latest, marks a return to the SFF genre. It is also the first of her novels I’ve read, and her easy, engaging style is effortlessly readable: impressively clear. I admire it wholeheartedly.

My emotional engagement with Dragon Heart, on the other hand… oh, that’s going to be complicated to explain.

Contains spoilers. Fairly detailed ones, mind.

Any critic likes to be able to categorise. It helps to be able to compare like with like—and arguing about the definitions and category boundaries is fun. It’s why we talk about near-future SF, and milSF, and space opera; epic fantasy and urban fantasy and magic realism. But Dragon Heart is a fantasy novel that defies easy categorisation. It opens in a manner that ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Stephanie Saulter Answers Six Questions


Stephanie Saulter‘s debut ®Evolution trilogy—Gemsigns, Binary, and Regeneration—is an excellent bit of social science fiction. Regeneration has recently come out from Jo Fletcher Books in the UK, and I believe Binary has lately come out in the US. If you haven’t read them yet… well, what are you waiting for? Go and give them a try.

Born in Jamaica, Stephanie earned her degree at MIT and now lives in London—and she’s graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us today.

Liz Bourke: Let me start rather generally, as usual, by asking your opinion of how women—whether as authors, as characters, or as fans and commenters—are received within the SFF genre community. What has been your experience?

Stephanie Saulter: As an author, I haven’t experienced any disrespect or discrimination that I can attribute with certainty to my gender. I remember being blanked by a well-known ...


Literary Sword-and-Sorcery: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps Kai Ashante Wilson book reviews

Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is, if you haven’t been paying attention, the very first novella to emerge from Publishing. As to be expected from the author of “The Devil in America,” it’s complex, powerfully written piece of work, with an ending whose ambiguity only adds to its curious impact.

I say novella—but let’s be honest, the ARC I have clocks in at 208 pages. We’re really talking something closer to a short novel. And Kai Ashante Wilson has packed those pages with the worldbuilding of a much longer work. The world of The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps feels big. It feels deep. It feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface: There’s as much depth of field here as there is in many trilogies, for all that the narration stays tightly focused on one character.

I want to be articulately effusive about this ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Melanie Rawn Answers Five Questions

Today we’re joined by Melanie Rawn, who graciously agreed to answer a few small questions. Her most recent novel, Window Wall, came out earlier this year. Her earlier novels have been the subject of a reread series here by Judith Tarr, which I encourage you all to go and read.

If you haven’t read any of her work, there’s never been a better time to start. If you have?

Well then, you already know what a treat they are.

On to the questions!

Liz Bourke: Let me start rather generally, by asking your opinion of how women—whether as authors, as characters, or as fans and commenters—are received within the SFF genre community. Have you seen change over the time you’ve been involved in the field?

Melanie Rawn: Well, there are a lot more of us nowadays….

LB: You’ve written over a dozen fantasy novels in the last three ...

Sleeps With Monsters: We’re Still Reading Over Here


This week, I want to tell you—yet again!—about some excellent books I’ve been reading. Because I’m not at Nine Worlds, or going to Worldcon—or any other con for that matter—which means I have plenty of time to catch up on my reading.

(That last is a lie. There is NEVER ENOUGH TIME.)

Anyway. Books!

Ariah by BR Sanders is a minor astonishment. It came to my attention when Foz Meadows was shouting its praises across the internet. Although I find myself less enthusiastic than Foz about its merits (it would scarcely, after all, be possible to be more enthusiastic), nonetheless I do consider it a very enjoyable novel, with much to recommend it. It’s the story of the eponymous Ariah, a young elf born in the oppressive Qin empire, and his journey into adulthood, self-discovery, and self-acceptance. It’s a very quiet, personal story, though the backdrop is an ...

What Do These Books Have In Common?

Space Hostages UK cover, art by Andy Potts

This week I want to tell you about several books I really liked, one book that I found entertaining, and one that’s really disappointing. Let me tell you about books! Let me SHARE THE JOY!

*ahem* Too much caffeine. Right, moving on…

Have you heard about Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings? If you haven’t, you might have been hiding under a rock. Out almost simultaneously in the UK and the US, The House of Shattered Wings is a fantastically gripping novel, set in a Parisian landscape shattered by the Great War — but de Bodard’s Paris isn’t the Paris of our own history, although it is recognisably familiar. This is a Paris ruled by Fallen angels, where human and Fallen have organised into Houses that contend against each other for power and status. The House of Shattered Wings revolves around power, and secrets, and loyalties, and with ...

Falling in Love with Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp


This book. This book. In the past few years, there’ve been a handful of books I count it a privilege to have read—a handful of books with which I fell instantly and deeply in love. It’s a short list: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword; Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor; Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I might spot you one or two others, depending on the day, but these are the ones that hit me right on an emotional level, where pleasure in the quality of writing combines with a straight shot to my narrative hindbrain: this is our stuff! This is OUR THING!

Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp has added itself to that list. I didn’t expect it to: at a brief glance, it sounded a little too peculiar. But then I came across Amal El-Mohtar and Ana Grilo (of The Booksmugglers) discussing its merits on Twitter—and ...

Read Chapter One from Archivist Wasp

Conversations Founded On False Assumptions


“I don’t see gender.” Or colour. Or difference.

When you hear that, you know it’s the claim and the rallying-cry of someone who’s never had to see difference; never had difference unavoidably brought home to them. Never stood outside the charmed circle of the assumed default.

It’s a claim that came up again last week, when two authors gave separate versions of their favourite or recommended science fiction novels that were entirely white and entirely male. (Natalie Luhrs at Pretty Terrible has a response that’s well worth reading.)

Contrast these examples with the recent Strange Horizons column by Renay, and the spate of articles—like Tansy Rayner Roberts’ GOH speech from Continuum 11, republished at SF Signal—talking about how:

“this odd sort of conversation… keeps circling the internet, and it usually starts with a question. Where are all the women, in epic fantasy? Where are the female ...

Approachable Epic Fantasy: Cold Iron by Stina Leicht


Cold Iron is Stina Leicht’s third novel. With it, Leicht moves away from urban fantasy and towards epic in the new gunpowder fantasy mode. Cold Iron is the opening volley in The Malorum Gates series—and to judge from the amount of ground this novel covers, it’s a series that’s going to do a lot of epic in a relatively short space of time.

It is also a rather better, and strikingly less boring, book than its opening pages portend.

Cold Iron opens with Nels, a kainen crown prince—the kainen are a race of people taller than the human norm, all possessed of varying degrees of magical powers, including the ability to magically force other people to do their will, simply by instructing them to—who initially comes across as self-absorbed, spoiled, whiny and ineffectual. Nels’ only distinguishing factor is his lack of the command magic that is especially characteristic of the ...

What Do You Reread For Comfort Or Escape?


Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979: 204).

I haven’t been reading very rapidly this year, and especially these last couple of months. So I thought I’d make a virtue of necessity, and talk about the books I read again and again, for comfort, and why; and the books that stay with me for years. The books that, for lack of a better word, sustain me.

It might be odd to talk ...

Civics Class Has Never Been Better: Last First Snow by Max Gladstone


Last First Snow is the fourth in Max Gladstone’s “Craft Sequence” novels. (In internal chronological order, it’s first: Gladstone has taken an unusual approach to numbering his novels. It’s not nearly as brain-bending as it sounds, because so far all the novels including this one stand alone perfectly well.) And it’s a great book.

It takes place some twenty years before Two Serpents Rise, and some four decades after the God Wars. In the city of Dresediel Lex, the King in Red and a consortium of investors have plans to redevelop an impoverished area of the city: the Skittersill, an area whose wards were laid down by gods, not practitioners of Craft. They are opposed in this by an alliance of locals and community leaders, of whom the most influential is Temoc: a former Eagle Knight and one of the last remaining priests of the old order, and ...

“Which self should she aspire to know?” Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Dark Orbit

I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bad thing about any of Carolyn Ives Gilman’s work. Dark Orbit is the first of her novels that I’ve read, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. And to the promise of its first two lines:

“In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke. The question was, which self should she aspire to know?”

Dark Orbit is a striking work of science fiction, and knowledge—self-knowledge, and how the knowledge of other people can shape a person—is at its heart. It is sharp and glittering and rather more interested in the philosophy of its physics than it is in the science. It’s also a novel about First Contact and the limits of science’s ability to classify data that cannot ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Looking Ahead in 2015


June has come upon us. How did we get to be nearly halfway through the year already? No matter! Clearly the time has come to consider what the second half of the year offers in terms of books for us to look forward to reading…

As usual, this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are plenty of books relevant to this column’s interest, and I’ve no doubt I’ve missed more than half of them. Do drop by the comments and share what else we could be looking forward to!

July seems like a slight month for SFF, with only Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit (science fiction) and Stina Leicht’s Cold Iron (gunpowder epic fantasy) really popping up across my horizon. But August looks set to make up for the lack: not only is there a collection from the acclaimed Nalo Hopkinson, Falling In Love With Hominids, and Hodder and Stoughton’s ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Amanda Downum Answers Six Relatively Short Questions


Amanda Downum’s most recent novel, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters (out now from Solaris Books), is a book I unexpectedly loved. Downum has previously written an excellent trilogy, the Necromancer Chronicles, which I can also highly recommend.

Today she’s joined us to talk about unpronounceable cults, nightgaunts, and the difference between writing contemporary and second-world fantasy.

LB: Let me start rather generally, by asking your opinion of how women—whether as authors, as characters, or as fans and commenters—are received within the SFF genre community. Have you seen change over the time you’ve been involved in the field?

AD: I’m not sure how much of what I notice is change in the community or simply my growing awareness of issues in the field. I pay more attention to those conversations now. I think discussions of gender, race, and sexuality are more prominent than they were a decade ago, and more focus ...

“The Monsters are Still Out There. Waiting.” Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum

Amanda Downum Dreams of Shreds and Tatters Dreams of Shreds and Tatters is Amanda Downum’s latest novel. It marks a striking change, both tonally and in setting, from her previous long-form work: where The Drowning City, The Bone Palace, and Kingdom of Dust followed the adventures of Isyllt, necromancer and spy, in a secondary world where magic is commonplace. Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, on the other, takes place largely in Vancouver—a Vancouver saturated with sinister Lovecraftian shadows.

Liz Drake’s dreams are different to other people’s. More real. When her best friend Blake drops out of touch, her nightmares get worse. Convinced he needs help, she and her partner Alex travel three thousand miles to find him—in a coma, in a Vancouver hospital bed, victim of a drowning accident that resulted in his lover’s death.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Young People These Days…

Sleeps with Monsters Ms Marvel

Young people these days are pretty awesome, actually. In a startling coincidence, all four of the books I want to tell you about this week star young women: young women who are coming into their own, facing their own trials and challenges, and rising to meet them.

The youth of today, man. They’re starting to make me feel old and lazy.

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All Her Bridges Burned Behind Her: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

Defiant Karina Sumner-Smith Defiant is Canadian author Karina Sumner-Smith’s second novel, the middle book of a trilogy that began with Radiant (2014). In Radiant, Xhea—fierce, isolated, careless of other people—found herself caught up in conflict and politics due to her ability to see and affect ghosts. One ghost in particular. Shai was, and is, a Radiant: a person who produces so much magical energy simply by existing that they are essentially an industrial-scale magic-energy power generation station, both rare and vital for the functioning of magic-based technology.

A Radiant’s power doesn’t end with their death, and even as a ghost Shai is an important resource. And she also becomes a friend for whom Xhea is willing to sacrifice herself to protect.

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