New Release: A New Year on Vega III

Out now! My SF holiday romance A New Year on Vega III, a 7,400 word short story, is now available for purchase in the ebook format of your choice. Here are the cover and blurb:

AHtR11-A New Year-SP4x6

On the colony planet Vega III, everyone knows Beck—outgoing, fabulous, and genderqueer—and nobody notices Anil, the quiet plant biologist. But when Anil finds Beck hiding in his greenhouse, lonely and missing Earth, it’s Anil who is able to comfort Beck by letting them talk about what they miss most—the feeling that comes with celebrating the holidays with loved ones, especially New Year’s Eve.

​The two of them are drawn to one another, but both of them are hiding secrets about their sexuality. With trust between them already on shaky ground, Anil’s elaborate plans to cheer Beck may well backfire.

And there’s an excerpt over here at the publisher’s website.

Order links: Amazon | Kobo | direct from publisher

If you like it, be sure to check out some of the other books in the “A Holiday to Remember” collection by Mischief Corner Books! They’re all queer romance, some contemporary and others speculative. I can recommend Safety Protocols for Human Holidays by Angel Martinez–a seriously hilarious F/F science fiction tale on a spaceship.

And if you read it, don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or LibraryThing. Reviews are wonderful things–they help authors with visibility, and they help readers find books they love.

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City of Hope and Ruin

City of Hope and Ruin ebook coverAaaaand it’s out!

City of Hope and Ruin, a fantasy-with-lesbian-romance novel by Kit Campbell and yours truly, is now out in the world! You can buy it in the following formats:

(Amazon | Paperback | Nook | iBookstore | Kobo)

Continue reading

Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read: Semley’s Necklace

First, a quick note to say that I have the beginning of a new serial story up at Turtleduck Press. It’s called Coat of Scarlet, and it’s a gay steampunk romance. With pirates, because I can.

Anyway, welcome to the second installment in the Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read! (If you missed the first installment, it’s here: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.) Today we’re talking about the short story “Semley’s Necklace.”

“Semley’s Necklace” was first published in 1964 under the title “Dowry of the Angyar”, and then reappeared as the prologue in Le Guin’s 1966 novel Rocannon’s World. In the collection of her early stories, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, she writes that “Semley’s Necklace” was the “germ of a novel” that became Rocannon’s World, the first in her loosely connected Hainish cycle.

Rocannon himself appears only briefly, in a sort of frame story that places “Semley’s Necklace” in perspective. He is a scientist in the galaxy-spanning League of All Worlds (later called the Ekumen), which forms the backdrop of most of the Hainish novels and stories. Against this backdrop, Le Guin is free to tell whatever stories she likes, each set on a different planet, starring different characters, at a different point in history — which is why the Hainish cycle is not called a series. These days we might call it a ‘verse (at least those of us who are fans of Firefly, or of my fellow Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge).

The protagonist of “Semley’s Necklace”, the Lady Semley, has only the dimmest concept of all this. From her perspective, she might as well be in a fantasy story populated with hobbits (the Fiia) and dwarves (Gdemiar/Clayfolk). Not only does she not understand technology or spaceflight, she’s not interested in understanding. The story implies that this is more a trait of her people, the Angyar, than a personal failing of Semley’s. Or is it? What do you think?

Either way, the story presents an interesting contrast in perspectives. Semley is scornful of the funny-looking Gdemiar, but according to the documentation that Rocannon has access to, the Gdemiar are considered the most advanced race on the planet. They have a curiosity and cleverness that the Angyar and Fiia simply don’t. There’s also a throwaway line about how the Gdemiar are probably no longer capable of making beautiful things like the necklace of the title, since they’ve been guided into industrial production (no Star Trek-style Prime Directive here!).

[SPOILERS…]

The core of the story, Semley’s quest to find a lost heirloom necklace, is a Greek-style tragedy about the danger of pride – a character going on a quest she doesn’t fully understand (and doesn’t try to understand), attaining her goal, but losing the reason for it in the end. It makes spaceflight sound like a visit to Faerie, with all the tricksy agreements and bittersweet results one might expect from such a visit.

[END SPOILERS]

Le Guin writes in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters that this is the most “romantic” of her stories; later on she moves more into psychology, losing the fairy-tale feel. She’s not doing anything with gender yet, and the writing isn’t as controlled or sophisticated as her later works. But even in this early story, one can already see her interest in ethnology, in differing worldviews, in the collision of low-technology and high-technology cultures that keeps recurring throughout the Hainish tales. And I found “Semley’s Necklace” to be more emotionally affective than I expected, given how early it is in her oeuvre.

If you have thoughts about “Semley’s Necklace”, please share! I’d love to chat.

Next up: the rest of Rocannon’s World, in which Rocannon is stranded on Semley’s planet and must embark on a quest of his own. Come back the week of May 21 and we’ll discuss!

 

Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

blog-ursula-le-guin-omelasWelcome to the first installment in the Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read, in which I geek out about her work and invite you to join me! We’re starting with her short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, because (a) it’s so well-known, and (b) it’s short, so it makes a good read-along.

The story was first published in 1973. To put that in context, her first novel was published in 1966. Here are the dates for some of Le Guin’s best-known novels:

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea #1) — 1968
  • The Left Hand of Darkness (a Hainish Cycle novel) — 1969
  • The Lathe of Heaven (standalone) — 1971
  • The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea #2) — 1971
  • The Farthest Shore (Earthsea #3) — 1972
  • The Dispossessed (a Hainish Cycle novel) — 1974

So by the time she published “Omelas”, she was already at the top of her game as a professional science fiction writer. And it shows…

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The story starts off like any other fantasy story — describing the city of Omelas and its people in grand, sweeping terms. Sounds pretty typical. But a few paragraphs in, we get this:

Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few.

Whoa…suddenly we’re in a meta-story. The narrator is making comments on the story, in first person, while telling it. This isn’t a normal story at all–in fact, there aren’t even any characters (except one, whom we’ll get to later). It’s a thought experiment that actually works.

Having said that, there’s also some beautiful, lyrical writing. From the same paragraph:

The trouble is that we have a bad habit … of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting.

…and then she goes on to show, through the rest of the story, how happiness can be complicated, even poisoned. Do the people of Omelas have true happiness? …I don’t know, what do you think?

She goes on in this vein for a while, speculating about what Omelas does and does not have (cars? probably not. orgies? sure, let’s give them orgies. Good thing I wasn’t drinking anything just then…). The point is to illustrate that Omelas isn’t an inane utopia, it’s complex enough to be believable.

And then we get to the real meat of the story: the child hidden in the closet, who must be unhappy so that everyone else in Omelas can thrive.

I knew this about the story going in, so I was surprised how effective it still was for me as I read it. Le Guin describes the child’s circumstances in unflinching, brutal detail after detail. The pure happiness described earlier begins to sound horrifically callous.

Then the narrator explains how the people of Omelas justify the suffering to themselves, once they learn of it around the age of puberty: the child is too far gone to benefit from kindness, they can do nothing to change its circumstances anyway, and all the good in Omelas depends on this one child’s misery. It all sounds fairly reasonable to most of the people in the city, since they go along with it.

…except for the few who refuse to participate, and just opt out by leaving the city. They don’t come back and start a revolution to rescue the child, they don’t take their loved ones with them; they just make a decision, one at a time, to leave.

The question is left hanging: would you accept this deal? To have a prosperous society, everyone in it happy and content, at that price? But…no matter how awful the price, would you really be able to walk away?

There are any number of parallels one could draw. It’s tempting to ask: What is this an allegory of? What is Le Guin really writing about? We could come up with any number of answers, based on contemporary issues or issues that were big at the time when she was writing.

My copy (the ebook edition) includes an afterword by Le Guin herself, who talks about her influences, and then writes:

In talking about the “meaning” of a story, we need to be careful not to diminish it, impoverish it. A story can say different things to different people. It may have no definitive reading.

And a reader may find a meaning in it that the writer never intended, never imagined, yet recognizes at once as valid.

What do you think? How should we read the story? What does it “mean”?

As I mentioned earlier, I knew the basic premise of the story ahead of time, but I was amazed and delighted by the mastery of craft woven around it. The story’s not just a fable or a philosophical question; she has fun with it too, and knows exactly when to throw in meta-commentary or immerse us in the moment, when to draw on our emotions and when to make us think. And I was blown away by the ending. That’s quite a feat for a story with only one character (and no character arc…unless you count the society as a whole, or the reader’s reaction? What do you think?).

Over to you! Did the story work for you? How effective is it in what it sets out to do? If you’re familiar with Le Guin’s work, is “Omelas” a good representation of her writing?

Next up: We’re going back to the beginning! I’m aiming to read the Hainish Cycle (both novels and short stories) straight through in publication order, with maybe some unrelated short stories thrown in for variety. Here’s what’s lined up for the next couple of posts:

 

  • “Semley’s Necklace” (short story; also published as “The Dowry of the Angyar”)
  • Rocannon’s World (novel; note that it starts with a prologue, which is actually “Semley’s Necklace”)
  • [short story, TBD]
  • Planet of Exile (novel)

…and then we will see! Hope to see you back here to join the (re)read on May 7.

 

Genre Classics (Re)read: Ursula K. Le Guin

blog-ursula-le-guin-worlds-of-exile-and-illusionA little while ago, I announced the SF&F Genre Classics (Re)read, in which I planned to read (or reread) classics and then blog about them. For those who want to play along, first up is the recently deceased and much beloved Ursula K. Le Guin.

Where does one start with Le Guin? She was a grand master of words. She tackled big ideas like a philosopher, and captured small moments with a poet’s ear. She was a multi-talented author of a huge range of works–adult science fiction and fantasy, YA and children’s books, novels and short stories, poetry, non-fiction, even translations. So…take your pick.

I haven’t read even half of them, which is why I’m embarking on this slow (re)read. Here’s a sampling:

YA Fantasy: Earthsea and Annals of the Western Shore

Many readers of a certain age first discovered her through the Earthsea books, which today might be shelved as YA fantasy. She first published a trilogy (starting with A Wizard of Earthsea), and then, much later, returned to the world of Earthsea for several more loosely connected novels and short stories.

More recently, she wrote another YA fantasy series: Gifts, Voices, and Powers.

Children’s Fantasy: Catwings

Writing a good children’s book is much harder than it looks, but she has done that too, with her Catwings series (flying cats! what’s not to love?). I haven’t read her other kids’ books–if you have, please chime in!

The Hainish Cycle

blog-ursula-le-guin-the-winds-twelve-quartersBesides Earthsea, she is best known for The Left Hand of Darkness, a science fiction novel that explores gender in ways that were groundbreaking at the time (it was published in 1969 and won two major genre awards, the Hugo and the Nebula).

This novel is part of a loose cycle of stories all set in the same universe, dubbed the Hainish Cycle. One way to describe them might be “sociological and psychological science fiction”.

She has also written a number of short stories in both the Earthsea and Hainish universes, as well as standalones. Many are just excellent, and we’ll be getting to those in our (re)read. Speaking of which…

The (Re)Read

I’ll be posting every two weeks for a while, starting on April 23. I’ll be tackling the Hainish Cycle novels in publication order (The Left Hand of Darkness is number 4), mixed with her early short stories from the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. If you’d like to follow along, here’s what’s coming up [EDIT: links are being added as the posts go up]:

  • “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” (short story)
  • “Semley’s Necklace” (short story; also published as “The Dowry of the Angyar”)
  • Rocannon’s World (novel; note that it starts with a prologue, which is actually “Semley’s Necklace”)
  • [short story, TBD]
  • Planet of Exile (novel)
  • [short story, TBD]
  • City of Illusions (novel)

…and then we will see!

Her early novels are very short by today’s standards, though not for the time when they were written. If you want to play along, they can be found in several collections, most recently Worlds of Exile and Illusion (available in trade paperback and ebook formats).

See you back here on April 23 for “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”!

 

If you’re already a fan, what’s your favourite Le Guin novel or short story?

Canadian Afrofuturism: Brown Girl Begins

blog-Brown-Girl-Begins-posterIf you’ve listened to all the buzz surrounding Black Panther, you’ll know that Afrofuturism* is having a moment. Black Panther is the Big Hollywood Blockbuster version of an Afrofuturist film. If you want to see the small indie version, look for Brown Girl Begins.

(*What is Afrofuturism? The short definition from Oxford Dictionaries is: “A movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.” For an article-length answer, read “Afrofuturism: The imaginative sci-fi movement black people need now” by Sam Fulwood III at ThinkProgress.)

Imagine a grim future world where a struggling Black community lives in sight of city towers that are forever unreachable. Imagine an older woman, a healer and leader in her community, and her wilful young granddaughter, Ti-Jeanne. Imagine the loa of Vodou belief, locked in a struggle that can be broken only by Ti-Jeanne.

Brown Girl Begins is a Canadian film made by TV director and producer Sharon Lewis, set in Toronto and based on the 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring by Caribbean-Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-coverLewis describes the film as a prequel. If you’ve read the book, be prepared–although the backstory and character relationships are drawn from the book, the plot is quite different. So is the geography, which will be slightly confusing to both readers of the book and Torontonian viewers. Though it is pretty neat–and a bit mindboggling–to see Toronto depicted as an untouchable nirvana, the harbour as (once again) a polluted cesspit, and the Toronto Islands as a place of exile and poverty.

The book is nearly 20 years old, which shows in its depiction of a hollowed-out city core–anyone who can afford it has moved to the ‘burbs. In today’s era of condos, that idea doesn’t have quite the same resonance anymore. Maybe that’s why the action of the film has moved to the Toronto Islands.

Or maybe it was a matter of cost…this is a low-budget film, with a limited number of sets, a short running time, and few special effects. The filming and storytelling are sometimes clunky. But the actors universally do a fine job, which goes a long way toward creating emotional resonance.

The greatest strength of the book–and the film–is the melding of Caribbean-Canadian culture and Vodou figures with a careful imagining of the near future, all wrapped around a classic coming-of-age story for Ti-Jeanne. Toronto doesn’t get to show up all that often in science fiction (at least as itself–it often stands in for other cities in films and TV shows such as The Expanse), and a SFnal depiction of the experience of Blackness in Canada is rarer still.

Brown Girl Begins has had a short theatrical run here in Toronto. I hope it will continue to be accessible in some form. If you can find it, do watch it.

 

If you liked this post, you might like:

Genre-Bending Books (Redux)

Chappie: Gender Influences At Play

If You Liked City of Hope and Ruin…

 

Flash Fiction Contest at Queer Sci Fi

I’m judging a contest, and you’re invited!

From the website Queer Sci Fi comes this announcement:

Every year, QSF holds a flash fiction contest to create an amazing new anthology of queer speculative fiction stories. We ask authors to do the nearly-impossible – to submit a sci fi, fantasy, paranormal or horror LGBTIQA story that has no more than 300 words.

Our 2018 contest launches on March 1st, and closes April 1st. The theme for 2018 is “Impact”.

26824445 - conflict, close up of two fists hitting each other over dramatic sky

Take that however you will – an asteroid impacting the earth; the environmental impact of climate change; two paranormal entities crashing into one another in combat; the impact an action by an individual can have as it ripples through society. Heck, even an impacted wisdom tooth can work, as long as you sell it. It’s up to you.

We’ll be accepting stories from across the queer spectrum, and would love to see more entries including lesbian, trans, bi, intersex and ace protagonists, as well as gay men. We also welcome diversity in ability and in race.

All the details and rules can be found at Queer Sci Fi: Flash Contest Rules.

As one of this year’s judges, I’m encouraging you to send in your stuff–I’d love to read it!

(I attained this illustrious position by placing third in last year’s contest. You too could be a judge next year…)

If you want a crash course in flash fiction, you might consider buying last year’s ebook, Renewal. Or, have a look at this transcript of a flash fiction seminar that Queer Sci Fi ran on its Facebook discussion group a few months ago.

You have until April 1st, so get cracking. And may the best story win!

 

Turtleduck Press New Book Release: In the Forests of the Night by KD Sarge

In the Forests of the Night - cover - Mar5-18I’m excited to announce the release of In the Forests of the Night by KD Sarge, Book 2 in the Seize the Fire series (M/M fantasy-adventure) from Turtleduck Press. It’s been a long road to press for this one, and KD is a dear friend of mine, so I’m extra thrilled for her. Congratulations, KD!

As a Keeper-Apprentice, Hiro Takai followed his master everywhere. The adept Eshan Kisaragi taught him swordcraft and spellcasting and demon-fighting, but it was only after Hiro’s Kindling that he learned what Eshan couldn’t teach him. Such as what could go wrong in a ritual that tied the soul of a human mage to a creature of elemental power. Or how quickly the Keepers could turn on their own.

Damaged and dangerous, Hiro fled, seeking the one person he knew would help—his teacher and his beloved, Eshan.

Now, though—Hiro found Eshan, in the midst of a battle he could not win and would not lose. Now Eshan’s body lives but lies withering, while his soul clings to the elemental tiger…somewhere. Hiro can feel it to the south, in lands his studies never reached, where demons are unknown but spirits walk the paths of the Forests of the Night—and sometimes wander out.

Hiro has one chance to save his beloved. If he can find the tiger, if he can retrieve Eshan’s soul before his body fades, a way may be found to make his master whole.

With a failed priest and a possessed boy as guides, with a mad phoenix in his soul and a growing understanding of just how little he knows of magic, Hiro will follow wherever the tiger leads.

As Hiro searches for his lover’s soul, Eshan, more than half-mad from the sundering of his being, meets a child fleeing both his family and himself. Together, they stagger across the continent, in need of aid that only Hiro can give…if he can find them in time.

Amazon buy link | Turtleduck Press page | Excerpt

(Burning Bright, Book 1, can be found here.)

 

Announcing: The SF&F Genre Classics (Re)read

Heya, blog readers! Just a quick post today, to tell you about a new blog series I have planned…

As an author trying to keep informed about the market, and a reader excited about new books, I tend to read a lot of recent-ish publications. For example, in 2017, all but 4 of the books I read were published sometime in the last 15 years.

But every once in a while, I like to go back and read a classic — either something I read long ago, or a work I never got around to reading. This often means science fiction and fantasy classics. I also read classics that aren’t part of these genres, but for the purposes of this blog series, I’m focusing on SF&F.

As a former English major, I firmly believe that it’s important to go back and revisit the classics — to understand where one’s genre came from, to trace its development, to understand the basis for the conversation that is happening among the works in the genre. (I didn’t come up with the idea that a genre is a conversation, but I can’t find the correct attribution. If you know it, please chime in.)

Reading something old can be a little disorienting — it might feel trite until you realize that, no, actually, this book was the first to present the idea, or to put two things together this way. All those other books you’ve already read on the same topic? They were riffing off this one — expanding its central idea, complicating it, interrogating it. Here is where it came from. (For example, YA dystopians look a little less fresh if you’ve already read ’80s author William Sleator, and of course Bradbury, Atwood, Orwell, and Huxley.)

I plan to focus on authors who are dead, but I may also dip into very well-known, older works by living authors — works that have attained the status of classics.

To recap: this will be an occasional blog series in which I read (or reread) an SF or fantasy classic and then talk about it here. One work per post. Books, short stories, even films…I’d love for you to join me.

First on my list are works by Le Guin, Tolkien, and Octavia Butler. If there are any other authors you’d love to talk about, drop them in the comments below!

If you liked this post, you might enjoy: Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics