Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read: “April in Paris” and “The Masters”

Welcome back to the Le Guin (re)read! Today we’re tackling the first and second stories she sold to paying markets. “April in Paris” was published in the magazine Fantastic in 1962, and “The Masters” was published in 1963 in the same magazine.

I’m reading them in a collection of her early stories, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. According to her introductory notes, before she was published she amassed a long string of rejections (and practiced her perseverance!). This for a writer who would later go on to win all of the major science fiction and fantasy awards, become one of only five women to be named a Grand Master of Science Fiction by her peers in SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and be awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. So if you’re an aspiring writer in the “collecting rejections” stage, take heart!

But I digress…

Note: This post is an analysis of two stories, so there will be minor spoilers throughout. I’ll flag those that are more major.

April in Paris

The first thing you notice as a reader is that the speculative element isn’t immediately apparent. Le Guin devotes a chunk of words to describing the forlorn state of Barry Pennywither, and then another chunk on the even more forlorn state of Jehan Lenoir before finally introducing the summoning/time-travel spell that connects the two. I suspect that if this had been a later story, she would have gotten there quicker.

As in her novels, she stays in deep third-person POV, describing the moment of connection first from Lenoir’s perspective, then from Barry’s very different one. There’s a funny moment when Barry realizes that the other man is speaking not English but French…and there’s something funny about his French…and then a page later he realizes that the man’s speech is odd because it’s very old French, something he has only ever seen written. (Le Guin uses the same device in City of Illusions – coming up a little later in this blog series – when a character has to draw on his knowledge of an ancient language that he has never heard spoken.)

[SPOILERS]

Although this is an early story, it’s clearly in dialogue with others of its subgenre: she has obviously read other time-travel tales and decided to explore a different angle. So her characters exchange knowledge, but quickly realize there’s no point in trying to apply that knowledge in their respective times. What would they do with it? Who would believe them? What would be the point, really? Instead, they simply revel in having it, and even more, sharing it.

For that is the crux of the story: the human connection. That’s what our duo is really looking for, not knowledge for its own sake. Later on, when more characters join the initial pair, they build even stronger connections (though rather heteronormative and even sexist to today’s sensibilities). Finally, they realize that connection (and its flip side, loneliness) is what has created the magic at the core of the story, literally. And ta da, there’s the theme.

[END SPOILERS]

So the story is pretty straightforward, by Le Guin’s later standards. But one can already see the preoccupation with relationships and psychology over the speculative-fiction trappings. She’s using SF to say something; she’s not interested in the cool SF ideas for their own sake, but what she has to say cannot be said without SF.

The Masters

By contrast, this story is all about knowledge: the control and withholding of it, the reinvention and secret sharing of it.

Again, it starts with a very tight focus (though the initial point of view is omniscient): the protagonist, Ganil, in the middle of a scene that’s vivid and visually arresting but has no context. Gradually Le Guin pulls back to give us information about the world (aka worldbuilding): this is an initiation, and Ganil is a Master of what in our world we would call a guild.

One interesting note: Ganil’s friend and mentor, Mede, is described as having blue eyes, but this is so unusual in Ganil’s world as to be seen as a deformity. Le Guin’s Earthsea world is famous for being a rare early fantasy setting full of brown and black people. “The Masters” is six years before the first Earthsea book, with the desire to upend racial assumptions already on her mind.

We learn that although Ganil is a master of his craft, being a master doesn’t involve calculation or critical thinking, just memorization. Mede is the one who nudges Ganil along to (re)discovering this dangerous knowledge, not by telling him outright, but by planting the seeds for Ganil to figure it out himself. It’s exhilarating watching this happen, the excitement of discovery and then of explaining it — rather like “April in Paris”, in fact.

[SPOILERS]

The only woman in the story is Ganil’s love interest. It’s a rather feeble attempt at inclusion, as in Le Guin’s early novels. Thank goodness she realized that she could write about women (and other genders, as in The Left Hand of Darkness) if she wanted to.

By the end, control has come down heavily on our thinkers. Mede is dead, and Ganil is forced to endure terrible punishments and then flee. But, like Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451, he flees with his knowledge and Mede’s still intact. All is not lost; there is hope in the darkness.

[END SPOILERS]

“April in Paris” is a story that would not be possible without its core fantastical device, and it centers around two intellectuals who bond over sharing knowledge, but it’s really about human connection. By contrast, “The Masters” is less about science fiction than it is about science, the joy of it and the suppression of knowledge and the unbeatable relentlessness of human curiosity.

 

Next up, we’ll return to the Hainish Cycle with Planet of Exile. I hope you’ll join me!

 

 

 

Publishing News: Timeshift Anthology Kickstarter and New TDP Story

Just a quick post today, with two pieces of exciting news…

blog-Timeshift-anthology-banner

First, my flash fiction piece “When the World Stopped” has been accepted (as a reprint) into an anthology called Timeshift: Tales of Time, edited by Eric S. Fomley and featuring authors such as Robert Silverberg (!), Cat Rambo, Ken Liu, Kevin J. Anderson, and Mike Resnick…some illustrious company!

Timeshift is a reprint digital anthology collecting time and time travel flash fiction stories from 36 authors in the genre. In the anthology are time stories spanning the adventures (and mishaps) of time travel, time manipulation, time zones, time loops, paradoxes, accidents, twisted futures and so many more penned by both established and emerging authors in the genre.

But the anthology is being funded via Kickstarter, and with only 12 days to go, it hasn’t made its goal yet. If you’d like to read these stories, please consider donating and/or spreading the word. $10 will get you a copy (plus additional perks). Here’s the Kickstarter link: Timeshift

Second, my City of Hope and Ruin co-author, Kit Campbell, has a new short story up at Turtleduck Press. She’s much better than I am at writing humour. I’m particularly fond of this one, and you can read it for free right here: 1-800-HAUNTME

All for now. Stay tuned for more Le Guin next week!

 

New Book Promo: The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth

I’m signal-boosting for another author today! J. Scott Coatsworth is a kindhearted guy (my opinion, not his…) who lives and works in Sacramento, CA, and his new novel celebrates the queer side of the city with a touch of magic. Oh, and he’s giving away an Amazon gift card, too. Readers, I present to you…The River City Chronicles.


COVER-River-CityA group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.

Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.

Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.

Amazon ebook | Amazon paperback | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | QueeRomance Ink | Goodreads


Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win.

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Excerpt

Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.

The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.

Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.

They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.

Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona sera,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.

“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”

“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”

“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.

“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.

He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.

His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. “Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”

“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”

Diego shot him a dirty look.

Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…

“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”

Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”

“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”

Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in” was all he said with another smile.


Author Bio

J. Scott Coatsworth

Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow in East Sacramento, with two pink flamingos by the front porch.

He spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.

He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.

His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.

He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.

Author Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/

Author Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/jscoatsworth

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/

Author Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ

Ursula K. Le Guin (Re)read: Rocannon’s World

blog-ursula-le-guin-worlds-of-exile-and-illusionWelcome back to the Ursula K. Le Guin (re)read! In our third installment, we’re talking about her first published novel, Rocannon’s World.

(Previous installments: “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and “Semley’s Necklace”/”Dowry of the Angyar”)

As I mentioned last time, Rocannon’s World starts with a prologue, “Semley’s Necklace”. It sets up the various sentient races of the planet in question, and briefly introduces the novel’s main protagonist, the scientist Rocannon. But it’s not closely related to the main action, and here’s why…

The universe of the Hainish tales has FTL communication technology. (Le Guin coins the term “ansible” here; it will later be picked up by other SF authors — see the Wiki article on ansibles.) But what it doesn’t have is FTL transportation for humans. Le Guin will explore the implications of this in various ways as she goes on.

For Rocannon’s World, the initial significance is that due to the quirks of non-FTL travel, Rocannon meets Semley on a space station, then she returns to the planet, but when Rocannon follows, he lands many years later, when Semley is dead and her grandson Mogien is already an adult. It also means that when Rocannon’s ship is destroyed along with his shipmates shortly after landing (not much of a spoiler — it happens in Chapter 1), he is stranded and his home planet is in danger…unless he can make his way across the planet to send a warning.

So we arrive in a pretty straightforward fantasy quest story, trekking across vast stretches of land while exploring varied landscapes and peoples along the way. The fantasy resonances go right down to the multiple sentient races — the Bronze-Age feudal tribespeople (the Angyar), hobbits (Fiia), dwarves (Gdemiar/Clayfolk), and more that Rocannon meets along the way. The inhabitants call Rocannon a Starlord, although they don’t think he’s a god. There are even giant flying cats that can be ridden. (Le Guin would later repurpose the idea in her children’s series Catwings.)

Still, Le Guin has fun with the SF side as well, showing both the low-tech and high-tech perspectives. Semley’s story does a neat job of exploring spaceflight and other high-tech stuff from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand it at all. In the main part of the novel, there’s a battle of wills between Rocannon and a random belligerent hall-leader who clearly does not understand Rocannon’s protective suit but is determined to beat Rocannon (spoiler: he loses, partly because of the suit but also because Rocannon gets rescued by someone whose life he saved earlier).

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

Le Guin is also engaging with some big themes while telling an adventure story. For example, what does loyalty mean and what is a life worth? Yahan pledges his life to Rocannon to protect himself from Mogien after he defies Mogien’s orders, then saves Rocannon’s life by rescuing him from the warlord (as mentioned above). Rocannon later gives up the necklace to save Yahan’s life. Several of his companions die to get him to his destination (in fact, Mogien dies as payment for Rocannon’s newfound telepathy, which proves to be essential for Rocannon to complete his quest).

There’s also a running theme of naming. What’s in a name? Are names necessary when you (a) are telepathic, and (b) can describe everything in relation to everything else? Kyo, the little Fiian, is actually named after his village; Rocannon first loses his own name’s pronunciation (the locals call him Rokanan) and then his birth name (he gains the epithets Olhor, the Wanderer, and pedan, the god).

And there are a few stellar moments of “sense of wonder”: the flying on giant winged cats; the creepy but cool Winged Ones and the little word-collecting Kiemhrir; flying through a mountain pass in a snowstorm and emerging high above a MUCH lower plain.

[END SPOILERS]

This is early Le Guin, and it shows — it’s much less sophisticated than her later work, but you can see the seeds of the writer she will develop into. For example, she’s already paying a lot of attention to the prose, which makes this a treat to read. Surprisingly (if you’ve read her later work), there’s no exploration of gender, and it’s a heavily male-dominated story; the few female characters are very much sidelined, but at least they’re not stereotyped.

The worldbuilding isn’t terribly complex, but she clearly made an effort to keep things consistent. For example, most of the fauna (of all sizes) are mammals with wings. There aren’t any insects, and therefore there are no flowers – tree pollen simply releases itself. And not one but several of the humanoid races are telepathic to some degree (she was writing in an era where telepathy was firmly in the science fiction arena).

Rocannon’s World forms a loose trilogy with Planet of Exile and City of Illusions, linked by the shadowy Enemy that Rocannon faces. We’ll be talking about those two in the near future, probably with some short stories interwoven (to make a readalong easier). But coming up first, a few announcements. Stay tuned!

 

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]:

…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.)