Tag Archives: Siri Paulson

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?

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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

 

My Top 5 Books of 2017

First, a quick note to say that my short story The House Robot is now up at Turtleduck Press!

blog-Kindred-coverAnd now, on to the main affair…my favourite reads of 2017. (I know, it’s already February 2018. Shhhh.)

Standard disclaimer: I’m often discovering older books for the first time, so when I do these yearly posts, I don’t limit myself to books published in that year. That means this is an eclectic mix of older titles. But hey, there’s no reason they shouldn’t still be celebrated!

Runners-Up

Octavia Butler, Kindred. A nuanced exploration of the Black experience of slavery — subtle where it needed to be, but pulling no punches — through a time travel story. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and utterly brutal.

Georgette Heyer, Cousin Kate. I know many romance readers love Heyer, but she’s new to me, probably because I’m not much of a romance reader (I prefer grand adventures with a side of romance, not the other way around). I am told that this one is atypical Heyer, being a Gothic, but I seriously enjoyed it — it hit all the same reader buttons for me as my top book of the year (more about that below).

blog-Safety Protocols-martinez-coverAngel Martinez, Safety Protocols for Human Holidays. Another romance! *gasp* This one is a novella, short and sweet, but it makes the list because it’s absolutely adorable and hilarious, and was just exactly the sort of comfort read I needed. It’s science fiction, set on a multicultural spaceship. The aliens’ attempts to figure out the inner workings of human culture and psychology were so perfect, and they balanced beautifully with the romance arc.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races. Okay, Stiefvater is not exactly an unknown fantasy writer, but again, she’s new to me. Really loved the writing style. She clearly knows horses, and she did a beautiful job of capturing both the normal horse-and-rider relationship and the fantasy angle of the dangerous but alluring water horses. Plus the sea. I was a sucker for Marguerite Henry’s books growing up (like Misty of Chincoteague) so this was a shoo-in.

The Winner

blog-To Say Nothing of the Dog-coverMy favourite book of the year was To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Ironic, because it was a gift and I wouldn’t have picked it out for myself. I had previously read Passage by the same author, and enjoyed it but found it overly slow for my taste. But since I had this book already, I decided to give Willis another shot.

And boy, was I glad I did! To Say Nothing of the Dog is a riff on Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (which I haven’t read). It’s brilliant comedy writing (screwball, maybe? Madcap? Something like that). It’s also a time travel story in which, unusually, the time travel mechanism itself plays a central role and creates the main mystery of the book. Did I mention part of it takes place in WWII, which is definitely not treated like comedy, and yet everything hangs together? And it’s all very British-Edwardian-upper-class – even though Willis herself is American, she nails it. And, of course, the titular dog is adorable.

Honorable Mentions

blog-Ancillary Justice-coverTwo books that I found really intriguing but didn’t like quite as much as I wanted to: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway. The first was a bit too dense for me to follow, and the second a bit too thin on plot for my taste (to be fair, it was a novella — not my favourite length — and I knew that going in).

I am planning to continue on with both series, if that tells you anything.

Common Themes

Every year I like to look back and identify the common themes in my reading — what did I love about these books that I identified as my favourites?

  • This year they actually fall into two categories — excellent but heartbreaking (Kindred and The Scorpio Races) and warm, fuzzy, and/or funny (all the rest).
  • Strong character relationships were at the centre of each — sometimes a dangerous dance, other times crackling dialogue.
  • Strong sense of place — I love stories where the location is so vivid it becomes a character.
  • Intimate stakes — some years I love big epic stories, but most of these are about the fate of one person, or one tiny community, or a family or found-family…but no less tense for all that.
  • Diversity — from the Black central characters of Butler and Martinez, to the asexual protagonist in Every Heart a Doorway, to the gender-in-storytelling experiment of Ancillary Justice, my reading is getting more diverse. This is not an accident, as I’m seeking out more diversity in the books I pick up, but I’m pleased to see that many of those are also turning out to be my favourites.
  • All of the authors are women — this is certainly not true every year, but in 2017 my reading was more heavily weighted towards women than usual.

 

And there you have it! Have you read any of these? What were your favourite books last year?

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out my previous reading recaps: 2017 reading stats | 2016 reading recap | 2015 reading recap | 2014 reading recap | 2013 reading recap | 2012 reading recap

 

 

How to Write Good Flash Fiction & Announcing “When the World Stopped”

Quick post this week to share two pieces of exciting news.

First, I have another flash fiction story out–my first pro sale! It’s magical realism, titled “When the World Stopped”, and you can read it for free at the Daily Science Fiction e-zine. (Flash fiction is defined as a really short story. This one is a little under 600 words, plus the bonus “making of” blurb at the end.)

Second, if you want to polish your own flash fiction writing skills (or are just curious about what goes into making a really short story effective), you’re in luck! Last weekend I was a guest at an online seminar on writing flash fiction, a roundtable hosted on Facebook by the website Queer Sci Fi. Read the results here: How to Write Good Flash Fiction.

Now I have no more pending publication announcements, so I need to get busy and write some more shorts…