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24th September 2015
Too Like the Lightning -- cover reveal
So Ada Palmer's first novel : Too Like the Lightning
is coming out from Tor next May, and it's available for pre-order now, and the cover has just been released on Tor.com and... the flying cars don't really look like that, and the city is a little steeper than it is in the book, but by and large this is a cover that feels like the book, an interesting positive SF future.
I'll be writing about it on Tor.com and probably here too closer to when it comes out -- it's a difficult book to write about because there's so much in it and it's so good and also because it's the first of four, and the first two, Too Like the Lightning
and Seven Surrenders
(December next year) are very closely linked. I'm dying for it to come out so I can have conversation about it -- conversations about all kinds of different things. For the last couple of years since I read it I keep wanting to bring it up as an example -- as all kinds of different examples -- when people are talking about worldbuilding and SF futures, and real futures, and what you can do with the numinous, and what you can do with mode, and complicity and... all kinds of things.
For now, you can see my quote on the cover "The kind of science fiction that makes me excited all over again about what science fiction can do." There are a lot of books I read when I was a teenager where I got my head blown off because they expanded the space of what was possible. There are a lot fewer books that do that to me these days. This is one of them.
So, what do you think of the cover?
17th September 2015
Universes are kind
So : rysmiel
's Gmail Chat .sig gets cut off, so it looks as if it says "Universes are kind" but actually it says "Universes are kind of huge". This was my train of thought.
Universes are kind?
(Are not unkind?)
Are kind of huge!
Are kin, are kindred, are akin...
Are a type and species and a sort.
Aspire to greatness.
Are a scale and size that we can't get out heads around...
They don't care.
They are not kind, or unkind.
They are universes.
They are vast and full of science.
They are beautiful...
They do not know that.
Their benevolence is our imagination, but
Their beauty is our gift to them
In all their hugeness
They are kind
7th September 2015
Green-striped figs outside the Ferry Building, San Francisco, 10th August 2015
If Plato's right that things have one Ideal :
Material stuff reflects but cannot show
And all we see and hear and taste and feel
Are pale thin echoes of what we might know.
The taste of perfect figs cuts straight through time
Ascends to the Ideal, the Form, the True
Connects up to itself, to the sublime,
Eternal, joyful, timeless, ever new.
I learned to distrust happiness: it ends.
But now I savour moments, like the sun
That gently warms me, sharing figs with friends,
As time goes on and back, and All is One.
Sweet meaty figs split perfectly in three.
You may not know that. It was new to me.
30th August 2015
How to hide treasure (For Khalid al-Asaad, 1932-2015)
How to hide treasure. :
Bury it in the ground.
Wrap it up well.
Gold will be all right, but silver tarnishes,
Try wax inside a linen wrap.
Stone will endure, but clay is different.
In a damp climate, beware of water seeping.
Use chalk to protect ceramics.
Books are the hardest
Keep them dry, wrapped.
Use archival boxes, travel cases,
Whatever it takes to
Keep it all safe,
How to hide treasure.
Choose somewhere likely to stay undisturbed,
Perhaps under foundations
Or out in the desert...
If there is a desert.
Take advantage of the situation
Hope for the best
Hope we'll come back,
Or someone will come soon who cares
Hope we're not looking at
All we can do is hope
How to hide treasure.
Hide it in our hearts.
Hide it so deeply that we will not tell them
Not through torture.
So we will know and hope,
That what we've hidden will be found
By those like us who care.
It was before.
It will be there and safe
And all they can do is hurt us, kill us,
They cut off your precious head and long knowledge.
But the treasure stayed hidden:
History goes back, and on, and we know it,
connect and care.
They will never
How to hide treasure.
Share it with the world
Send out a million copies
Distribute what can not be reproduced
Barbarism doesn't strike everywhere at once,
Islam saved the Greek texts
If we share it out, surely some will survive.
Reproduce, photograph, reprint,
Hand on the stories that enhance the stones,
The stories of the heroes who knew
How to hide treasure,
So what is important lives on although
29th August 2015
Home, Reading tonight in Shaika
Well, I'm back. :
I've been away so long I've forgotten about being home, but I expect I'll figure it out.
I'm reading tonight in Shaika on Sherbrooke as part of the NDG Artts thingy
if you are in Montreal come along. I totally hadn't forgotten about this and I am totally prepared, except that it's supposed to be an 10 minute reading, which is hard.
More about the trip later when I'm more rested.
17th August 2015
I'm reading, signing, and being interviewed by Ada at the Cedar Hills Powells, this evening at 7pm. Sassafrass Trickster and King will sing "Somebody Will" (the Kickstarter is funded and made the stretch goal and is over, by the way) and I will be reading a Crocus chapter from : Necessity
as there is absolutely none of The Philosopher Kings
I can read that isn't a spoiler. I'm looking forward to reading it, actually. It's a fun chapter that I like, and it's set during the first book
If you are in or near Portland, do come, and if you are somebody I know from LJ do say so when you introduce yourself.
Also, Powells is the best bookshop. I found 6 Kathleen Norris and 2 Dorothy Canfield novels in their downtown awesome store, and weirdquark
and Ada also found some things they'd been wanting for years. It's amazing.
12th August 2015
Memorial Day next year is the 50th anniversary of : Balticon
, and they're having a specially awesome anniversary con
, with George RR Martin as GoH and as many of their former GoHs as they can get together. I'll be there, and so will lots of people, and they'll be in a new hotel in downtown Baltimore near the aquarium, not out in the wilderness where you need a car to get anywhere. Pre-reg is now open, and they're trying to raise money to make things more awesome
, and all that good stuff.
Also, in that Sassafrass Kickstarter
that I never shut up about (and which has 3 days to go and is funded and only $700 from the stretch goal) there's an exclusive opportunity to have dinner with Ada and Lauren and me at Balticon, and be toasted at the launch party for Ada's forthcoming novel Too Like the Lightning
, which should be either out by Balticon or very nearly out. (I just read the latest draft of it, and it was good before, and it's just excellent now. I can't wait for it to be out so I can have conversations about it.) So there's still a chance to support the Kickstarter and have dinner with us at Balticon next year. And if you just want to support the Kickstarter at the $7 or $25 level and have music, that also helps.
I am in Portland, Portland is great. I have a reading in Powells on Monday night, but otherwise this is vacation. I am also planning to work on fixing : Necessity
a bit this week. We have a pile of things we're planning to do, but I will also happily take suggestions any of you may have for stuff to do and places to eat in Portland.
10th August 2015
Tiptree Event was great
The Tiptree Event at Borderlands was a ton of fun and went really well -- first Ellen Klages talked about the award, then Ada Palmer read from : Too Like the Lightning
, (first book of her Terra Ignota
series, coming from Tor next summer) then she and weirdquark
sang my favourite song "Somebody Will
" (link is to the Kickstarter, which has 5 days left, hint, hint, hintity subliminal hint, but if you scroll down the song is streaming) then Ellen Klages interviewed me, then wild_irises
and Klages loaded me with gifts, including an awesome original illustration for the book by Mark Ferrari
, handmade chocolates, a tiara hatpin, a plaque and a t-shirt -- it was amazing. Then everyone sang a song about the book, and I read my acceptance speech -- a modified version of the ALA speech I already posted here -- and then there was cake, which Madeleine Robins had made, in the shape of two spirals, one lime and one caramel spice. Then I signed books for a lot of great people who like my books, and for Borderlands, a terrific SF bookstore that was saved from closure because people love it. Then Ada and Lauren and rezendi
and I went for gelato. And I have won a Tiptree Award and feel all honoured and celebrated.
What a great day!
9th August 2015
Wah, LJ! Help?
My friendslist has gone all horrible and I can't figure out how to get it back to white on blue -- anyone? Help? :
I've been using LJ since 2003 and my only complaint is that every so often they change the way it looks without warning, as if people want something different. I want to read my friendslist, and I want it to look the same as always.
Hint: If people wanted something different, they'd not still be using Livejournal.
8th August 2015
Tiptree Party Tomorrow
: At Borderlands in San Francisco at 3pm
-- be there if you can, it will be fun. There will be reading and singing and books and cake.
San Francisco is a very nice city to walk around. We've been having very good luck with just randomly walking into places and eating great things, and also in planning walks to places and seeing interesting things on the way.
30th July 2015
Mythcon is this weekend, and I'm Guest of Honour, and it's going to be fun! :
Opening Ceremonies in Summit at 9 am on Saturday.
"Jo Walton, Poet" in Aspen at 3 pm on Saturday.
"Norse Hour" in Breckenridge at 9:15 am on Sunday.
"Mythology and World View" in Breckenridge at 2:30 pm on Sunday.
"Trickster and King: A concert of Mythological Music" in Breckenridge at 9 am on Monday. (Not featuring me, but I am definitely going to be there!)
Closing Ceremonies in Summit at 11 am on Monday.
Also I'll be giving a 30 minute GoH speech at the banquet, I'm not sure exactly when that is. The speech is written, and it's about integrating the fantastic.
23rd July 2015
Today is the last day for my new Norse poem
If the : Sassafrass Stories and Stone Kickstarter
is funded today, the new poem I will write for it will be about Hod, the blind god who kills his brother Baldur. I don't know whether knowing this will motivate anyone who hasn't already to go over there and pledge, but I thought I'd mention it. It's 75% funded now, and it's pretty much bound to make the rest in the next three weeks, but pledge today if you want the Hod poem to exist. (It's also important to pledge early if you want to have the physical CD available in time for Worldcon.)
And thank you if you have already pledged.
Remember, if the Kickstarter meets its stretch goal by the 29th July, as well as the "Friends in the Dark
" album existing, I will record the Loki poem, and maybe the new Hod poem too if it exists, and add them to the really awesome Secret Album.
And here is a picture of the cover of the Secret Album.
20th July 2015
Sassafrass Kickstarter, additional incentives
I'm getting impatient. :
If the Sassafrass Kickstarter
is fully funded by Thursday, I will write another Norse poem which will be sent to all the backers.
It's more than half way there already.
Last time I did this I wrote the poem first and then said I'd delete it if the goal wasn't met, and some of you found this distressing and interpreted it as a threat, so I'm not doing that again. So I will hold off on writing the poem, though I don't understand how that is better. But... I want to write this poem, and I'd like it very much if the Kickstarter were funded.
Additional incentive: if it reaches the stretch goal before that, then when I am in Chicago next week I will record the Loki poem "Mountain Doors" (which was sent to backers last time and is also in the libretto
but not anywhere else) and add the recording to the Secret Album, along with the Norse poems I recorded in George R.R. Martin's Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe last summer.
17th July 2015
Sidewise Award Nomination
I'm delighted to tell you that : My Real Children
is nominated for a Sidewise Award.
Here's the whole great list of nominees:
* Ken Liu, “The Long Haul” (Clarkesworld, 11/14)
* Igor Ljubuncic, “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” (Wars to End All Wars: Alternate Tales from the Trenches, Amazon Digital Services)
* Robert Reed, “The Principles” (Asimov’s, 4-5/14)
* Aaron Rosenberg, “Let No Man Put Asunder” (Europa Universalis IV: What If?, Paradox Interactive)
* Lewis Shiner, “The Black Sun” (Subterranean, Summer 2014)
* Harry Turtledove, “The More It Changes” (Europa Universalis IV: What If?, Paradox Interactive)
* Alexander M. Grace, Sr., Second Front: The Allied Invasion of France, 1942-1943 (Casemate)
* Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Enemy Within (WMG Publishing)
* Tony Schumacher, The Darkest Hour (William Morrow)
* Allen Steele, V-S Day (Ace)
* Jo Walton, My Real Children (Tor)
The winners will be announced at Sasquan.
Stories and Stone Kickstarter
: There is a new Sassafrass Kickstarter, please go and support it
My friend Ada Palmer
, in addition to writing wonderful SF and being an historian, composes amazing complex layered music that does wonderful things to my brain. (I have some evidence it does wonderful things to other people's brains too, in terms of getting writers unstuck.) You may remember me posting about the Sundown Kickstarter
a couple of years ago. She's doing another Kickstarter, to produce two new Sassafrass albums -- Stories and Stone
, which is a companion album to Sundown, and Friend in the Dark
, which will be new recordings of some Sundown things and some of her other songs, done by Ada and weirdquark
as the duo Trickster and King
. The links are to streaming audio. There's an incredibly high overlap between people who like my work and people who like Ada's, so if you haven't encountered it before, you have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain by going over there and listening to some of it to see if you like it -- and then back the Kickstarter if you do.
One of the higher level backer rewards is access to the Secret Album, which includes recordings of the Norse Hour we did at George R.R. Martin's cinema in Santa Fe last summer -- so it's Ada and Lauren singing bits of Sundown, interspersed with me reading Norse poems -- some of them the poems I wrote for the Sundown Kickstarter, (Odin on the Tree
, The Love and the Oath
, Advice to Loki
and Ask to Embla
) and some of them just Norse poems I had lying around like Asa Loki Under Glacier
and Keeping an Eye Out
. This is the only way this recording is going to be available, so if you want to hear me reading those poems aloud, please go and back the Kickstarter. (However, we are doing Norse Hour live again at Mythcon in a few weeks, and we may do it at future cons.)
I just realised I never actually posted "Ask to Embla" anywhere except to the Kickstarter backers, and in the Sundown Libretto. So in honour of the new Kickstarter
and in the hope it might encourage you to support it, I've put it on my website, and I'm also posting it here.
The background to this is that in Norse Mythology, Odin, and his brothers
Ve and Vili
Honir and Lodur made the first humans from an ash tree and an elm tree, Ask and Embla in Norse, and these become the first man and the first woman. There's an awesome Sassafrass song about this called Gift of Life
. And in A.S. Byatt's novel Possession
, the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash writes a poem called "Ask to Embla", which is not quoted in the book. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to write it -- a crazy elm tree love poem, from the point of view of a human who had been a tree just moments before addressing the only other human, in the dawn of creation -- what would you say? Where could you even start?Ask to Embla
When we stood mute, rooted,
We grew side by side
Shared storms and seasons,
Drank from deep waters,
Flowered and fruited,
Washed by the same tides
Swayed for the same winds
knowing no reasons.
Three gods came out of the dark
Warming and changing and moving and shaping
Filling us up with their spark
I can step from this shore
This edge where we belonged before
To turn and see and speak and know
As root and branch knew how to grow.
As flesh transforms from wood,
I turn to you to start to speak
Believing I'll be understood:
"This world is a wonder,
The gods are a wonder,
The words, the worlds, and we
New made in new sun's icy dawn
The slate-flecked sea, the very stones
Transmuted out of Ymir's bones,
The landscape, like us, all newborn
As we were turned from tree...
The same, and not the same, and you
Are gloriously different too
Now I can move and see and learn,
My life-spark blazes and I burn
To speak. that you can answer me,
To say: "The world, the wonders, gods,
Our transformation," urgently,
And time and change and hope and all
The stories that have yet to be,
Together, reaching out, to build
All that a man who was a tree
Can dream, a name, a home, a hall,
A saga, and you in them all,
You, who are like the gods,
Like me, a wonder, and free-willed.
(And standing staring back at me
Though all the world stands bare to see.)
I draw my new-won breath to speak:
"The world's full of wonders,
The future's a wonder
The gods are a wonder
16th July 2015
Three Twilight Tales in Spanish, and free Spanish e-books
: Fantasia Austral
is publishing my short story "Three Twilight Tales" in Spanish. In payment for this, I have download codes for three Spanish e-books -- a translation of Lord Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana, an anthology of Chilean steampunk, and an anthology of Chilean fantasy. Fascinating as these sound, I do not read Spanish. (Spanish is the language that most of all makes me feel we should have all just stuck to Latin, because it's not Latin, and it's not Italian or French either, so I always have the feeling that it's about to make sense but it never actually does.) However, some of you do, surely? So I'll send a code to each of the first three people to comment here, with an email address. I have one code for each book.
8th July 2015
My Real Children nominated for World Fantasy Award
Even though it's actually science fiction, with moonbases and everything. :
Which isn't to say I'm not thrilled to bits to see it nominated! And it's on a great shortlist
, including truepenny
UK Philosopher Kings Cover
As I understand it, : The Just City
is now properly out in the UK (not that it was in Waterstones in Carmarthen) and The Philosopher Kings
is available as an e-book. This will be the eventual cover, when it comes out there in paper, matching the UK The Just City
cover I posted a little while ago. What do you think?
30th June 2015
: There's an Indiegogo Campaign to bail out the Greek economy
I've given them $50 -- every little helps, and it would be awesome if it works. This is such a fascinating and unique funding model. I was thinking about all the things I've helped fund this way in the last few years -- Sundown, and fixing the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and saving people's homes and medical bills, and SF magazines and anthologies, and space missions, and a local history project, and all kinds of cool things. It's sharing what little we have to make stone soup. They call it crowdfunding, but it's also hope funding, funding awesome things that couldn't otherwise happen out of people's hope. It's such a fascinating financial model, so different from anything that has really been before -- a subscription model that is, because of the internet, open to anyone to try. It seems like something that could in itself shape a different kind of future, a force that runs against corporatization and homogeneity and blinkered bureaucracy.
It gives me hope -- it removes that feeling of helplessness I have so often when I can't do anything about some huge overwhelming thing. This is something I can
do, and maybe it will work, if enough other people care too. It's democratizing that in such a great way. I was joking on the train last week about having a Kickstarter to buy Amtrak their own rails -- and it's not impossible. It's a thing someone could really do. The existence of this kind of thing changes the world, the future -- even if it doesn't work, even if we can't raise enough money to bail out Greece (though please do go and give them a little help if you can spare it!) just the possibility that we might is empowering. It's such a great feeling that there are more options.
The Philosopher Kings is out today
Rush out and buy it, and I hope you like it. :
Meanwhile, I am getting on a train and won't have any internet between here and Chicago. That will stop me obsessively looking at sales rankings and new reviews... when I am back, we'll have a spoiler thread where you can all yell at me for the Patrick O'Brian thing I did between books, if you want.
29th June 2015
Stonewall Honor Acceptance Speech
This is the speech I gave this morning. I feel I ought to apologise for this LJ being all awards acceptances all the time right now, but I'm not going to, because it's actually kind of cool. Besides, there won't be another one for... why, it's more than a month until the Tiptree award thingy! :
I'm Jo Walton, I write science fiction and fantasy, I was first published in 2000. My Real Children
is my tenth novel and I've had two more out since then, and all my books feature characters with non-normative sexuality, because that's an aspect in which it's important to me that they be true to life.
Last year in the World Science Fiction Convention in London, there was a panel on Sexuality in Military SF. The very existence of this panel is an example of how things have changed. Joe Haldeman's 1976 novel The Forever War
was mentioned, and one of the panelists said a book like that couldn't be published now by a major press, and that books with protagonists with non-normative sexualities had to come from small presses that were more adventurous, because the major publishers didn't want gay cooties.
I was astounded at this, because it flat out isn't true. There has been a huge revolution in science fiction and fantasy publishing in the last decade, and we now see people of color on book covers and also our books have multiple non-straight characters who aren't just there to suffer. There was a period where you couldn't have this sort of characters, and then there was a period where you could, but the whole book had to be about their (usually tragic) sexuality. It had to be a focus. The ability to have GLBT characters who are just characters is huge. When my alternate history novel Farthing
came out in 2006, reviewers said it had "too many gay characters", which led me to say nobody had told me there was a quota -- I don't think that would happen today.
I stood up and said this, with examples of lots of recent SF with GLBT characters from different major publishers, and other writers in the audience supported me, but without convincing the panel. Later, indignant, and also wanting to confirm my impression of how much things had changed, I mentioned this to my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor. He not only confirmed my impression, he said that beyond that, these days having GLBT characters and issues was now an actual selling point, it is something they now list on the back of an Advanced Reading Copy as a plus. It's not just that people don't mind it, there's an audience of people who want it. The market recognises that. Big publishers recognise that.
Some people may still be living in their decades old experience -- the asexuality of my first novel's protagonist, and the assorted sexualities of the minor characters, certainly weren't mentioned as selling points back in 2000. But I got away with them. And since then, things have changed hugely, and for the better.
There's still a long way to go, the battle isn't over and won by any means. But it's wonderful to see that things have improved so much. Part of this has been the general social acceptance has been changing -- I wrote this last week. and already I need to update it! I mean, wow, marriage equality. We've had it in Canada for ages, and now you have it too and I am so happy -- but this works both ways. Social acceptance changes what can be written and published and read, but what people are writing and publishing and reading changes social acceptance too.
Books are important, what we read is important, books really do influence the way we think. And libraries are vitally important in getting those books to people, especially young people from families who may not read. And the Stonewall Awards have been a wonderful positive source of this change -- gaining visibility by celebrating excellence in GLBT literature since 1971. 1971! In 1971, homosexuality had only been legal in Britain for two years, and it was still criminalized in parts of the US. I'm so proud that _My Real Children_ has made your honor list, it's a genuine honor, and I'm absolutely delighted. Thank you.
28th June 2015
RUSA Acceptance Speech
This is the talk I gave this morning at the ALA Literary Tastes Breakfast. :
It's awesome and strange for My Real Children
to be listed as Top Pick for Women's Fiction, especially in a year with such a wonderful shortlist.
I'm not a Women's Fiction writer. I write Fantasy and Science Fiction. My Real Children
is science fiction. It's an alternate history novel. My central character, Patricia, is an old woman with Alzheimer's who remembers two different versions of her life. In one life, she accepts a marriage proposal, has four children, and becomes known as Trish. In the other she declines it and later enters into a lesbian relationship, has three children, and is known as Pat. Her worlds diverge too, slowly, with changes proliferating over time, so that neither of her lives takes place in our world. The chapters alternate between the two versions of her life. Towards the end of the book, in 2015, she looks out of the window of the nursing home and sees the moon, and she knows that people are living on the moon, but she doesn't know whether they are in the peaceful scientific base where her son works, or in three hostile bases bristling with nukes aimed at Earth. She remembers both, she knows they can't both be real, and she can't remember where she has put her hearing aids.
Of course, it's Women's Fiction too. It's the close-up story of one woman's two lives.
Personally, I've always read widely in a bunch of genres, and genre is something that has always been interesting to me, genre as a phenomenon. Genre is more than just a way of marketing books. Genre is the set of things that a book is in conversation with. Books are constantly conversing with one another. As librarians you must be very familiar with the "If I like this, what else will I like?" question, and that's one place where genre can be a really useful tool. If I tell you I like Bridget Jones's Diary
(which I do) that doesn't say anything about whether I'm going to like The Gobin Emperor
(which I also do), but it does suggest I might like things Bridget Jones's Diary
is engaged with and things that are engaged with it, whether that's more ChickLit or Pride and Prejudice
or Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey
Science fiction & fantasy is an especially interesting genre in this sense, because it's constantly in conversation within genre boundaries, with a wide conversation going on and books being written in response to each other in a fascinating way, but and it's also always reaching out across the boundaries. We see crossovers and mashups all the time. I just mentioned Kowal: there are a bunch of crossovers with Romance. John Kessel and Connie Willis have written SF screwball comedies. There are SF mysteries, and SF noir, and all kinds of things. SF likes to cross-pollinate. I've done cross-overs myself before. Tooth and Claw
is fantasy crossed-over with a sentimental Victorian novel, and Farthing
is alternate history crossed-over with a cosy mystery. As I said, I find genre interesting in itself, and I like playing with it.
In a classic example of SF reaching across boundaries, Robert Heinlein's 1955 Tunnel in the Sky
is not so much talking to Lord of the Flies
as yelling at it. But Golding, while arguably writing science fiction, wasn't part of the genre, wasn't part of the same conversation. Heinlein read Golding, but Golding wasn't reading Heinlein, either before or after. People within SF were looking out and responding to things outside the genre, but it wasn't until relatively recently that we've seen people outside SF responding to the conversation happening inside. You'd have non-genre writers writing things that were ostensibly SF, but which were not interested in being in dialogue with the genre. They tended to ignore the conversation going on inside, and addressed their work only to things in their own genres, while using the most superficial kinds of borrowing, the appearances of Science Fiction. As well as Golding I'm thinking here about Lessing's Shikasta
and also P.D. James's Children of Men
. Recently this has changed, and we have examples of successful in-dialogue cross-overs from outside, like Michael Chabon and Kazuo Ishiguro.
When I was writing My Real Children
I thought of it as a cross-over with women's fiction. I wrote it in a way that was much closer to how women's fiction is written -- the focus is always on Patricia's life and love and work.
Lois McMaster Bujold, a wonderful writer, has described SF as "fantasies of political agency". My Real Children
isn't that at all, Patricia has no political agency, only personal agency. Yet it's her personal decision, her sexual and romantic decision of whether to accept a marriage proposal, that has changed the world. We're all significant. We don't know which things we do are important, which ones will have repercussions. Looking back we can sometimes see it, but at the time we can't possibly tell. We try things, we sow so much seed that falls on stony ground. The occasional seed manages to surprise us. It didn't look any different from the others! How could we tell this would be the one to sow change?
Women's Fiction as a genre, the genre you recognise and reward every year, is focused on the importance of women's lives. It's an inherently feminist enterprise, it's saying that women's lives and concerns matter, are significant, are worth writing about and reading about. Science Fiction has been historically a very male-dominated genre. This has changed, since the seventies, since second wave feminism. There have been lots of women writing SF for decades now, people like C.J. Cherryh, and Ursula Le Guin, and new ones coming along like Ann Leckie and Ada Palmer. Male writers too are aware of the existence of women these days, it's not just a case of the scientist's beautiful daughter any more. We've come a long way.
But what you often get, even now, is the kickass female protagonist, the woman in a traditionally male role, the female president, female spaceship captain, female marine. She's a terrific role model... But when you say anyone can do anything but you only show everyone doing traditionally male things, you're need to rethink the message you're sending.
Consider Bujold's point there, "fantasies of political agency". Science Fiction tells the stories of worlds, the world is a character, and the character that changes is often the world. Science Fiction is the genre of changing worlds, and very often using those changed worlds to comment on the here and now.
We haven't seen much science fiction that's interested in the issues of women's fiction, women's lives in science fictional worlds. They're still relegated to the edges. You can have a female space explorer, but there aren't many stories about anyone, male or female, that are about the kinds of things that women's fiction is about -- marriage, children, parenting, juggling the demands of life and love and career, divorce, families, home, getting older. There could be, but there aren't. Those things aren't going to go away -- or if they are, that's interesting in itself and worth examining. But all too often SF seems to demand an adventure plot. So what we've seen is a lot of lip service to the idea of women's lives being important, while the actual message is that women's lives are only important if they become just like men's lives. There are exceptions -- Bujold herself is a great exception here.
With My Real Children
I was writing about changing worlds, but with my focus always on Patricia herself, her life, her concerns, which are women's fiction kind of concerns. Because the book is set between 1926 and 2015, but mostly between 1950 and 2000, what we have are two different versions of the second half of the twentieth century, so the experience of reading it is more like reading women's fiction. My Real Children
has also recently been named the co-winner, with Monica Byrne's The Girl In the Road
, of the Tiptree Award, which is given every year to a science fiction or fantasy work does interesting things with gender. This wasn't just because of Patricia's bisexuality, but for what I've been talking about here, using the concerns of women's fiction in a science fiction context.
When you write a cross-over, the concern is always that the book won't work in both genres and be part of both conversations. By listing my book as Top Pick, in the Women's Fiction category, in the genre I do not normally write, you told me I did it right. You let me know I wrote a book that was truly in dialogue with both genres. Thank you not just for honouring my book, but for validating it. I really appreciate that.
27th June 2015
In San Francisco
The train was very late because of a tornado. I saw the tornado, it was amazing -- I'd never seen the whole sky lit up like a broken neon tube, but it was like that for hours. Amtrak made the absolute correct decision to stop the train in a dip, because the 80 mph winds were making it rock even stopped. When there was a bolt of lightning, it really was briefly as bright as day, which I've read about but not seen before. I was in the observation car talking to a chance-met fellow traveller, and we just sat there talking about stoicism and the food in the Redwall books and whether aliens could have a completely different mathematics until the tornado went away and the train started to move again. :
So I got to Emeryville very late last night, and discovered that while I was on the train, the US Supreme Court has opted for marriage equality. I stayed last night with rezendi
and S, and we had brunch and a look around the area this morning. San Francisco really is the perfect place to be this weekend. Everyone looks so happy! And I feel that my own excellent marriage is improved by making the option open to everyone. Amazing to think that rysmiel
and I have been married for fourteen years tomorrow!
Off to a librarian dinner now.
What Makes This Book So Great won a Locus Award!
Herewith my acceptance speech, which had to be given by proxy as I am in San Francisco for ALA. :
You know, science fiction really is wonderful. Fantasy is pretty great too.
WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT is a book of me talking about books. It began life as a series of blog posts on Tor.com. Patrick Nielsen Hayden asked me to blog -- he said I was always saying smart things about books nobody else had thought about for ages. That's what this book is, my enthusiastic thoughts on older science fiction and fantasy. So the first people I want to thank are the writers who wrote those books -- all of them, from Anderson to Zelazny. Secondly, if this is me talking about books, I'm talking about them to people who also care. Tor.com gave me an engaged audience -- the commenters there were always an inspiration and kept me enthusiastic. I want to thank all of them, even the ones who were wrong wrong wrong. When I was writing the posts I used the Locus wqebsite and databases all the time, so I want to thank Locus too. Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden came up to Montreal and the three of us spent a weekend with a giant mound of printout of all my posts and went through them assembling the book into its final form. That was editing above and beyond -- and I really appreciate it. Everyone at Tor has been very supportive of this book, and the same goes for everone at my UK publisher Corsair, especially my UK editor Sarah Castleton. Jamie Stafford Hill gave it the wonderful cover, which I'm sure helped it find its friends. I'd like to thank my friends Alison Sinclair, Alter Reiss and Rene Walling, my son Sasha Walton and my husband Emmet O'Brien, for productive discussions about the books I was reading as I was writing the posts. Lots of people helped me out with thoughts on lots of specific books -- best of all Brother Guy Consolmagno let me interview him about the Jesuit attitude to A CASE FOR CONSCIENCE.
I'm thrilled and delighted that WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT has been honoured by the Locus Award. I love Locus, and I love the way the Locus Award is such a genuine popular award. I'm so sorry I can't be here in person to accept this award -- I'm in San Francisco accepting a different award for a different book this same weekend, They asked me first. But how did my life get to be so great?
Finally, I want to thank everyone who read WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT and complained that it had increased their "to be read" list. Good. That was the plan. I love our genre. It's so vibrant and full of promise, with so many people writing so many great things. There are so many wonderful science fiction and fantasy books out there, new and old, and I want everyone to read them so that we can have conversations about them. Thank you giving me this award and showing that you want this too.