Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012, pt.3: Cheryl Morgan

Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012 
by Cheryl Morgan

2012 seems to have been a very good year for books. I have interesting novels from M. John Harrison (Empty Space), Iain M. Banks (The Hydrogen Sonata), Nick Harkaway (Angelmaker), Ken MacLeod (Intrusion), China Miéville (Railsea), Tim Powers (Hide Me Among The Graves), Matt Ruff (The Mirage), Tad Williams (The Dirty Streets of Heaven), and Hannu Rajaniemi (The Fractal Prince), to name but a few. This, however, is the Aqueduct Press blog, so enough with the boys, what else have I read?

Actually, enough with other publishers’ books for a while. These days I have my own to talk about. I know that’s a bit annoyingly spammy, but I wouldn’t be publishing these books if I didn’t like them.

Most recently I’m delighted to be bringing back Lyda Morehouse’s AngeLINK series. The first volume, Archangel Protocol, is already available, and the other three will follow next year. This is a series I loved when it was first published, and making good books available again makes me very happy.

The other novel I have published this year is The Thief’s Gamble by Juliet E. McKenna. This is epic fantasy created with all of the intelligence you would expect from someone who has a Classics degree from Oxford. There has been quite a bit of talk recently about how mediaeval societies actually had women in them (not just as potential wives and rape victims), and epic fantasy should reflect this. Juliet has been doing this for years, and hardly anyone has noticed. Thief is the first of five books in her first series. The others should follow next year.

Finally from my own books I should mention an anthology. My friend Colin Harvey died suddenly last year. His many friends in the Bristol area, and in online writing communities, got together to produce a tribute anthology, which I published. All of the proceeds from Colinthology are going to Above & Beyond, a local medical charity for which Colin volunteered when he was alive. Two young local writers, Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke, edited it for me. I’m encouraging them to do more.

Back now to other people’s books, and my book of the year is The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan. I thought that The Red Tree was a spectacular book, but the new novel is even better. Caitlín is becoming a stand-out novelist, regardless of genre. My hot tip for the Hugo, however, is 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. It will certainly be on my ballot. I didn’t particularly warm to the central characters, but I adore the gender politics. Few authors would have had the courage to speculate about a future in which genetically engineering your children to be intersex would be fashionable, and provide a rationale for it.

Another book that everyone is talking about is Jagannath, the debut collection from Swedish writer, Karin Tidbeck. I had the pleasure of meeting Karin at Åcon, a convention held in the Åland Archipelago between Finland and Sweden, earlier this year. I was very impressed. I’m delighted to say that I love her book, and it has been one of the best sellers in my store this year.

By the way, if you ever get a chance to go to Åcon, take it. Just ask Cat Valente, or indeed any of the other past Guests of Honor. On that subject, I was lucky enough to be a GoH myself this year. It was at the Eurocon in Zagreb, Croatia. I had a wonderful time. Croatian fandom is very impressive (and run by women). One of the things that they do each year is produce an anthology that is given free to every member of the annual Zagreb convention, SFerakon. As they were a Eurocon this year, they also produced an anthology in English. Kontakt, named after the convention, is essentially a “best of” anthology for Croatian science fiction and fantasy. There are some great stories in there.

Last year I mentioned having enjoyed The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells. The other two volumes in the trilogy, The Serpent Sea and The Siren Deeps, are now out. I really enjoyed book two, and snapped up the third as soon as it came out. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but N.K. Jemisin has been enthusing about it on Twitter. This is a very fine series featuring an alien race that has evolved numerous, biologically distinct social roles. Well done Night Shade.

From Angry Robot, Anne Lyle’s Night’s Masque series is very interesting from a gender point of view. The main characters are a bisexual man, and a girl who is living disguised as a boy. Some of the supporting characters are boys in an Elizabethan acting company who are, of course, employed to play female roles. I enjoyed The Alchemist of Souls and am looking forward to The Merchant of Dreams.

Now that Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court series is available outside of Australia as ebooks I have been able to read them all. The books are a lot of fun, featuring many strong female characters. They remind me a lot of Storm Constantine, though there’s none of the gender bending that typifies the Wraeththu series. The books are Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts. Another favorite series right now, also from Night Shade, is the Bel Dame Apocrypha by Kameron Hurley. I’ve just finished Rapture, the third volume, and I’m pleased to see that it spends some time exploring the very interesting world that Hurley has created. I can’t help thinking that if Nyx were a man, and having her adventures chronicled by a man, then these books would be as famous as those by Joe Abercrombie.

2012 was notable for the publication of the first Mary Gentle novel in a very long time. The Black Opera sees Gentle in fine form. It also deals well with all of the gender-variant characters in it – a welcome change from Ilario, which lurched dizzyingly between being magnificent and being horribly transphobic.

Another book that features trans characters is Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood: Rituals. Roz has been famous for her criticism and poetry for so long that it is easy to forget that this is her first novel. Some of the history, and clever working in of mythological themes, will go over many readers’ heads, but everyone will love the heroine, a troubleshooter specializing in badly behaved supernatural entities, with a ghostly girlfriend/sidekick.

Back to science fiction now, and Madeline Ashby has made an impressive debut with vN. This is a new and interesting take on the idea of artificial beings. Some of the plotting is altogether too convenient, but along the way Ashby has a lot of interesting things to say about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a woman.

Also from Canada, though now domiciled just down the road from me in Bath, is Moira Young. Her debut novel, a YA post-apocalyptic Western called Blood Red Road, won the YA division of the Costa Prize this year, much to the horror of the UK’s snobby literary critics. The follow-up, Rebel Heart, is apparently just as good. Moira has worked as an actress and opera singer, and it shows when she does readings. I’m trying to get her to come to some conventions so she can charm you as well.

I haven’t mentioned any Australians yet, have I? Do you really need to be told to read Margo Lanagan? I thought not. Then again, you may not know that, in addition to Sea Hearts, she also has a short collection out from Twelfth Planet Press. Cracklescape is part of the excellent Twelve Planets series, from which I also warmly recommend Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti.

Talking of Deb, I absolutely loved “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living”, the story she contributed to Ishtar, and which was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. Ishtar has two other stories by Australian women in it: one from Kaaron Warren, and one from Cat Sparks. It is required reading for Mesopotamia junkies like me.

2012 has been a very busy year for Liz Hand. There’s a new Cass Neary novel, Available Dark, a YA novel, Radiant Days, and a collection, Errantry. A revised version of Glimmering has been issued, and most of Liz’s back catalog has been re-issued as ebooks. Much as I love Liz, I can’t read them all in one year, so I’ll focus on my favorite. I have just re-read Waking the Moon, and it is even better than I remembered.

Timmi has been busy, of course. I’d like to highlight a couple of fine releases from Aqueduct. Ancient, Ancient, by Kiini Ibura Salaam is a fascinating short story collection and guaranteed to be different from almost anything else you are reading. Also many thanks to Aqueduct for rescuing Gwyneth Jones’ magnificent Spirit from obscurity. It was very poorly marketed by its original publisher and I’m delighted to see it available again.

This has been an interesting a year for anthologies that look at issues that affect trans people. Brit Mandelo’s Beyond Binary is the best known and is a fine book. I also have copies of, but have not yet found time to read, two similar books. Outlaw Bodies, from Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad looks more generally at issues of bodily modification, while Scheherazade’s Façade from Michael M. Jones promises fantastical tales of gender bending. I’m looking forward to both of them.

Nothing much to do with SF, but I recently had the good fortune to be able to attend a reading by Alison Bechdel. I am now the proud possessor of a signed (and cartooned) copy of The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For, which I shall treasure.

The only movie I have seen this year has been Avengers, which was an exercise in nostalgia for anyone like me who has been following the comic from the beginning. I would have loved to see Janet Van Dyne in the film. With any luck she’ll be in one of the sequels. My favorite new album this year has been Theatre is Evil by Amanda Palmer. Yeah, I’m biased, but it is very good.

Finally, it is podcast time. I wrote last year about The Writer and The Critic, and really I can’t recommend it highly enough. Kirstyn and Mondy provide some of the best literary analysis available in audio. And they have great chemistry. If you are not listening to this podcast, you should be.

A new podcast this year, and sadly only eight episodes' worth before they stopped, is SF Crossing the Gulf (published via SF Signal). In it, Karen Burnham and Karen Lord share book recommendations. Ms. Burnham goes for serious SF from Ted Chiang, Greg Egan and Mary Doria Russell. The books are well known, but Burnham and Lord’s insightful analysis is masterful and fresh. Ms. Lord contributes speculative fiction from Caribbean literature. The books are likely to be as new to you as they were to me, and they are fascinating. Oh, and talking of Karen Lord, she has a new novel out in 2013. It is called The Best of All Possible Worlds. Order it now. You’ll thank me later.

Cheryl Morgan has retired from Hugo collecting and from Clarkesworld to become a publisher (http://wizardstowerpress.com/) and book seller. Her bookstore, Wizard’s Tower Books (http://www.wizardstowerbooks.com/), sells ebooks from some of the finest science fiction and fantasy small presses, all DRM-free and without region restrictions. She still blogs at Cheryl’s Mewsings (http://www.cheryl-morgan.com/), and when she can afford it she travels the world in search of interesting fiction in translation.

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