Tuesday, June 1, 2021

For the Good of the Realm by Nancy Jane Moore


 

 I'm pleased to announce the release of For the Good of the Realm, a novel by Nancy Jane Moore, in both print and e-book editions. It's now available for purchase from Aqueduct Press at www.aqueductpress.com

 Anna d’Gart is both skilled with the sword and shrewd (not to mention discreet), a rare combination among the hot-tempered and rowdy Guards serving the King, Queen, and Hierofante, which is why she’s always the Queen’s first choice for carrying out sensitive assignments. Discovering that someone powerful is using magic to damage the Queen, Anna is plunged into political intrigue and a series of tough decisions. No fan of the uncanny, she’s forced to enlist the assistance of a witch—whose magical practices are strictly prohibited in the Realm and condemned by the Church.

With the aid of her flirtatious friend and fellow Guardswoman Asamir and their friends Roland de Barthes and Jean-Paul of the King’s Guard, Anna repeatedly matches wits with an opponent too powerful to be named. Intent on preventing war, preserving the Realm, and protecting the Queen despite the risks to herself and her fears about the ancient way of magic, Anna deploys all the means at her disposal—espionage, diplomacy, her sword, a powerful witch, and, of course, indomitable bravery. 

For the Good of the Realm is a splendid, swashbuckling romp that captures the very spirit of the Musketeers. The author weaves palace intrigue, swordplay, romance and divided loyalties into a deeply satisfying fantasy adventure with women at the center of the narrative, wielding and negotiating power.--Tansy Rayner Roberts, author of Musketeer Space and The Creature Court Trilogy 

For the Good of the Realm is a sparkling tournament of a novel, full of thrills as well as feats of storytelling bravado. Moore has invented a feminist medieval otherworld that is egalitarian in its sword and sorcery, yet political intrigue ultimately rules as Anna, a stalwart member of the Queen’s Guard, collaborates with a range of surprising characters to foil the nefarious plots of a power-hungry Hierofante. Spirited and funny, this is a great read. —Lesley Wheeler, author of Unbecoming

 This lighthearted, female-led fantasy adventure from Moore (The Weave) follows a pair of Queen’s Guards—staid, circumspect Anna and feisty, impulsive Asamir—as they become embroiled in the machinations of the rulers of Grande Terre. As the threat of war looms and a sinister undercurrent of forbidden magic becomes harder for Anna to ignore, the two women must out-fight and out-think the enemies of the realm in a series of duels and cloak-and-dagger intrigues. Moore’s plotting is relatively pared back, focusing on a handful of characters and a single political moment; it’s a refreshing counterpoint to the world-ending bombast of much secondary-world fantasy. The sword fights and worldbuilding will appeal to fans of fantasies of manners in the vein of Ellen Kushner’s works and historical adventure à la Dana Stabenow’s Silk and Song....With a principal cast of mostly women, this is sure to appeal to readers looking for stories of empowered female characters that go beyond simply giving them swords. —Publishers Weekly, March 2021

 Read a sample from the book.

Writers Drinking Coffee interviews Nancy in the ninety-third episode of their podcast. Listen to it here.

Nancy will be reading from For the Good of the Realm on Sunday, July 25, in an online event sponsored by FogCon.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell


 

 I'm pleased to announce the release of Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell as the eightieth volume in Aqueduct Press's Conversation Pieces series, in both print and e-book editions. You can purchase a copy now at www.aqueductpress.com

Read a sample from the book.

 

Deep in the recesses of childhood memory, your old playthings await. Listen: don’t you hear them crying out for you? Come take a peek inside the Cabinet of Wrath to find out what really happens when toys go missing and the stark decision they must make if they ever want to go home again. Discover what doll heads really think about being separated from their bodies. Follow a skull-and-bones novelty ring as it assembles a full body for itself, bit by grisly bit, and learn how loving your doll too much can lead to grave consequences. Open the door to these fabulist tales of toys and vengeance for a playtime you’ll never forget.

 Celebrate the release of the book with for a virtual reading and discussion of Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection, in conversation with Kelly Ann Jacobson, author of Tink and Wendy and An Inventory of Abandoned Things, with an introduction by L. Timmel Duchamp at the Writer's Center on July 15 here.

Katharine Blair has a long, thoughtful review of Cabinet of Wrath at Trampset. "Sometimes the most effective and thought-provoking speculative fiction is found in the smallest of shifts in perspective. Given the number of stories in Cabinet of Wrath that explore the ways in which a woman’s value depends so profoundly on the motives of her oppressors, I think anything that keeps us as readers closer to the root of our own culpability is best.Lost loves and predators, manipulation and finding solace, violence and the search for connection. These most human of experiences are at once the beauty and the horror of this collection and the perfect subject for its vantage of a seemingly childlike entry point into our world. Childhood has always been as much about powerlessness as innocence.... Now here, twenty years, a divorce, and eight pregnancies later, I think I’m ready to call it: if you want to understand the human experience, speculative fiction, and specifically a collection like Cabinet of Wrath, this is a great place to start. Let these dolls be the abstraction that allows the necessary distance to examine your own world with clarity."

Campbell delivers nine spooky stories of toys turned sinister that are sure to make readers reconsider the dolls, stuffed animals, and childhood playthings collecting dust in storage....[T]he imaginative scenarios and alluring voice never waver. Readers looking for bite-size horror will be delighted.—Publishers Weekly

 A delectably gruesome, tantalizingly bitey cabinet of wonders awaits you in this jewel box of a collection from Tara Campbell.—Tina Connolly, Hugo-nominated author of The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections

I thought I’d seen it all with the “creepy doll” story line, but Tara Campbell takes it to the next level with her twisted and delightful imagination. Kidnappers. Lovers. Killers. Seekers. I will be thinking about these stories in my nightmares. –Tara Laskowski, author of One Night Gone and Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Silences of Ararat by L. Timmel Duchamp


 I'm pleased to announce the release of The Silences of Ararat, an original novella by L. Timmel Duchamp, in both print and e-book editions, as the seventy-ninth volume in our Conversation Pieces series. It's available now at www.aqueductpress.com.

 

It’s an old, old story: the King loses what passes for his mind and accuses his perfect trophy wife of adultery and prepares to have her put to death. Temporary insanity, right? Often in such cases, there’s collateral damage, and that’s the case in this story. But who, in a monarchy like Ararat, can oppose the King? Enter, Paulina, stage left, a sculptor with a hidden talent, a dea ex machina with her own ideas about how this story should end. 

Read a sample from the book.

Also available is the author's essay, A Few Thoughts on Writing The Silences of Ararat, on her website.

(Yeah, it does feel weird writing about myself in the third person. Forgive me, please.This is the problem of wearing two different hats in the same blog post.)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Quote of the Day

 An image never stands alone. It belongs to a system of visibility that governs the status of the bodies represented and the kind of attention they merit.--Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator

Monday, February 15, 2021

Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales, by Mari Ness


 I'm pleased to announce the release, in both print and e-book editions, of Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales,  by Mari Ness, as the seventy-eighth volume in our Conversation Pieces Series. It's available now from Aqueduct Press at www.aqueductpress.com. 

Read a sample from the book.

A group of French aristocrats, trapped by their culture and gender, wanted to speak out against the regime and the king. But they could not, for that king was Louis XIV.

And so they turned to fairy tales. In this collection of fourteen essays, Mari Ness explores the lives and tales of these remarkable writers who used fairy tales to subtly critique – and in a few cases, support – the absolutist rule of Louis XIV. They include the scandalous Henriette Julie de Murat, imprisoned for debauchery, and rumored to wear men's clothing; Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, imprisoned for writing impious poetry; and Madame d'Aulnoy, who spent years of her life in exile from her beloved country, but still insisted on contributing to French literature. Told with wit and humor, the essays help set beloved fairy tales into their historical and cultural context. A must read for fairy tale lovers and anyone interested in how words can be shaped into acts of resistance.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Climbing Lightly through Forests: A Poetry Anthology Honoring Ursula K. Le Guin


 

I'm pleased to announce the release of Climbing Lightly through Forests: A Poetry Anthology Honoring Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by R.B. Lemberg and Lisa M. Bradley, in both print and e-book editions. It's available now at www.aqueductpress.com

Read a sample from the book.

Ursula K. Le Guin, celebrated for her speculative fiction, was also a prolific poet. Although poetry framed Le Guin’s life, her poetic oeuvre never garnered the same acclaim as her fiction. Distinct from the cosmic worldbuilding of her science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s poems were “smaller scale, more intimate, more fragile.”

A tribute anthology, Climbing Lightly Through Forests hosts multiple conversations: poets respond to Ursula K. Le Guin, her work, or their own reactions to Le Guin or her work; editors Lemberg and Bradley put the poets in conversation with each other and with readers. Poets from around the world (including Greece, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, the UK, Australia, Canada, and the United States) contribute perspectives that both honor and challenge Le Guin’s legacy. In addition, Lemberg, a Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellow, provides a retrospective essay engaging with each of Le Guin’s nine full-length poetry collections in turn.

In the editors' "Not an Introduction," Lisa asks R.B.: What did you learn from your deep dive into Le Guin’s poetry?

R.B. replies: Much of her poetry felt very personal to me, and not nearly as speculative as her fiction; and there was much less engagement with it, from both readers and critics, so I was interested in why that might be. Le Guin herself said her poetry was dismissed because it was written by a novelist; but I am not sure if that is quite true. It’s just that her poetry was so much less speculative, and her readers expected speculative works from her—grand feats of imagination, of naming what has been silent for long. The magic of her poetry is quieter. It is in the wind and water, the landscape and the trees, whole forests of them. Ursula called herself an arboreal writer, and the title of this book, a line from one of her poems, reflects that.

Lisa: Arboreal! Certainly, Le Guin looms large as a sequoia for readers of her speculative fiction. But perhaps we should imagine her as a whole forest, because she wrote astutely and passionately about many things in many genres.

The editors mention a few of Ursula's many conversations with other poets, including those she translated into English--eager, as always, to bring unheard voices into our cultural conversations. This spirit is at the heart of this anthology, and in this seeks to honor Ursula K. Le Guin three years after her death. As R.B. remarks, "I love how the poetry in this volume has such a range of tone. Taken as a whole, the resulting book is deeply Ursuline—in its contemplativeness, in its rebelliousness and resistance, in its thoughtfulness, in its sadness, and its hope."

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2020, pt 34: Vandana Singh

 


 

What I read in 2020
by Vandana Singh

 

In 2020 I didn’t get to read much fiction (excluding mystery fiction for stress relief), in part because I was on sabbatical in India for six months, which was complicated by the pandemic, the lockdown and the consequent last minute change in my academic project. I read acres of nonfiction instead; however, I also read some standout fiction, made even more memorable against the dramatic and tumultuous backdrop of this historic Year of the Pandemic. As always, I make an effort to read diverse authors, an immensely rewarding experience, as my notes below indicate.  And there’s a tottering pile of unread wonders by my bedside, waiting for that mythical thing, a free moment.  In no particular order, here are some highlights of my readings in 2020:

1.      When the River Sleeps by Easterine Kire https://zubaanbooks.com/shop/when-the-river-sleeps/


This remarkable novel is set in Northeast India, in the state of Nagaland, where a man haunted by a dream travels through the hills and forests of his people in search of a sleeping river.  If you pluck a stone from a sleeping river, it is said, you will gain power.  But this journey through the verdant wilderness, enriched by the author’s inside knowledge of Naga cosmology and animated by spirits and magical beings, is a quest for meaning, not power.  The main character is not a youthful Chosen One, but a middle aged man called Vilie, who is compelled by his dream to leave a relatively peaceful life as an employee of the Forest Department to go into the unknown. This aspect of the novel – dealing with uncertainty, when the only security comes from trust in others, trust that is sometimes betrayed – seemed especially meaningful when I read it in Delhi in March, just when the pandemic was gaining momentum and the false security that modernity gives us began to slip from our lives.  The story is told in lyrical, unpretentious prose, and carries with it something like the cadence of a river, slow and stately in parts, swift and urgent in others. 

 

2.      My Father May Be an Elephant and My Mother Only a Small Basket, But… by Gogu Shyamala


https://navayana.org/products/father-may-be-an-elephant-and-mother-only-a-small-basket-but/?v=7516fd43adaa

 

This is a collection of luminous short stories by Dalit writer and academic Gogu Shyamala, set in her home state of Telengana, rendered in English from the Telegu by multiple translators.  The daughter of agricultural laborers in rural Telengana, her parents worked hard to ensure that she got an education; she ultimately went on to gain a Ph.D. and became a scholar, an activist and a writer.  Many of these stories are inspired by her own life.  As she says in an interview (https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/gogu-shyamala-being-dalit-and-woman-survival-beyond-victimhood-and-outside-it-41396) , she avoids presenting Dalits as either victims or heroes; she does not shy away from depicting caste violence and everyday prejudice, which are frequent themes, yet her characters are fully human and her prose filled with an ebullience that celebrates the resilience, courage, creativity, and humor of her people.  Their intimate knowledge of the land and seasons, the animals and landscape, makes the natural world come alive, and sometimes blurs the boundary between humans and the rest of nature; one of the stories, for example, is narrated by a village pond.  The stories take those of us from privileged backgrounds into another world, which, although it exists in reality, feels like the best of speculative fiction because of its superb worldbuilding, immersing us in a world unfamiliar to most of us until it feels intimately and viscerally real, and doing so with the sureness of a master. 

 

3.      Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

https://smallbeerpress.com/books/2018/09/18/terra-nullius/


 

Terra Nullius literally means no man’s land.  The title reminds me of watching on TV the celebrations at the start of the LA Olympics decades ago, in which the pioneers were depicted rushing valiantly into an empty United States.  Apparently Native Americans had never existed. Unsurprisingly, this attempted erasure is also reflected in classic science fiction; as academics such as John Rieder and writer/editors such as Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan have noted, classic ‘golden age’ science fiction is intimately associated with colonialism from the perspective of the colonizers.  Writers from countries or societies that have experienced (and are still experiencing) colonialism are often adept at turning this trope on its head. Indigenous Australian writer Claire G. Coleman, who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people, does a spectacular job of this in her first novel, Terra Nullius.  It begins with a young man called Jacky, who is on the run from a missionary re-education school meant to ‘elevate the natives.’  (‘Re-schooling’ for cultural erasure is a tactic used worldwide against Indigenous people, and not just in the past – it is an essential instrument of cultural genocide – consider for example the phenomenon of factory schools operated by big business in India https://www.survivalinternational.org/articles/adani-kiss-factory-school). What Claire Coleman does with the theme of colonialism is something the like of which I haven’t seen before, something that only speculative fiction can do.  I’m tempted to elaborate, but I shall desist.  Readers should experience the power of this astonishing book for themselves.  As the words at the back of the book say, ‘Do you recognize this story?  Look again.’

 

4.      The Overstory by Richard Powers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Overstory

 


This novel recently won the Pulitzer prize, rocking the mainstream literary world because it acknowledges, among other things, that non-humans exist!  (I am being a little sarcastic here, in case it isn’t obvious, because a pet peeve I have with much of the modern mainstream Anglophone literature I’ve read is its obsession with the exclusively human (where ‘human’ is limited to white, suburban, privileged people engaged in an endless monotony of self-indulgent misery-making)). There are many pleasures in this book, not least of which are the positively sensuous descriptions of trees, especially the giant redwoods of the West coast, one of which literally has a small lake and trees growing way up among its giant branches. The sections of the book take inspiration from the structure of a tree, and the first, ‘Roots,’ begins with the generational family histories of each of the nine characters.  The paeans to the interconnectedness of trees, although beautifully written, stand in (probably unintentional) ironic contrast to the often unsocial, damaged, disconnected and typically individualistic main characters.  Although I enjoyed several parts of the book, I would not have thought it worthy of a Pulitzer. Some of the protagonists seem quite unnecessary to the story, while others make a disastrous decision that seems to go against common sense as well as their painstakingly set up characters and histories.  If The Overstory is intended to be a space-and-time-spanning American novel, it fails, because – to begin with - everyone except for a couple of Asian-American characters -  is white.  (The portrayal of the Indian-American character made me wince more than a bit).  Indigenous people are invoked once off-stage, then they make a cameo appearance near the end, and that’s it. Interestingly, the powers-that-be are also invisible; the forces of destruction are not seen, not named, except indirectly through standoffs with loggers. Thus we never get a sense of why the world is so hopeless – and hopelessness (except in unconvincing techno-visionary imaginings of one of the characters) seems to be the ultimate message, because no other way out is presented.  To me this seems to be a result of the stupendous lack of speculative imagination. Many people I know love this book, in part (I suspect) because reading some of the most poetic sections about trees seems to assuage a little of the species loneliness with which we moderns are afflicted – indeed, the most triumphant and enduring characters in the books are the trees.  One cannot help but weep when some of them are destroyed. Worth a read for that alone; ambitious, but with major limitations and flaws.  

 

5.      The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa


https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781101870600

This novel by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder, is set on an unnamed island where the Memory Police can cause any object or concept – or person – to cease existing.  For instance, at one point the inhabitants are told that birds will no longer exist from that day onward, so the people gather to open the cages of their pet birds and let them fly away.  After that day they might see feathered, flying things around, but cannot conceive of them as birds, nor imagine any relationship with them.  But there are people who cannot forget, and they must keep their intact memories a secret, else the Memory Police will take them away.  The protagonist, a young woman, lost her mother to them for that reason; when the story opens, her father, an ornithologist, is also dead. The woman is a writer, a storyteller, and as she witnesses her world shrink with the disappearance of what was once familiar and conceivable, she attempts to rescue others like her mother before they are taken away.  As the Memory Police ramp up their dreadful work, we see our main character become less and less real to herself, and yet she retains a sense of self through the creation of story, and through a final act of resistance.  Disturbingly resonant in a time when authoritarian regimes are trying to rewrite history, geography, and reality, the book leads inexorably to its stark conclusion.  (Reading this, I was reminded that about half of the six-thousand-odd languages of the world are under threat of extinction, and with them concepts and ways of being that are potentially as important for our survival as biological diversity (see for example https://www.ted.com/talks/wade_davis_dreams_from_endangered_cultures?language=en)).  In understated, almost journalistic prose, the book tells me that we cannot be free alone, that our freedom is contingent upon the freedom of others, that memory is both individual and collective, and that without stories, without imagination, we are lost.  And that any system which builds its power through erasure – of people, concepts, ideas, words - plants the seeds of its own destruction.  

 

6.      Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon

 


I mention this wonderful series because of many reasons – one being the marvelously detailed setting, Venice.  Although I have never been there and can’t speak for the accuracy of the depiction of the place and culture, Donna Leon apparently lived there for thirty years.  The waterways and palazzos, the way the light falls at different times of the year, the seasons, the lagoons, the acqua alta floods - all come alive in a wonderfully immersive way.  I read mysteries mostly for light reading before bedtime, to engage another part of my brain when I am tired, and forget them rather quickly, but this series escapes being merely trivial because it gives us the triple pleasures of place as character, intricate mysteries set in a social context, and well drawn characters.  The philosophical and ethical questions that arise in crimes as dire as murder, in a city that is fast changing due to modernity and an influx of refugees, are not dismissed or ignored; instead our hero, Commissario Guido Brunetti, engages with them as he works out the solution to the mystery. The best part for me is the depiction of the characters, especially Brunetti, who goes against the current popular (and annoyingly repetitive) stereotype of the detective: a man who is disturbed, antisocial, or enraged on a near-permanent basis due to some past tragedy, but of course, has a heart of gold under all those layers of hard-boiledness. By contrast Brunetti is refreshingly human, a grown-up, a decent man, happy with his lot in life, including his academic wife and two teenage children.  A man who is secure enough to not play power games, yet bold and clever when he must be, to get around the corrupt and inefficient people above and around him, he is susceptible to springtime, opera, his wife, and the beauty of his city. And Signorina Elettra, fashionista and diva of deviousness, who is fortunately on Brunetti’s side, is a delight. As must be relevant in any city built on water, environmental concerns are a frequent theme, but presented in a way that brings out the reality of the problem alongside the indifference with which most urbanites consider these issues.  

 

7.      Finally I must mention two short story collections that are not out as yet but will be this year, 2021, from two remarkable South Asian writers. I was privileged to read these before they were put in final form for the publishers. Usman Tanveer Malik’s Midnight Doorways and Anil Menon’s The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun are going to be out this year, and I hope that both will make it to multiple best-of lists for collections. 


 

Midnight Doorways https://www.usmanmalik.org/product/midnight-doorways-fables-from-pakistan/ is a collection of lyrically told, atmospheric stories that shine the light into the darkest reaches of the human psyche – and they are also very Pakistani and very South Asian.  Reading them, I was reminded of sitting in the dark with cousins as a teen in India, each of us taking turns to relate supernatural stories during the frequent summer power outages.  We terrified ourselves silly. It’s probably because of those experiences that I don’t generally read horror.  But Usman’s stories are not retellings of old tales, dressed up to scare another generation of youngsters.  They make something new out of the amalgam of ancient culture and modernity, engaging with issues of love, betrayal, longing and justice in the world we live in now, reminding the reader that electric bulbs are no protection, not against the darkness within, nor the darkness beyond the circle of light by which you are reading this. And that horrible things happen in the world, and to look upon them and shudder to the depths of one’s soul is one way we learn to recognize and confront these horrors. 

 

 Meanwhile, Anil Menon’s stories, collected in The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun (coming out from Hachette), play with an eccentric mélange of science fictional, fantastic and realist themes, with India a frequent setting. Anil (http://anilmenon.com/) is one of the most erudite and well-read writers out there, who can quote an obscure Western philosopher in one breath and ancient Indian love poetry in the next, and is himself eminently quotable. This inconceivable variety and depth of knowledge allows him to wander across multiple boundaries not limited to the geographical – fact and fiction, spec fic and realism, poetry and table of contents.  Odd things happen in the most ordinary circumstances (many of the settings are domestic) and what is real and what is not real become obscured. The ability to reveal the peculiar and extraordinary within the most everyday situations is well displayed in this collection. The stories are invariably clever, in the best tradition of the literature of ideas, but are also emotionally resonant, rendered with characteristic elegance and wit. 

With these two, it is already a good year for short story collections.

 



 

Vandana Singh is the author of Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories (Small Beer Press, 2018), The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet (Zubaan, 2009), numerous fine short stories, and two novellas published by Aqueduct Press in the Conversation Pieces series: Of Love and Other Monsters and Distances, which won the Carl Brandon Society's Parallax Award and was on the Otherwise Award (at the time of the award, Tiptree) Honor List. She lives near Boston, where she teaches physics.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2020, pt. 33: Arrate Hidalgo


 

The Pleasures of 2020
by Arrate Hidalgo

I’m terrible at keeping track of my reads, which has also been the case in this… erm, different 2020, but I reckon what I’ve gathered below is a good selection of my reading, viewing, and listening in the last 365 days:

  

Reading

 


Fever Dream
, Samantha Schweblin (tr. Megan McDowell)

Samantha Schweblin is one of the Argentinian authors who have been turning to horror to dissect Argentinian social context, to extraordinary effect (if you’re into that, other excellent names to check out are Mariana Enriquez and Spanish-born, Argentina-nurtured Ariadna Castellarnau). It’s difficult to tell what’s hallucination and what isn’t in this brief but deep read into the possibility of the monstrous in one’s child, or rather, the monstrous in the landscape itself intoxicating one’s child. I recommend knowing as little as possible if you go for this unsettling, rippling read.

 Marx and the Doll, Maryam Madjidi (not actually in English. See fragment tr. by Ruth Diver)

This exile novel written from the point of view of an Iranian girl (and, later, woman) forced to migrate to France with her communist parents dives into language, class, and home. Especially critical with the French state’s centralist approach to culture and tongue, the novel touched me to the core also because it has a grandma in it, and I just can’t help sobbing when long lost grandmas are involved.

 Fire Logic, Laurie J. Marks


My first confinement read! Thank you, Small Beer Press! It had been a while since I had been so enthralled by a secondary world fantasy. While the queer female leads were a great point in favor, I just really enjoyed the conversations and overall worldbuilding. Personally I love it when I don’t know exactly what everybody in an unknown world is speaking about all the time, especially when discussing philosophy. I intend to check out the next volume in the tetralogy as soon as I can get hold of it.

 

 

 Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora


Though I have only one volume of this journal, I’m hoping it won’t be the last. The one I have (v. 44.1, which has Sheree Renée Thomas as associate editor) includes absorbing poetry and prose by a great number of authors, among whom I want to highlight Kandace Siobhan Walker and her piece “Nowhere Native II.”

 Grœnlendinga saga and Eiríks saga rauða

During the spring confinement I returned to my Old Icelandic learning times, which took me to researching some Icelandic sagas I hadn’t actually read back when I was pursuing my master’s in Medieval literature. Two of them were the saga of the Greenlanders and the saga of Erik the Red. According to the Wikipedia, these are “the two main literary sources of information for the Norse exploration of North America”, and they astounded me because of the off-hand way in which the Icelanders’ encounters and conflicts with the indigenous populations whose land they trespass are narrated. It’s impossible to read these stories now without the looming prospect of colonization in mind, and since reading them I’ve wanted to search for contemporary criticism on this aspect, unsuccessfully for now.

 Hild, Nicola Griffith


I’m not a fast reader, especially when I’m really enjoying the way in which a story is written. It has taken me a year to finish Nicola Griffith’s historical fiction around Hilda of Whitby’s life story. Or rather, her life as a child and teenager/young woman, which is as far as this first volume goes. (There will be another two, and when I found out that Griffith has finished the second one, I actually screamed.) I’ve often described this novel as very sensorial, and it is. Some metaphors for Griffith’s thoroughly researched 7th-century Britain will stay with me for a long, long time, especially because of the way in which Hild takes it all in, observing the “natural” world not as an outsider but as a node in the great pattern of things.

Speaking of medieval literature and contemporary experiments to apply a medieval lens to the world, and vice versa (and bearing in mind that the word “medieval” comprises over a thousand years of history and a vast and complex network of territories), I wanted to highlight a quote from re-reading the intro to The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period:

 So the questions we might as as we approach these texts involve less what they ‘are’ than what they ‘do’, what they might mean not only to their imagined original audience(s) but to us, and how that meaning might change as our knowledge develops.… A reader of a contemporary novel is seldom aware of the complex web of cultural assumptions that sustains the narrative; these assumptions are transparent and automatic. For readers of early literature the assumptions are solid, opaque, at times impenetrable—but this awareness of the alterity of the reader to the text is, we think, a very healthy thing. It is always good to be reminded that meanings are not simply ‘there’ in the text, waiting for the reader to stumble over them; they are kindled by the friction between the reader, the story and the world they both inhabit. Medieval texts force this awareness upon us, by it serves us well as readers of any literary work. (Emphasis my own.)

 I’d say this is applicable to life as a whole.

 

Viewing

 I’ve been watching a lot of shows this year, as one might expect. I binged on the US version of The Office and on The Witcher (I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I watched that show this year, before being confined, which feels like an age ago.) I was really excited about Lovecraft Country, and some aspects of it I found excellent (the cast, the gory scenes, the use of whiteness as an element of terror), but I think the last few episodes lost me a little. Now I’m really into Star Trek Discovery, although something I like about the franchise (the episodes being generally self-conclusive) has been done away with this time; perhaps to adapt to the current cliff-hanger based structure of media platforms.


In any case, the show I have enjoyed the most this year has been the HBO series The Young Pope (and its second season, The New Pope), directed by Paolo Sorrentino, starring Jude Law and John Malkovich (with Silvio Orlando’s character Voiello as one of my favorite fictional characters of all time). The show begins with the election of a young, inexperienced cardinal (Jude Law) as new Pope, fueled by Machiavellian cardinal Voiello —who really calls the shots in the Holy See—, who hopes that he will be tepid and malleable enough to maintain Voiello’s favored status quo in the Roman Church. Little does Voiello know that Pius XIII has his own plan and his own stormy relationship with God, which informs a quasi medieval (again that word!) approach to his role as head of the Catholic world. Does the show pass the Bechdel test? Not even close. Is it ironic that the fiction I have loved the most this year is set in the very core of Western capitalist patriarchy and basically deals with the different agents and forces invested in continuing it? Maybe! Please watch it, though! From the script, to the soundtrack, to the photography, it’s just so good!

 

 Listening

In music, I will only mention two beautiful cello concertos in two amazing renditions (at least I think so; I’m not an expert): Jacqueline du Pré’s classic performance of Dvořák’s cello concerto in B minor (op. 104) with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and young and super talented Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s BBC Prom concert performing Elgar’s cello concerto in E minor (op. 85) with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Try not to be chopping onions when you play them, if you know what I mean.

 

Among other things,  Arrate Hidalgo is Associate Editor at Aqueduct Press. She is also an English to Spanish translator, an founder and organizer of a feminist sf con, and an amateur singer. Visit her website at arratehidalgo.com.